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15 Least Profitable Small Businesses in the U.S.

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Whether you’re looking to turn your passion into a profession or you were simply born with that innate, unshakeable spirit of an entrepreneur, there’s one thing that all aspiring business owners have in common. To make your big dream a long-term, sustainable reality, you have to figure out how to earn more revenue than you spend on business expenses.

Unfortunately, with market trends, consumer preferences, and other variables, there are always going to be certain industries and business ideas, that at one time or another, are less likely to become profitable. Therefore, before you invest all your time, energy, and savings into starting a business, we recommend checking out this list of 15 least profitable small businesses, so that you can put yourself on the track to success from the get-go.

Least profitable small business industries

Deciding on the perfect idea for your new business can be a detailed and lengthy process. This being said, the last thing you want to do is choose a business idea, invest in planning, and start financing—only to come to realize that it’s going to take a huge investment to make your business profitable. Unfortunately, there are certain industries and business types that are simply less likely to be profitable than others—and usually, these are the business ideas that require high overhead costs to get started or already have saturated markets that are difficult to get into.

Conversely, some of the most profitable businesses are going to be the ones within industries that you can launch with little to no overhead (especially if you’re a first-time business owner) and fulfill a current market need or trend. So, with this kind mind, let’s break down 15 of the least profitable small businesses so that you have an idea of industries you should probably avoid as you search for the best business idea for you.

1. Oil and gas extraction

The first two items within our list of the least profitable small businesses are part of the manufacturing industry. Unfortunately, considering the overhead costs and moving parts associated with manufacturing, this is not going to be a very profitable industry for most entrepreneurs.

This being said, despite the almost urban legend around “striking oil” you might be surprised to learn that oil and gas extraction is regularly cited as one of the least profitable industries for small business owners—if not the least, period. This stems mainly from the variability that comes with investing in this kind of business, with a market that can go from plentiful to desolate in a day’s time. Plus, lowering prices for crude oil and gas since 2014 doesn’t help in this field’s profitability.

2. Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing

If you’ve ever read the fine print on your hospital bill after a surgery, illness, or injury, you’ve probably noticed the sky-high prices. With the high costs of everything from crutches to braces, you may quickly find yourself thinking that manufacturing medical equipment and supplies would be one of the best small business ideas.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. In reality, the majority of that profit goes straight to the hospitals and insurance companies—not the wholesalers, who are left with an average pretax profit of less than 5% (according to a 2016 report by Sageworks, now Abrigo). With such a low profit, plus all of the potential processes and equipment required to get started, you can easily why a medical equipment and supplies business makes our list of the least profitable small businesses.

3. Home healthcare services

Next, although there are plenty of service-based business ideas that can be very profitable, there are also those that fall on the other end of the spectrum.

For example, although there’s a huge need for home care for the elderly, there are also many barriers that prevent home healthcare services from becoming profitable businesses. The main issues that these businesses face are the hard-line price limitations negotiated through Medicare and major insurance companies.

At the same time, the emotional toll and relatively low pay associated with providing this kind of care results in high turnover and a shortage of workers in the home healthcare industry, which could make managing your home healthcare business a stressful and profitless endeavor.

4. Real estate services

Requiring a relatively low barrier to entry in terms of both capital and required training, businesses involved with providing real estate services—including not only real estate agents but also appraisers, title companies, loan brokers, and more—might appear to be a lucrative and worthwhile opportunity for aspiring small business owners.

However, you’ll also want to keep in mind these serious downsides before launching a business in real estate services. First, competition within the industry is fierce, with a small number of top realtors in each market controlling the vast majority of who does business with whom. Additionally, since revenue is almost exclusively commission-based—with particularly small percentages going to loan brokers, appraisers, and similar professionals—it can be difficult to build up the number of clients required to keep your business afloat.

To pursue a business offering real estate services such as property management, appraisals, inspections, title, or loan management, you must build key relationships from the start with successful and well-connected real estate agents, as these are the individuals most commonly making referrals between your business and your target customers.

Therefore, considering the time, effort, and honestly, luck, that can be involved with this industry, getting started in real estate services is going to be one of the least profitable small businesses.

5. Amusement and recreation services

If you’ve always been naturally gifted at rolling out the welcome mat to show out of town visitors or house guests a good time, it’s natural to think that opening a business in the hospitality industry would be right for you. Unfortunately, when it comes to travel, leisure, and caring for others, there are some business ideas that fall into the category of “least profitable businesses to start.”

First, although many people see recreational services as an easy way to make money—a place where people can spend their extra money on services that improve their quality of life and free time—it’s actually more difficult than you would think to make these service-based businesses profitable.

Ultimately, the fixed costs of operation, stiff competition, and the high impact of economic ups and downs, make amusement and recreation services one of the least profitable industries. Although you may find success in a small community that’s lacking these services, for the time being, it’s important to remember that if your customers face a shortage of cash, your services may be the first thing they cut to save money.

