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How to Open a Liquor Store

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Open a Liquor Store

Fast Facts

Investment range

$7,950 - $62,800

Revenue potential

$200,000 - $730,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 – 3 months

Profit potential

$50,000 - $75,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Full-time

Americans are drinking more than ever, boosting the liquor industry 35% over the past decade to more than $70 billion. You could start your own retail liquor store and reap the benefits of that boom. It takes a bit of investment to get started, but you can make a good living.

You’ll need to drink up some business information, though, before you get started. Luckily, this step-by-step guide will load you up with all the insights and knowledge you need to be on your way to liquor store success.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a liquor store has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • High Demand – Many people like to imbibe
  • Socialize – Meet and talk to all sorts of people
  • Recession Proof – People drink more when the economy dips

Cons

  • State Regulations – Licensing and regulation compliance required
  • Long Hours – Liquor stores usually stay open all day
  • Low Margins – 10% profit margin is good for a liquor store

Liquor industry trends

Industry size and growth

liquor industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends in the liquor store industry include:

  • Online liquor sales became popular during the pandemic and are still booming, which means you can keep initial costs low by starting an online-only store
  • Whiskey is the hot liquor right now, as evidenced by growing tourism and production by Kentucky whiskey distilleries.
  • Ready-to-drink cocktails and alcoholic seltzers are all the rage.

Challenges in the liquor store industry include:

  • Supply chain issues have created liquor shortages in some areas.
  • The rising popularity of legal marijuana has hurt liquor sales. 
liquor industry Trends and Challenges

Consumer spending

liquor store consumer spending

Demand hotspots

liquor store demand hotspots

What kind of people work in liquor stores?

liquor store industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a liquor store business?

You can start an online liquor store for about $8,000. Costs include licensing, a website, and inventory. To start a physical liquor store, you’ll spend $60,000 or more to rent the space and stock the store.

Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$1,500 - $3,000$2,250
Insurance$100-$300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Location rental$0 - $3,000$1,500
Space preparation$0 - $3,000$1,500
Inventory$5,000 - $50,000$27,500
Total$7,950 - $62,800$35,375

How much can you earn from a liquor store business?

Your average sale per product should be about $20. Your profit margin from an online store should be about 25%. If you have a physical location, it will be about 10%.

In your first year or two, you could work from home and sell 200 products online per week, bringing in more than $200,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $50,000 in profit, assuming that 25% margin. At this stage, you might open a physical liquor store and hire staff, reducing your margin to 10%. Your sales could increase to 100 products per day. With annual revenue of $730,000, you’d make nearly $75,000.

Liquor business earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a liquor store. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Licensing requirements and regulations
  • Funding the cost of inventory

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
How to Open a Liquor Store

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a liquor store, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research liquor stores in your area and online to examine their products, price points, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a liquor store that stocks all the latest pre-made cocktails and seltzers. 

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as craft beer or high-end wine.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.

What? Choosing the right inventory for your liquor store

You’ll need to look at the most popular types and brands of liquor to decide what to stock. You’ll also need to decide if you want to sell beer and wine, as well as liquor. You could also offer tobacco products and food items to increase revenue. 

How much should you charge for liquor?

Your prices will depend on the prices you pay to distributors. You’ll markup those prices by 25% to 30% to get your retail prices. When you have a physical store, your expenses will be rent, overhead, and labor. You should aim for a profit margin of 10%.

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be anyone over 21. You should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.

Where? Choose your liquor store location

Choosing the right location for your liquor store is critical. It can make a significant difference in attracting customers and building a successful business. Consider factors such as visibility, accessibility, demographics, and competition when deciding on a location.

Look for a spot that is easily visible and accessible to potential customers. Analyze the surrounding demographics to ensure there is a demand for a liquor store in the area.

Additionally, be mindful of the level of competition nearby. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can select a location that enhances the potential for success of your liquor store.

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home as an online store to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and will rent out a storefront. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
liquor store idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Liquor Store Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “liquor” or “spirits”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Jim’s Liquor Spot” over “Jim’s Vodka Palace”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion

Discover over 320 unique liquor store name ideas here. If you want your business name to include specific keywords, you can also use our liquor store name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. 

Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Liquor Store Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: A brief snapshot of your liquor store business plan, highlighting your vision and key financial points.
  • Business Overview: An overview of your liquor store, including the business structure, location, and the type of liquor store you’re planning to open.
  • Product and Services: Detailed information on the range of alcoholic beverages and related products or services you will offer to customers.
  • Market Analysis: An examination of the liquor market demand, customer demographics, and buying habits in the area you plan to serve.
  • Competitive Analysis: Assessment of other liquor stores in your vicinity, their strengths, weaknesses, and your strategic advantage.
  • Sales and Marketing: Strategies for attracting and retaining customers, including pricing, promotions, advertising, and the customer experience you’ll provide.
  • Management Team: Profiles of key team members, their roles, experience, and how they’ll contribute to the success of the liquor store.
  • Operations Plan: The day-to-day activities required to run the liquor store, including supplier relationships, staffing, and inventory management.
  • Financial Plan: Projection of startup costs, operating costs, revenue forecasts, and profitability over time, including break-even analysis.
  • Appendix: Supplementary materials such as detailed financial projections, licenses, legal documents, resumes of key managers, or market study details.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to liquor stores.

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your liquor store will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a liquor business. 

types of business financing

Step 8: Apply for Liquor Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a liquor store business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

You’ll need a liquor license and specific liquor permits at the state and local levels. Check with your local governments for requirements.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your liquor business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Fishbowl, Korona, or POS Now, to manage your ordering, purchasing, inventory, invoices, sales, and payments.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial. 

