18 Small-Town Business Ideas To Inspire Your Next Venture (2024)

18 Small-Town Business Ideas To Inspire Your Next Venture (2024)

Although big brands may have more resources and capital, authenticity is where small-town businesses like skin care brand Nova Scotia Fisherman shine. 

When the business started, it opted for local manufacturing instead of saving costs by producing overseas. The decision paid off. Founded in 2014 in a town of 5,000 people, the company flourished and now operates in eight countries, with hundreds of stores in the US and Canada carrying its moisturizers and soaps.

Its success shows starting a small-town business can be both lucrative and beneficial to the local community. Operating a business in a small market brings both unique challenges and opportunities, however, so you’ll need to implement the best business strategies possible. Here’s how to make a small-town business idea work.

18 small-town business ideas

  1. Food truck
  2. Ice cream shop
  3. Grocery store
  4. Phone repair and computer services
  5. Coffee shop and sports bar
  6. Clothing boutique
  7. Secondhand store
  8. Bed and breakfast owner
  9. Health food store
  10. Car wash and gas station
  11. Pet grooming
  12. Cleaning services
  13. Hair salon
  14. Home improvement business
  15. Tutoring business
  16. Flower shop
  17. Nail salon
  18. Lawn and gardening services

If you need some inspiration to come up with the right business for your small town, you can look through some of the popular business ideas listed below.

1. Food truck

If you’ve always dreamed of starting a restaurant but had trouble choosing the perfect location, a food truck business might be an option. 

With a food truck, you can move locations according to events or seasonal demand. You can reach more customers than you would with a stationary location by serving different parts of town or attending special events, festivals, and farmers markets.

Some estimate that popular food trucks can take in more than $100,000 a year in revenue. Start-up costs for a food truck can be as low as $30,000.

Mathew Carver launched The Cheese Bar as a mobile food venue called The Cheese Truck in 2014, focusing on local British cheese. 

Overcoming initial financial challenges and adapting to market demands, he expanded his venture to multiple locations, including Pick & Cheese in Seven Dials Market. He also successfully transitioned online with wine-and-cheese subscriptions, setting a foundation for future growth.

👉 Read Matthew’s story

2. Ice cream shop

During warm summer months, ice cream is many people’s treat of choice. If you are considering opening up an ice cream shop, it can be helpful to choose a family-friendly location and have an alternative business plan in towns with cold winters. 

Ice cream shops are relatively easy to start compared to other food service businesses. You need less equipment and inventory for a shop versus a full-service restaurant, so they’re more accessible to entrepreneurs with limited cash.

Ivana Orlovic and William Hubbell knew they were on to something when they created an egg-free, edible version of cookie dough. A number of toppings and flavors are combined with cookie dough and ice cream at Sugar + Spoon to make rich, creamy treats.

Besides its storefront in Seattle, Sugar + Spoon sells through pop-up shops, food truck events, and online. It even offers DIY ice cream packs, which let customers mix and match flavors.

Once you have some options, consider populating a business plan template to flesh out your idea.

3. Grocery store

Every small town needs a local grocery store where shoppers can buy food and household supplies like soap and paper towels. 

Networking with local farmers to help bring their products to market can be a great way to forge community connections and provide customers with fresh, nutritious ingredients. Small-town grocers today aren’t limited to just serving the local community, either.

Supermarket Italy, an Italian grocery store located in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, sells products both online and in-store. Customers can even place orders online and pick up in person. 

Screenshot of category page on Supermarket Italy’s website
Supermarket Italy serves the local NJ community with meats imported directly from Italy.

4. Phone repair and computer services

The demand for technology repair services is growing as people rely more on their phones and computers for work and entertainment.

Small towns often have fewer service providers, which means there’s less competition for phone and computer repair services.

You can also offer other services like maintenance, software installation, data recovery, and cybersecurity, which will help you attract a broader customer base.

5. Coffee shop and sports bar

Not only do people go to coffee shops for drinks and snacks in small towns, they also use them as remote work locations. At night, a coffee shop can easily be converted into a sports or wine bar, so a business owner can run two businesses under the same roof while only paying one rent.

Before building his community online, James Hoffmann won the World Barista Championship, opened a Square Mile Coffee Roasters, and acquired Prufrock Coffee. He’s successfully his passion into a multifaceted career around coffee, and shares his experiences with the world on social media. 

6. Clothing boutique

If you enjoy fashion, you might consider opening a clothing boutique. There aren’t as many shops in small towns, so boutiques can offer unique, stylish clothing that’s not available in big stores.

With online tools like Shopify, you can run an online boutique and physical store from one place, expanding your customer reach. RUDSAK, a performance apparel brand in Montreal, found success with this mix of online sales and using Shopify POS to run its retail operations.

You easily can sell in-store and offer an omnichannel shopping experience for growth beyond your town.

👉Read RUDSAK’s story.