6. Traveling accommodations

For anyone with big dreams of moving or retiring to an exciting or scenic destination, the idea of opening a picture-perfect inn, bed and breakfast, or small hotel might sound like an ideal small business venture.

In reality, though, travel accommodations businesses rarely match up with the carefree, cozy vibe that owners picture at the start. In fact, they are one of the least profitable small businesses. Hotel professionals are faced with high fixed costs along with stiff competition from low-priced chain hotels and sites like Airbnb, forcing many to sacrifice profits with bare-minimum pricing to maintain occupancy rates.

These factors and more leave independent inns and hotels with average pretax profits at a hollow 0.26%. Therefore, if you’re interested in this type of service business, you might instead consider becoming an Airbnb host.

7. Retirement and assisted living facilities

As the baby boomer generation moves into older age, demand for retirement, assisted living, and hospice facilities to care for and support this large aging population continues to rise.

Unfortunately, although gearing a business toward the care of our older citizens might be a noble choice, as we mentioned above with regard to home healthcare, this is one of the least profitable industries for small business owners. High overhead, a shortage of nurses, real estate costs and pricing controls put in place by Medicare and Medicaid leave most healthcare elderly facility businesses with a net profit margin of just 3.3%.

Therefore, you decide to start a small business in this industry, consider whether the business venture you’re planning for will be profitable enough to support your livelihood.

8. Furniture stores

When you imagine small business ownership, there’s almost nothing as truly quintessential as the classic Main Street business storefront. Yet sadly, no other industry has been harder hit by the rise of the global online economy than independent, brick-and-mortar retail businesses.

In particular, you might find that despite the popularity of HGTV and interior decorating, opening a furniture store is actually one of the least profitable small businesses. Why is this such a hard retail business to get started and make successful?

Furniture stores typically have incredibly high overhead, which pairs poorly with a notoriously low markup rate from wholesale to retail. Combine this with shipping costs, production delays, and the growing influence of online retailers like Wayfair, and you’ll quickly understand how the average furniture retailer winds up with pre-tax profits of only 3.3%.

9. Car dealers

With the reliance many people around the country have on their cars, you would think getting into the car-selling business would mean easily accessible profit. However, like many of the business ideas on our list, selling cars involves much more than the sale process.

As a car dealer, you’ll need to source and transport cars—whether new or used—maintain them, store them, market them, and have representatives to sell them and work with customers. Considering all of these different components, starting a car-selling business, let alone a dealership, is going to require a significant amount of startup costs that most new entrepreneurs don’t have access to.

Plus, with the push for green transportation, especially in major cities and surrounding areas, it’s not surprising that car dealers have a low net profit margin of 3.2%

10. Lawn service and garden supplies stores

Although lawns and gardens are always going to be something that homeowners need to maintain, millennials are changing the home buying industry, which certainly could be a contributing factor to why these stores are on our list of the least profitable small businesses.

Millennials are renting longer and buying later, thereby eliminating the need for a “starter home,” which would require the most maintenance and therefore, drive the most business to these types of stores. Plus, not only is there not a high demand for this kind of retail shop, but as we’ve discussed with many of these ideas, overhead costs are high and maintaining the store means dealing with moving parts between employees, wholesale distributors, customers, and more.

11. Specialty retailers

For every passion and personality under the sun, there’s potential for a different type of specialty retail store—fashion boutiques, paper goods shops, hobby shops, and more.

Sadly, though, there’s a reason you’ve seen so many of your town’s Main Street retailers come and go over the years. High overhead costs along with impossible-to-beat pricing competition against big box stores and online retailers make local specialty retail shops one of the least profitable small businesses.

Have a handmade product you want to sell? Or are you still eager to curate your own collection of wholesale distributed goods? Opt for an ecommerce business model instead. It might not be the same as flipping the open sign on your own brick-and-mortar storefront, but when it comes to profitability, you’ll be much better off.

12. Grocery stores

Who doesn’t love a good meal? Joining friends around the table to enjoy a meal is a favorite pastime for many of us. This being said, however, when it comes to the food and beverage industry, you’ll find that some of the least profitable small business ideas fall under this umbrella.

For example, if you’d love to be the local grocer in your small town, it’s going to be very difficult to turn a profit with this small town business idea. Like many other specialized companies within the retail industry, there are low entry barriers, which leads to more and more competition, which leads to an average pretax profit of only 2.5%.

Plus, because grocery stores operate with perishable items that have to be carefully handled, maintaining profitability for an independent grocer can be especially tough.

13. Bakeries

If you have a passion for making bread, cakes, pastries, and all sorts of treats, opening your own bakery probably sounds like a dream small business.