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.

Marketing

Marketing strategies for a liquor store should aim to build a strong local presence, establish brand recognition, and foster a community of loyal customers. Here’s a structured set of creative marketing ideas.

Digital Presence and Online Marketing

  • Integrated Social Media Strategy:
    • Facebook: Utilize for targeted ads, especially to demographic-specific groups.
    • Instagram: Leverage for visual storytelling and reaching a younger demographic.
    • Twitter: Engage in real-time conversations and trends for brand visibility.
  • Optimized Website and SEO:
    • Implement SEO best practices to ensure your site ranks highly in relevant searches.
    • Optimize your website’s calls to action to increase conversion rates.
  • Google My Business and Yelp Listings:
    • Regularly update your listings on Yelp and Google My Business to improve local search visibility.
  • Mobile App Development:
    • Create a user-friendly app to facilitate easy browsing, exclusive deals, and in-app purchases.

Content Marketing and Engagement

  • Email Marketing/Newsletter:
    • Send personalized, regular emails with promotions, events, and store news.
  • Blogging and Content Creation:
    • Start a blog to share insights, store updates, and industry news.
  • Interactive Competitions:
    • Host creative contests, like cocktail crafting, with incentives to increase customer engagement.
  • Influencer Partnerships:
    • Collaborate with influencers to reach wider audiences and add credibility to your brand.

Experiential and In-Store Experiences

  • In-Store Tastings:
    • Offer complimentary tastings to educate consumers and promote new products.
  • Mixology Classes and Events:
    • Host mixology classes to build a community and educate customers on cocktail-making.
  • Pairing Events:
    • Collaborate with local eateries for pairing events, offering a combined culinary experience.
  • Themed Events and Festivities:
    • Organize events related to cultural festivities and holidays to attract themed-event lovers.

Collaborations and Community

  • Local Partnerships:
    • Partner with local businesses and producers to foster community ties and offer exclusive products.
  • Sustainability Initiatives:
    • Market eco-friendly practices and products to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
  • Charity and Social Responsibility:
    • Engage in charity events and causes to showcase your brand’s social responsibility.
  • Local Artist Collaborations:
    • Feature local artists’ work in your store, promoting community art and culture.

Customer Relationship and Loyalty Programs

  • Loyalty and Rewards Programs:
    • Develop a rewards system for frequent customers to encourage repeat visits.
  • VIP and Membership Clubs:
    • Offer a membership program with perks like early access to new products and exclusive events.
  • Customer Feedback Initiatives:
    • Create a loop for customer feedback to improve and adapt your offerings continuously.

Promotions and Advertising

  • Flash Sales and Happy Hours:
    • Introduce limited-time offers to generate quick boosts in traffic and sales.
  • Paid Ads and PPC Marketing:
    • Use targeted social media ads and Google AdWords to attract customers actively searching for liquor-related products.
  • Signage and Visual Merchandising:
    • Invest in high-quality, eye-catching signage both in-store and online to capture attention.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your liquor store meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your liquor store business could be:

  • Beer, wine, and spirits delivered to your door
  • Premium liquors for your luxury lifestyle
  • Craft beer – so many varieties, so little time
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a liquor business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in liquor for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in liquor. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a liquor business include:

  • Store Clerks – make sales, customer service
  • General Manager – staff management, ordering, accounting
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Liquor Store – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Liquor stores have always been busy, but the industry started booming in 2020 and that boom is continuing. Liquor is a $70 billion industry, so why not open your own liquor store and get a piece of the action? You can start an online store for far less than a physical store, then open a brick-and-mortar store later and maybe start franchising and go nationwide. 
Now that you’re loaded with business knowledge, it’s time to finalize your plan and launch your new liquor store!

Liquor Store Business FAQs

Can a liquor store be profitable?

Yes, a liquor store in a good location can be profitable. You do, however, need to do a high volume of business to make money because profit margins are low.

How do I deal with competition in the liquor store industry?

To handle competition in the liquor store industry, provide exceptional customer service, offer a wide selection of products, implement a loyalty program, provide unique services, and stay up to date with industry trends.

How old do you have to be to open a liquor store?

The minimum age requirement for opening a liquor store varies by location and jurisdiction, as laws and regulations governing the sale of alcohol are set by each individual state or country. In the United States, for example, the minimum age requirement to sell alcohol varies from 18 to 21 years old depending on the state.

In some states, there may also be additional requirements for owning or operating a liquor store, such as obtaining a license or permit from the state or local government. These requirements may include background checks, training courses, or proof of financial responsibility.

Therefore, if you are interested in opening a liquor store, it’s important to research the specific laws and regulations in your area to determine the minimum age requirement and any other requirements for obtaining a license or permit.

What are the average hours for a liquor store?

The average hours for a liquor store can vary depending on the location and local laws and regulations. In general, liquor stores tend to be open for several hours each day, often from mid-morning or early afternoon until late evening.

In the United States, for example, many liquor stores are open from around 10 am or 11 am until around 9 pm or 10 pm, although there can be considerable variation depending on the specific store and location. Some stores may open earlier or stay open later, particularly on weekends or during the holiday season.

What does 'ABC' stand for in liquor store company names?

In the United States, “ABC” typically stands for “Alcoholic Beverage Control,” which is a government agency responsible for regulating the sale and distribution of alcohol. In some states, the agency is known as the “Alcohol and Tobacco Control” or “Alcohol Beverage Control” agency.

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How to Open a Liquor Store