7. Secondhand store

Online secondhand stores have low start-up costs because you can begin by selling your own used items that you no longer want.

You can sell entirely online and only pay for website maintenance, packaging, and shipping costs. If this route is successful, you can scout for well-priced goods at yard or estate sales to expand your business.

Street Cvlture is a vintage clothing brand based out of Toronto. The brainchild of five entrepreneurs, Street Cvlture went from one store offering curbside pickup, to a traveling streetwear seller with pop-ups all over Canada. 

👉Read Street Cvlture’s story

If you aren’t looking to bring your business on the road, secondhand stores are also known to draw customers who go on day trips. As word of mouth grows, your store could help turn your town into a destination for bargain hunters and vintage shoppers.

8. Bed and breakfast owner

Many small towns receive visitors who need a place to stay. You can open a bed and breakfast to cater to these out-of-town guests. Owning a bed and breakfast means you can set your own schedule, whether that means being open seasonally or just on weekends. You have flexibility and control over when you work. If you’re passionate about your local community or region, it can be rewarding to share it with your guests.

Try Shopify’s hospitality business name generator to help you choose a bed and breakfast name.

If you are interested in hospitality but wary of making a long-term real estate investment, you can also try renting out a room in your home through a listing service such as Airbnb. This will help you dip your toes into the hospitality industry, while providing you with extra income.

9. Health food brand

Many people follow special diets, and the typical grocery store doesn’t always meet their needs. Opening a health food store to cater to these individuals, especially if you’re able to source hard-to-find items, can help you win a loyal customer base.

If a store isn’t in your plans, you can always start small with one product and expand from there. Use your community to test your product by selling it at farmers markets, craft fairs, and local shops. You can also sell online, offering discounted delivery and pickup to local customers. 

Learn more: How to Sell Food Online: A Step-by-Step Startup Guide

10. Car wash and gas station

Car ownership is higher in small towns than big cities, making a car wash and gas station potentially a very lucrative business. Car washes and gas stations often operate side by side and benefit from each other’s customers.

You can use your website to showcase your services and share hours and booking information. Curt’s Car Wash, for example, is a small car wash chain in Utah. 

The brand offers a range of services, like car washing, safety inspections, emissions testing, and even pet washing. You can find business hours and locations on its website, as well as schedule appointments and cancel washes as needed, offering more convenience for customers.

Screenshot of Curt’s Car Wash website
Curt’s Car Wash shares business hours and locations on its ecommerce website.

11. Pet grooming

The majority of families have pets, even in small towns, and their owners often need help caring for them. Grooming is an important part of pet care, not only for appearance but also for health.

The average pet groomer charges $30 to $90 per dog, and many groomers operate out of the comfort of their own homes. This makes it a fairly inexpensive business idea.

Grooming is a great way to start a pet business. From there you can expand into day care, adoptions, and even physical products, like Petsense does on its ecommerce website. 

Petsense’s landing page for pet grooming services

12. Cleaning services

Busy working adults often lack time to do household chores, so many hire cleaners. That’s why the market is headed for a $276 billion valuation by 2028, according to the latest data.

There’s always a need for cleaning in homes and businesses, and in small towns a reputation for quality and reliability can lead to a loyal customer base via word-of-mouth recommendations.

Aspen Clean is a great example of a family-owned cleaning company. The brand operates in Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary—offering services for condo, house, office, carpet, and Airbnb cleanings.

The brand also sells its own cleaning products, providing everything from laundry detergent to dish soaps, and entire cleaning kits. If you check them out on social media, you’ll see they share tips and tricks on keeping your space clean using its products and services. 

13. Hair salon

If you are talented with a pair of scissors and enjoy styling people’s hair, you might consider opening a hair salon. You can start by styling your friends’ hair at home and sharing the results on social media. If all goes well, you could consider renting or purchasing salon space.

As a hair salon owner, you can branch into selling products on your website too. You can create your own products, or offer white label ones from a manufacturer. 

See how Josh Wood Colour, a brand out of the UK, uses its store to promote its products and connect shoppers with color experts at one of its salons. 

The Josh Wood Colour website showcasing the brands products and services.

14. Home improvement business

Home improvement businesses help repair, remodel, and modernize people’s houses. Homeownership is usually higher in small towns than in big cities, which can make home improvement the perfect business idea for those areas.

Some niches you can try are:

  • Eco-friendly renovations (solar panel, rainwater harvesting, energy-efficient windows)
  • Smart home automation 
  • Outdoor living spaces
  • Custom renovations (kitchen and bath remodels, wine cellars)

Home improvement businesses have the opportunity to grow, too. Floor City, for example, has been a family run business since 1992, starting out in Washington state. The Uhacz family has continued the tradition, growing the home improvement business to a nationwide brand.

Floor City About Us page featuring the story of the Uhacz family.
Floor City’s About page.