Unfortunately, high overhead costs and food regulations along with tough competition from retail food stores and larger scale franchise operations make it close to impossible to sustain a freestanding independent bakery.

Therefore, instead of opting for a brick and mortar bakery, consider a food truck setup or focusing on bespoke baked goods for weddings and other special occasions. Either of these options will let you minimize overhead while meeting your customers where they are.

14. Beverage manufacturing

At first glance, knowing the high demand for palatable beverages, you might be tempted to start your own distillery, winery, or soft-drink manufacturing business—but unfortunately, even these ideas make our list of the least profitable small businesses.

With a high demand for beverages then, why is this industry so unprofitable? As you’ll see just based on the different types of “cola” available in the grocery store, there is no shortage of competitors in the beverage manufacturing industry, and smaller companies struggle to compete with the larger companies that can supply these drinks quickly and easily. This leaves the average pretax profit for small businesses in the beverage manufacturing industry at a very low 0.8%.

15. Beer, wine and liquor stores

In the United States, we have vastly different laws from state to state as it relates to liquor licenses, alcohol consumption, and distribution. And, while the demand may be tempting for a person who wants to start a profitable business, the regulations placed on alcohol retailers can put a lot of pressure on your small business. Plus, competing against other companies can be hard, since some have near-monopolies in their field. All of this leads to a less than desirable average pretax profit of just 3.4%.

Therefore, if you’re tempted to jump into this industry with your liquor store, your best choice is to find a specific, niche product type to specialize in and bring customers with those tastes directly to you.

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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Starting a new online business during the pandemic: Two COVID-era tales of renewal in Miami

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The pandemic forced more than three-quarters of small businesses across the U.S. to temporarily close up shop in the spring of 2020, and thousands have since shut down for good.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also led to a record number of people trying to start their own businesses: 4.5 million filed new business applications in 2020, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Economic Innovation Group.

That’s the highest number ever and a 24% increase from 2019.

 

And the momentum isn’t slowing. The Census Bureau says 492,000 new business applications were received in January 2021, a 43% jump over the previous month. Many more informal businesses are believed to have been created, often as side hustles, but never registered.

Few cities saw more aspiring entrepreneurs than Miami. Although new business creation was not distributed evenly across racial and socio-economic lines, green shoots of entrepreneurship popped up across the metro area, helping to bring a dose of resilience to the local economy.

[At the same time, untold numbers of existing small businesses — restaurants, neighborhood shops, salons — decided to establish a digital presence, allowing them to find new customers and take orders from beyond their immediate area.

In all, the number of digitally connected microbusinesses in Miami-Dade County rose 6.7% from 2019 to 2020, according to data from GoDaddy’s Venture Forward project, which studies the economic impact of these small online businesses. The Miami metro area, which includes the neighboring cities of Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, has more microbusinesses per 100 people than any other large metro area in the country.

These everyday entrepreneurs make a big impact on their communities, with each new one leading to the creation of two additional jobs, Venture Forward data shows. Additionally, each new microbusiness per 100 people can reduce the unemployment rate by .05 percentage points.

And between 2016 and 2019, every microbusiness per 100 people that’s active online was associated with a $485 increase in a community’s household median income.

Here are the stories of two inspiring women entrepreneurs who took the initiative when the pandemic upended their lives.

Natasha Nails: Rethinking the press-on

It took a painful case of contact dermatitis, a type of allergy, following a visit to a nail salon for Natasha Williams to come up with an online business idea for the future of press-on nails.

The Miami native, who lives in Little Havana, has had her nails done since her teens.

But after her allergic reaction in March 2020, she was forced to switch to press-on nails that used hypoallergenic adhesive pads.

Unhappy with the appearance of what was available — they felt cheap and plasticky — Williams started buying clear nails and hand painting them with her favorite colors and designs.

Around the same time, the pandemic shut down the local economy. A well-known tap dance performer and teacher around Miami, Williams suddenly had a lot of time as lessons and gigs dried up.

By July, buoyed by the admiring comments she got from friends and strangers on the street, she realized there was a market for her creations, so she quickly built an online store and Natasha Nails opened for business.

At first, it was as much a hobby as a career plan. But soon she started asking questions and understanding the opportunity was real.

Why did women tend to apply press-on nails and leave them on and then throw them out? Given how easy they are to remove and reapply, particularly the adhesive-pad type, wouldn’t it be more fun and affordable to have collections of nails so they could match outfits or daily moods, the way they choose which shoes to wear or purse to carry?

“I want people to be able to mix and match, like ‘let’s see what I have in my closet to wear today,’” she says.

If she can popularize this approach, women may one day not feel obliged to suffer the daily inconveniences of wearing long nails.

“Just try typing all day with these things on,” she laughs, showing off long, olive nails. “You really can’t do much. And anyone who tells you differently is lying!”

While her new business doesn’t make enough money for her to quit her teaching, she spends about the same number of hours on both.

That includes 30 minutes each morning tending to her growing Instagram account — where she has amassed more than 5,000 followers who account for most of the orders on her website — and a few hours in the evening painting nails, including custom orders, and packaging up boxes for customers who opt for her monthly subscriptions.

Many challenges remain ­— particularly how to scale production beyond her ability to hand-paint nails while maintaining the artistic quality. But Williams is definitely a long-term thinker who hopes that, some day, her creations will be featured at major retailers.

“I don’t see obstacles as problems, but as challenges,” she says of the process of building a company. “You just have to follow the steps.”

Read more about Natasha’s story here.

Starting an online charcuterie-to-go

Like so many healthcare workers around the world, Maryam Kheirabi faced new demands when the pandemic hit. An oncology pharmacist with a Miami-area hospital, she suddenly had more hours, more stress and more fears of the unknown.

To deal with the growing pressure, Kheirabi decided she needed a new activity, something that would take her mind off her stressful job and give her a newfound source of fulfillment.

That’s when Fig & Brie, a charcuterie-to-go business, was born.

 

“I’m happiest when I’m extremely busy, and I wanted to create something beautiful for people to share,” she says. “In a way, I think the business got me through the worst days of the pandemic. It gives me hope, and hopefully it gives other people hope, as well.”

The idea came to her soon after the pandemic began, when she saw groups of friends eating from plastic containers full of snacks at a park across the street from her home for socially distanced get-togethers.

“How cool would it be to have a charcuterie box to go,” she remembers thinking. It would give people the option to pre-order a food board that could be delivered just when it was needed.

A native of Queens, N.Y., who moved to Miami with her speech pathologist husband in 2016, Kheirabi grew up being responsible for creating food platters for family gatherings.

“We Persians are very big on hospitality, and I never lost my love for creating beautiful, delicious things,” she says.

Once the first spike in COVID-19 cases began to ease in August, she started doing research, which included the creation of a variety of charcuterie platters for colleagues at the hospital.

A cousin in New Jersey agreed to help her secure a domain name and choose website-building tools.

“The rest was left up to me, but it was mostly dealing with aesthetics, which I love, anyway,” she says.

In early November, Fig & Brie officially launched, with a range of offerings, from a $20 “solo” platter to an $85 “soiree” box.

The seed capital was $2,000 that her husband, Francisco, urged her to take from their savings, with the understanding that they wouldn’t spend any more if the business wasn’t profitable after a month. She ended up spending $1,900 of it in that time, but by early December the business was making money.

Kheirabi’s digital marketing strategy initially was solely based on Instagram, in part because she wanted to grow slowly at first. But sales jumped more quickly than expected over the holidays, as friends and fans spread the word. One local real estate broker ordered platters as gifts to her clients.

It wasn’t easy, but she and her husband managed to keep up with demand while maintaining their jobs in healthcare. It helps that most orders come on Thursdays or Fridays, for delivery on Saturday.

Francisco does everything from taking photos to taste-testing to driving their only car around the city making deliveries. When he once asked what he would be paid for all his work, she quipped, “Sorry, but we pay in cheese.”

Her near-term goal is to have enough demand to hire a driver or two, and then to find a way to ship around the U.S. (That will require some innovation, to either find a way to keep fruits and veggies crunchy and fresh, or to come up with boards that meet her standards without those foods.)

Ultimately, she’d like to open a storefront in Miami and share her business model so women in other places could follow suit.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if it was only for the money,” she says. “That’s just icing on the cake.” The primary reward, other than enriching customers’ lives, is to empower women, including herself.

“We’re living in a time when women are standing up and taking charge of themselves,” she says. She even welcomes the competition from other female-owned online charcuteries in the city. “There’s enough demand to go around,” she says. “Women shouldn’t compete with each other. We should lift each other up.”

Related: Research shows that women have what it takes to make great CEOs

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The 15 Best Franchise Opportunities of 2021

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If you’re looking for a new business venture, but don’t want to take on the difficult work of developing your own brand image and identity, a franchise opportunity might be the best fit for you. Since there’s already a strong corporate and management framework in place as well as guidelines around everything including marketing, merchandising, and production, owning a franchise can be a great choice for some.

Still, just knowing you’re interested in a franchise is only the beginning; in reality, finding the best franchise opportunities can be a challenge. There are more franchises out there than one can reasonably count and consider, making it tough to figure out which one is right for you.

That’s why we’ve reviewed many of the different options for franchise businesses, and picked out some of the best franchise opportunities of 2021 across several different sectors. Their fees and requirements vary, but you should hopefully be able to find a franchise opportunity that piques your interest and aligns with what you’re hoping to build.