15. Tutoring business

At some point, many students need tutors for help with their studies. If you have any expertise in test-taking or specific subjects like math or chemistry, you may want to consider offering tutoring services. You can offer in-person or online tutoring for your local community and sell your services online. 

Shopify merchant Stem Tutoring Ottawa lets browsers shop through its catalog of tutoring services. Browsers can choose their location and pay with express checkout options like Shop Pay and Apple Pay. 

Screenshot of Stem Tutoring Ottawa’s product page
Shoppers can sign up for classes and checkout on Stem Tutoring Ottawa’s website.

16. Flower shop

On special occasions, many people turn to their local flower shop for floral arrangements. If you are an artist, it can also be a great way to use your creativity while building different income streams.

The most expensive aspect of owning a flower shop—as much as $10,000 a year—is maintaining the right temperature and environment for your flowers. 

For those who want to farm their own flowers, the main costs are gardening supplies, seeds, fertilizer, and land to plant the flowers on.

Your flower shop can offer custom designs, holiday specials, and delivery. For example, Bloomsbay, based in Walnut Creek, California, uses its website to promote its delivery services in the local area. This helps it connect with more customers and open up more revenue streams. 

Image of Bloomsbay homepage explain its shop location and directions for ordering.

17. Nail salon

Nail salons are very popular in the US, with a market size of almost $68 billion. Beauty and personal care services, like nail salons, often have steady demand regardless of economic conditions. People value self-care and will continue to buy services to look and feel good. 

Opening a nail salon is much cheaper in a small town versus the big city—you have to rent space, utilities, and labor. Startup costs can average $10,000 at minimum. If you plan to dedicate space to spa or hair services, the costs go higher. 

18. Lawn and gardening services

In small towns with lots of single-family homes, a lawn and gardening service can also be a great small business idea. Many homeowners value having a well-maintained lawn and garden but may not have the time, tools, or physical ability to take care of their yards themselves. 

Lawnmowers and gardening equipment can be purchased for less than $500, making it a relatively low-cost, small business idea to start. It’s also flexible, because you can set your own schedule. You can also offer related services in the off-season, like snow removal, to earn income year round. 

Bananas In The Gardens is an example of a local lawn, garden and outdoor maintenance business. It serves a specific region, offering tasks like lawn mowing and weeding, as well as handy services like fence repairs and power washing. Its website makes it easy for local customers to understand the services and book them.

Product page for lawn care service on Shopify
Bananas In The Gardens sells lawn care services through Shopify.

4 best practices for starting a small-town business

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when starting a new business in a small town.

1. Follow legal regulations

Many businesses require permits or occupational licenses. The exact regulations will vary depending on the specific business and your location. 

For example, California requires hair stylists to be over the age of 17 and attend 1,000 hours of cosmetology school. They must also complete at least the 10th grade, or the equivalent, to receive a license. Check your town or state’s licensing and permitting requirements as a first step to starting a new business.

2. Engage the community

Successful small businesses will have deep ties to the communities where they’re based. This can include knowing your customers by name or offering your products and services at local community events. 

You can even collaborate with other local small businesses. For example, if you own a specialty grocer, you might collaborate with a local event planning business on a food concept for the next local festival.

3. Research and understand your customers

Another key aspect of successful entrepreneurship in smaller towns is having a thorough understanding of your target market’s wants and needs.

For example, local business owners in Prince Edward County, Ontario, got the idea for a successful small-town shop by noticing one area that lacked a convenience store. They realized there was an unmet need in the community and established a store called The General, selling items such as toothbrushes, candy, beach towels, and specialty foods.

4. Be creative

Successful small-town entrepreneurs solve problems in a novel ways. This requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.

For a pair of entrepreneurs, this meant combining their love of motorcycles and coffee to create Steeltown Garage Co., a motorcycle-themed café, in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Start your own business today

If you’ve found a solid business idea from the above list, now’s the time to start your own business. Pick a niche market, get your Shopify store set up, and use the stories above as motivation to create your own successful small business. 

Small-town business ideas FAQ

How can I attract customers and build a strong community presence in a small town?

You can advertise in your town’s local paper and on social media. Make sure to network with small town residents as well. You can do this by paying for advertising, attending local events, and reaching out to any friends in the area who can help promote your business.

How can I compete with big brands in a small town market?

Small businesses tend to have more flexibility in how they operate compared to big businesses. Find out what your customers wish could be improved in their experiences with big brands and then make the effort to implement those ideas in your business.

What is the key to success when starting a small-town business?

To start a successful business, you need to provide excellent customer service and understand the community you serve. You also need to carefully watch your finances and make sure your decisions support long-term goals for your business.

How can I find funding for my small-town business?

The US Small Business Administration offers loans specifically for small businesses. Additionally, many banks and private lenders also offer loans to small businesses. Certain government agencies and private organizations offer grants to businesses as well.

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