As we go through these businesses, remember that all costs and fees listed here are averages or approximates, and will change based on when you inquire, so make sure you contact each company for the most up-to-date numbers.

15 franchise opportunities 

1. McDonald’s

  • Initial investment: $1,263,000 to $2,235,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $500,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 4%

  • Ad royalty fee: 4%+

We’re pretty positive this is a name you know. McDonald’s is one of the more expensive franchises around, but has perhaps the best brand recognition in the world. If you’re able to open a McDonald’s franchise in a well-trafficked area without much competition, you may be able to quickly recoup the initial investment.

2. Sonic

  • Initial investment: $1,236,800 to $3,536,300

  • Net-worth requirement: $1 million to $2 million

  • Liquid cash requirement: $500,000 to $1 million

  • Initial franchise fee: $45,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 2.45% to 5%

  • Ad royalty fee: 3.25% to 5%

Sonic is an American fast-food staple with unmissable branding, mostly fueled by their drive-in style of service and unique soft drinks. With franchises in 46 states, Sonic offers a strong franchise opportunity that comes with a cult following for their unmistakable menu items (cherry limeade, anyone?) as well as core staples that customers expect and love.

3. Dunkin’

  • Initial investment: $395,500 to $1,597,200

  • Net worth requirement: $250,000 to $500,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $125,000 to $250,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $40,000 to $90,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 5.9%

  • Ad royalty fee: 5%

Formerly Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunkin’ certainly costs less than a McDonald’s and has strong name recognition to boot. In fact, when Dunkin’s first franchises returned to southern California, customers lined up at 5 a.m. in some locations, just to be among the first to get their fix.

4. Anytime Fitness

  • Initial investment: $107,500 to $722,800

  • Net-worth requirement: $300,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $100,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $35,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: $549 per month

  • Advertising fee: $300 per month

Few fitness franchises are as hot right now as Anytime Fitness. This gym franchise focuses on offering group workouts as well as solo workout equipment. Best of all, the franchise provides members with a keycard to access the gym during off-hours, allowing people to work out on their schedule. Operating costs are low, and name recognition is high—so high, in fact, that there are currently 4,000 locations worldwide.

5. Planet Fitness

  • Initial investment: $1,084,600 to $4,178,000

  • Net-worth requirement: $3 million

  • Liquid cash requirement: $1.5 million

  • Initial franchise fee: $20,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 7%

  • Ad royalty fee: 9%

Planet Fitness differentiates themselves with their iconic purple and yellow branding, low membership fees, and mission to create a welcoming atmosphere for first-time gym members and avid fitness fans alike. Gyms tend to be challenging to open, but Planet Fitness’s main market is fitness first-timers, which means that these gyms can benefit from high retention rates through low prices and high sign-ups.

6. Orangetheory Fitness

  • Initial investment: $575,422 to $1,497,372

  • Net-worth requirement: $500,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $150,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $59,950

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 8%

Group workout studios are a booming business for the fitness franchise market. The desire for high-intensity interval training programs makes the desire for new programs a compelling draw for people looking to get in shape or take their training to the next level. Orangetheory’s combination of running, rowing, and cross-training with a focus on heart rate is a unique way for customers to get in shape and—most importantly—keep coming back for more.

7. Primrose Schools

  • Initial investment: $637,900 to $6,375,500

  • Net-worth requirement: $750,000 to $1.2 million

  • Liquid cash requirement: $350,000 to $1.2 million

  • Initial franchise fee: $80,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 7%

  • Ad royalty fee: 2%

Early childhood education is a prime market for franchise opportunities as parents look to give children every opportunity to learn—even within their early years of education. Primrose Schools are a solid franchise because they offer educational programs all year round, are licensed facilities for educational child care, and give their teachers continuing education access to keep their skills sharp.

8. Kiddie Academy

  • Initial investment: $425,000 to $4,163,000

  • Net-worth requirement: $700,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $225,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $135,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 7%

  • Ad royalty fee: 2%

Kiddie Academy also offers a compelling opportunity in the early childhood education market, serving up a hybrid of child care and educational development that helps keep children entertained and learning at the same time. There are franchise opportunities throughout 49 states (sorry, Montana), and plenty of room to grow.

9. Kumon Math and Reading Centers

  • Initial investment: $73,373 to $154,825

  • Net-worth requirement: $150,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $70,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $1,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: $34 to $38 per student, per month

The Kumon Method for improving math and reading comprehension was first created in 1958, based on a curriculum developed by Toru Kumon in Osaka, Japan. Today, Kumon Math and Reading Centers help students learn critical math and reading skills that prepare them for more complex concepts later on in their education. With a low cost to entry and high demand, Kumon can be a great opportunity to help students get a leg up on their education, while also creating a great business opportunity for prospective franchisees.

10. Ace Hardware

  • Initial investment: $286,000 to $2,110,230

  • Net-worth requirement: $400,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $250,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $5,000

Ace Hardware is an excellent franchise prospect for providing an antidote to the big-box home improvement store experience, which is typically marked by unhelpful staff and overwhelming product choices. Instead, Ace Hardware locations pride themselves on hiring staff that put customer service at a premium and keeping product choices to a reasonable selection. Their franchises make it easier for local hardware stores to remain competitive against mega-stores by way of their cooperative structure and store-brand products.

11. Snap-On Tools

  • Initial investment: $172,207 to $375,265

  • Net-worth requirement: $37,999 to $55,377

  • Liquid cash requirement: $37,999 to $55,377

  • Initial franchise fee: $8,000 to $16,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: $125 per month

Any gearhead, DIY aficionado, mechanic, or professional contractor will tell you that few tool brands have as high a reputation for quality—and even a cult following—as Snap-On does. This high brand affinity makes Snap-On a great franchise to consider if there’s a strong opportunity in your determined area. The low investment threshold and net worth requirement also make Snap-On a promising option for would-be owners that aren’t flush with the kind of cash needed to sign on with other franchise businesses.

12. Pillar to Post Home Inspectors

  • Initial investment: $37,100 to $45,900

  • Liquid cash requirement: $10,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $21,900

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 7%

  • Ad royalty fee: 4%

Home inspection services are always in demand, particularly in parts of the country where home sales are hot and the real estate market is hopping. Pillar to Post makes the process of starting a home inspection business easy, providing franchisees with everything they need to drum up new business, train staff as necessary, and their proprietary software makes home inspections easy for staffers to complete.

13. Keller Williams

  • Initial investment: $183,947 to $336,995

  • Liquid cash requirement: $150,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $35,000

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 6%

  • Ad royalty fee: $1,000 per year

Keller Williams has a reputation for providing real estate agents with opportunities to grow professionally while helping their clients find their dream homes. The company began in 1987 and has been attracting agents through profit-sharing agreements and other perks, which can make it easier for franchise owners to recruit and retain top talent.

14. FastSigns

  • Initial investment: $197,172 to $313,136

  • Net-worth requirement: $300,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $80,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $49,750

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 6%

  • Ad royalty fee: 2% per year

If you’re going to own a store, then you’ll quickly realize how important signage is. FastSigns has been franchising their signage shops since 1986. With more than 600 locations, the Texas-based company offers opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved with this high-visibility “visual problem-solving” company both in the U.S. and abroad, too.

15. Merry Maids

  • Initial investment: $89,619 to $125,023

  • Net-worth requirement: $90,000

  • Liquid cash requirement: $35,000

  • Initial franchise fee: $37,500 to $51,500

  • Ongoing royalty fee: 5% to 7%

  • Ad royalty fee: 1.3% per year

The home cleaning sector can be overwhelming for many consumers as options abound. This means that operating a business that has a household name provides a competitive advantage that can turn into tangible business opportunities for franchise owners. Merry Maids has this in spades: As one of the largest house cleaning companies in the United States, this franchise is easy to set up and doesn’t require a ton of startup capital to get things rolling.

Financing your franchise

As you’re looking into the best franchise opportunities for 2021, one thing to keep in mind is how you’re going to pay your franchise fees.

All franchises come with some kind of investment, which usually comprises corporate fees, startup costs, real estate, staff, equipment, and other expenses, too. Your investment will be contingent on several things, but the two most important are the mandatory expenses set by the parent company to get up and running as well as the regional expenses that dictate costs (in other words, some markets are more expensive than others).

Make sure you take into consideration where the capital to finance your franchise will be coming from. Many entrepreneurs choose to take advantage of a business loan, including SBA loans, business lines of credit, term loans, and equipment financing. To begin, check out the best franchise financing options.

Also note that some companies offer internal financing, as well as discounts for certain types of business owners (such as women, veterans, and more). Make sure to check with headquarters for their options if you are seriously interested in pursuing their franchise option.

The bottom line

One thing you’ll find as you search through franchise opportunities: There’s no shortage of great companies with strong brands and quality products and services to explore.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the best franchise opportunity for one person isn’t necessarily the best franchise opportunity for you. When you’re weighing options, don’t forget to take into account how much you’re willing to spend on an opportunity, and, perhaps most crucially, what you’re interested in doing.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to franchising, so make sure you weigh the pros and cons before moving ahead. A great franchise leader is one who truly believes in what’s being sold, and wants to stand out both in their local business landscape, and also as a franchisee across their parent corporation.

Industry franchise guides

Have a specific industry in mind? Learn more about it with these franchise guides:

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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Business Ideas

Best Craft Business Ideas

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Thanks to the popularity of craft-focused, online marketplaces like Etsy, starting a business making crafts can be a lucrative endeavor for creative types. And depending on your bandwidth, it’s certainly possible to turn any of the following craft business ideas from an entrepreneurial hobby to a full-time gig.

Of course, the best craft business ideas for you are those that align with your particular interests and skill set. It’d be hard to start a successful woodworking business, for instance, if you’ve never laid your hands on a power jointer (or if you just had to Google what a “power jointer” is). But if you’re inspired to take up a new, potentially monetizable hobby—or if you’re one of the gifted few whose artistic talent spans several mediums—then we’d recommend giving one of the following craft businesses ideas a go.

These 10 craft business ideas all involve different materials and skillsets. But they all require relatively few upfront and overhead costs, they’re totally viable home-based businesses, and there’s a market for all of these products, which makes them ideal if you want to dip your toe in the field.

10 craft business ideas to try in 2021

If you’re ready to explore the best craft business ideas, the following options have something for everyone.

1. Rehab old furniture 

Refurbishing or flipping furniture is an excellent craft business idea for people with basic carpentry, upholstery, and furniture stripping and painting skills (and with a garage or basement space that can double as their home studio). An overall aptitude for fixing fiddly things is key here too, as upcycling old furniture often involves revamping or replacing broken knobs, legs, and drawers. That said, it’s entirely possible to learn these skills as you go, simply by searching for tutorials on YouTube. However, do make sure that you understand how to properly repair antiques and other fragile furniture before you dive in.

For this side hustle, your main upfront cost will be the furniture itself. Look for inexpensive vintage or secondhand furniture at antique stores and outlets, garage sales, flea markets, and on eBay. You won’t know what materials you’ll need to purchase until after you’ve picked up your furniture and evaluated its condition, but you can find basic upcycling tools and materials (like paints, stains, and sprayers) relatively cheaply online.

2. Jewelry making

Whether you like to work with beads, precious and semi-precious stones, charms, metals, or more unconventional materials like rope, leather, and resin, there’s a market for every style of jewelry you want to create.

When you’re just starting out, you can purchase materials and basic jewelry-making equipment relatively cheaply at crafts stores like Michael’s. Use these preliminary pieces to “test-run” your designs and processes. At this stage, you can ask your family and friends to wear your pieces and provide feedback about their comfort, the integrity or strength of the construction, and any other helpful advice.

As you nail down your aesthetic, branding, designs, market, and the materials you enjoy working with, you can purchase higher-quality materials in bulk from wholesale suppliers. And when you feel ready, consult our guide on how to start a jewelry business for step-by-step advice on how to turn your craft into a full-blown business.

3. Printmaking

In this context, “printmaking” can refer to a number of mediums. Platforms like Printful and Society6 enable illustrators and designers to print their designs on virtually any product you can imagine: blankets, apparel, tapestries, laptop and phone cases, yoga mats, stickers, mugs, pillows… the list truly goes on. Of course, you always have the option of going traditional and sticking with framed wall art. Both of these particular services handle shipping and fulfillment processes as well, which cuts out one of the major lifts involved in running your own craft business.

4. Knitting

A knitting business is potentially the lowest-cost venture on this list, as your material costs are essentially limited to yarn and knitting needles (though we assume you already have the latter). If you’re already a hobbyist, we can also safely assume that you know where to buy high-quality yarn, potentially in bulk, so you won’t need to sink time into finding a vendor.

To start, focus on creating simple, smaller items—more hats and potholders, less sweaters and blankets—so you can more quickly produce, sell, make a profit, and garner feedback from your customers so you can shape your offerings and branding accordingly. As a supplement to selling your knit products, consider designing your own knitting patterns and selling them along with instructions.

5. Stationery and greeting card design

If you have a talent for lettering, illustration, and calligraphy, and you’re interested in the printing process, consider putting your unique skill set to use as a stationery and greeting card designer. (Bonus points if you love a good pun, too.)

Spend some time researching the market and industry so you know how to tailor your designs and branding, and how to position your own designs in the market. Spend some time coming up with your preliminary designs in a range of formats, like bespoke stationery, wedding and other event invitations, and several types of greeting cards. Test out a few materials and colorways, as well. In addition to your design materials, like papers and pens, you’ll also need to invest in stationery tools like paper cutters and trimmers.

When you’re just starting out, you can likely print your own work with an inkjet printer. But ultimately, you’ll likely need to find a trustworthy printer who can print your designs in larger volumes. Look into both local printers and online print services, and ask for sample prints from both. Work with the service that prints your work in a timely manner, according to your standards, who works within your budget, and who can answer your questions about the printing process (which can be tricky and complex for people with no prior experience).

6. Ceramics

To start a ceramics business, you’ll need a dedicated studio space with a sink, kiln, clay, shaping and finishing materials, and glazes. A pottery wheel is incredibly useful as well, but it’s possible to make ceramics without a pottery wheel. We’d recommend scouring Pinterest, Etsy, design blogs and magazines, and both small and large retailers to get a pulse on current ceramics trends, and forge your own aesthetic from there (without compromising your own design values in the process, of course).

7. Floral design

In addition to creating custom and readymade flower bouquets, floral designers are responsible for the greenery displays and designs at various events, in stores and restaurants, and, potentially, in people’s homes as part of a holistic interior design strategy.

It helps to have an existing network of potential clients, so people with home or interior design experience, or who have previously worked in floral shops or in landscaping, will likely find the most (or the fastest) success in this field. That said, if you have a natural flair for floral arranging and a good eye for design in general, it can’t hurt to start by designing for your family and friends and letting them talk up your skills to their networks.

Either way, we’d recommend taking a floral design class, either in-person or online. These classes teach you how to properly handle several types of flowers and plants, key design elements to floral displays, and how to tailor your designs to particular events or clients. Some courses even specialize in starting a floral design business.

8. Candle making

You only need to glance at Instagram, Pinterest, or candle hauls on YouTube to know that there’s a huge demand for candles, especially those with yummy scents and design-forward packaging. (Maybe it’s an enduring obsession with hygge, the Danish and Norwegian term for coziness that’s become a home-decor phenomenon in the English-speaking world.)

Other than learning how to make candles (which you can easily learn through your own research and handy YouTube tutorials), the first step in starting a candle-making business is to develop your scent and gather your materials. Purchase a collection of fragrance oils and develop a few scents you’re happy with. Then, you can purchase your other materials—including paraffin, soy, or beeswax, plus wicks, measuring instruments, a thermometer, molds, and containers for your candles—either from a wholesaler in bulk, or with a readymade DIY candle-making kit. We’d recommend the latter when you’re just starting out, then seeking wholesale vendors when you’re ready to make bulk orders.

In order to price your items, you’ll need to define your market. Candles run the gamut from $1 unscented tea lights to $85 luxury candles (check out Byredo for some serious candle envy). Your price point depends on the quality and type of materials and ingredients you’re using, of course, but you should also shape your pricing around what your target market will realistically spring for.

9. Gift baskets

This craft business idea may require more overhead costs than others on this list, since you’ll have to source and purchase several items and gift wrapping material for each type of gift basket you offer. But your offerings can be incredibly varied, so your market may be less limited than other craft businesses we’ve mentioned here.

Most importantly, you’ll need to develop your angle. Think about theming your gift baskets according to an occasion or event—back-to-school for college students, baby showers, sleepaway camp, holidays, anniversaries, bachelor and bachelorette parties, graduation, and retirement are just a few options. You can also design specialty baskets for certain food or beverages, like a wine-and-cheese lovers’ box, an all-chocolate basket, or a basket that sources from local businesses. Get creative with the items you provide within each theme, too. Thinking outside the box, so to speak, along with a sense of humor (like laundry detergent and aspirin for your college freshmen box) will help set your gift basket business apart from your competitors.

10. Bath and body products

Much like starting a candle business, creating bath and body products firstly involves deciding which products you want to create and nailing down your formulas and scents. This step might take some experimentation, so enlist your (consenting) friends and family to find out what works, what doesn’t, and the scents and ingredients people respond to best. You can start by sourcing your ingredients from local crafts or beauty supply stores, but eventually, you’ll want to work with vendors who can supply you with ingredients in bulk.

Your packaging is almost just as important as your product, so take the time to design a logo and packaging that aligns with your overall brand strategy and market positioning. If you’re not confident in your own design skills, hire a graphic designer to do this for you. Trust us—the money will be worth it when you draw in more customers.

The next step: Selling your crafts

Until you actually sell your crafts, your craft business is actually just a crafting hobby—and since you’re reading this article, we’d guess that you’d prefer to achieve the former. But as we mentioned earlier, the barrier to entry for selling your crafts is very low when you leverage craft-centric online marketplaces, galleries, and your own ecommerce store. And since most people shop online these days, we’d seriously recommend that you leverage as many relevant online sales channels as you’re able.

Etsy is hands-down the best marketplace for crafters to sell their work online, but it’s worth looking into selling on Amazon and eBay, as well. You could also look into selling on Society6, an online gallery geared toward crafters.

At the same time, prioritize building a business website with ecommerce functionality. That way, you can redirect all the customers you’ll garner from these highly trafficked platforms onto your own, dedicated store—and, hopefully, start to build up a loyal customer base. Don’t forget to create a Facebook Business page and Instagram account dedicated to your craft business, too

All your online sales channels should be supplementary to in-person sales tactics, like crafts fairs, trunk shows, asking local businesses if they’d consider selling your work, and—most importantly—word of mouth marketing. Start by selling your crafts to your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members, and ask them to spread the word to their network about your new venture. Happy crafting!

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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