I recently went live on Instagram to answer your questions about opening a brick and mortar shop. I used to own a store called Salam Shop. It was an inspirational lifestyle boutique for modern Muslims that focused on spreading the love and beauty of Islam through it’s products, people, and events. I owned and operated this shop from September 2014 to June 2017. The shop itself opened on February 2015.
The shop decor was inspired from Anthropologie, including a front window display that changed bi-weekly with new products and themes. Our interior was very welcoming and eclectic and product displays were ever changing. Our staff were trained in creating a welcoming and loving experience for everyone who walked through our doors. From saying “salaam” within the first 3 seconds of entry, explaining the stories behind our products and brands, and getting to know our customers by name, we prided ourselves in having the best customer experience around. Fun fact: we had a local high school design one of our monthly window displays as an entrepreneurship class contest. Being part of the community was very important to us.
There’s one main thing I want you to get out of this article: opening a brick and mortar is NOT a 9 to 5. It’s not even a 7 to 6. It’s a 24 hour, round the clock type of business. At least for the first few years. Yes, even when you are sleeping, you are working. Because your dreams are about your retail business. While this sentiment holds true for many businesses, a brick and mortar has several layers on top of running something like an online shop. Paying rent is just one of these things.
Thank you so much for sending in your questions! I’ve answered some of the most popular questions I received here. If you have a question about opening a brick and mortar shop, ask it below or email me at email@example.com. If this article was helpful to you or may help a friend, please share it on facebook or instagram!
Why did you start Salam Shop?
When I was planning for hajj I was working at a startup and realized I wanted to do something with my life that was more meaningful and that would bring me closer to Islam. That’s where I started coming up with the concept of a shop for Muslims. I was part of a strong network of wonderful businesswomen and businessmen who had amazing products and just didn’t have the means to open up a storefront location. I realized that by bringing the different brands together I would be able to own and operate a brick and mortar shop in a financially possible way.
What was the purpose of Salam Shop?
My intention was always to showcase Islam in a beautiful way.
The vision was to spread the love and beauty of Islam. So when you walked into the shop you felt like you belonged regardless of where you lay on the spectrum of how serious you were about your faith, or how you practice your faith, and regardless of your cultural background – you felt like you belonged alhamdulillah.
I always tried to keep that intention, and I also focused on why I was doing it. Which was so that I could spend my working hours doing something for the sake of Islam, and working towards the Hereafter insha Allah.
How much did you need to start up?
I spent between $10k – $15k to start up. The money was used for professional and legal services, overhead costs, wholesale product, equipment and furniture, and building upgrades (such as our beautiful floors).
Are shops like Salam Shop lucrative enough to leave my job?
With any startup, you shouldn’t expect to be pulling a big salary (or any salary) for 2-3 years. To grow the business, you’ll want to invest the profits back into it. Which is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, we closed up shop right between the 2 and 3 year mark so I didn’t really pay myself any salary.
Don’t get me wrong though – Salam Shop was always meant to be my full time job and I didn’t go into the business thinking it was volunteer work. I was planning on taking a salary starting year 2.5 and I encourage you to always plan to take a salary from any work you do, unless it’s volunteer work.
Will you be reopening?
I won’t say that I will never re-open, but at this time, it’s not something on my mind. With my new venture, Ramadan Market, I was able to bring the concept of Salam Shop back for a weekend.
Did you consider it a successful business? What was your definition of success at the time?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the success of Salam Shop. We had customers visit our location from all over the world and it was becoming a destination shop due to our popularity on instagram. Salam Shop was a huge success for me and it opened up so many doors. I met so many amazing people in our community and around the world and I wouldn’t change anything.
My definition of success was twofold: please Allah (S) and spread the beauty of Islam. Obviously I also had to be able to pay the rent and my staff.
What was it like when you first opened?
Our opening day was surreal. The support from family, friends, and the community was overwhelming. It brings tears to my eyes.
Did you make a lot of profit after paying employees and rent?
All of our profits were invested back into growing the business. In terms of sales, we brought in about half a million dollars in our 2.5 years of existence.
How did you jump from corporate life to entrepreneurship?
I’m a risk taker. I’m the type of person who comes up with an idea and implements it. I’d rather fail fast and often then spend months perfecting something and then fail (after having wasted months). So, I just took that jump. I quit my job and went for it. Taking risks like this is still very normal for me. I believe great things happen when you get out of your comfort zone.
Side note: I did ensure we were financially stable before taking the risk. I would never jeapordize financial security.
What was it like walking away from Salam Shop?
Devastating. It was my baby. I cry when I talk about it or see photos. Saying goodbye is never easy. But Allah (S) had real babies for me!
What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was staffing. Retail has very high turnover and because of our focus on exceptional customer service, it made it that much harder. Alhumdulillah one of my hajj duas was to find trustworthy and hardworking staff and I always had just that.
Was it hard to turn your concept into a reality?
No. Because I was working predominantly independently on the creative side of things, it made turning the concept into reality so much easier. I kind of just came up with ideas and then implemented them. I’m also a risk taker so I didn’t worry too much about how the ideas would be perceived. I just did them and made changes as needed.
How long did it take from idea to execution?
I came up with the idea for Salam Shop in August of 2014, found a space in September 2014, and then started renovations in the space in November 2014. We opened up the shop in February 2015.
What would you do differently if you did it all over again?
I would focus more on the online aspect of the business. I would streamline the website and shipping so that at least half (if not more) of our sales were coming from an online order.
Is running a shop for everyone?
No. It’s a full time / full life job and at the start, your own personal network and connections are what will make it successful. So I think it’s important to have those connections and be offering something truly unique.
What was the most useful advice someone gave you on running a shop?
One of my business mentors told me that retail shops are all about creating an experience. It’s one of the main reasons people come into a shop to buy versus shopping online. That was huge for me and I always focused on creating an inspirational experience – whether it was from our decor, or from offering a free sample of tea while you were shopping.
How did you hire a team?
I tapped into my personal network and also posted on job sites. All of my employees were through word of mouth and customers who had shopped with us. I always conducted interviews and had certain traits I was looking for: can work independently and takes instruction well. Of course, friendliness and ability to communicate clearly were also on the top of the list. One of the questions we always asked our potential sales associates was what their favourite product at the shop was. If you could answer that question with conviction and passion, we knew you really wanted to be in the shop!
How did you manage the shop with kids?
In short, I didn’t.
I had my kids in March of 2017 and we closed in June 2017. Truth be told, I wasn’t physically present in the shop from about September of 2016 due to the difficulties of a triplet pregnancy. My staff were entirely independent in the store and we communicated via phone and email.
Once the kids were born I just didn’t have the head space to manage a family and a business that required that much work. Ironically, the plaza my shop was in was turning into a condo building and they had already given me my last months notice. Allah (S) always has a plan for all of us.
I planned on closing after Ramadan, but after announcing our store closing, we sold out of all of our product in about 10 days so we closed mid-June of 2017.
How did you push yourself to keep going?
This is such a great question. With any business, you have moments where you want to throw in the towel and just quit. For me, this happens when I’ve been stuck in the same routine for a while. How I combatted the feeling of wanting to quit was by putting myself out there. Conferences, networking events, craft fairs, Islamic courses, etc. became a norm for me.
I remember flying to New York City for a conference. I thrived in settings with other motivational people and I always end up so pumped up and raring to go. This is still the case. The only way to motivate yourself is to step away from it for a day or two. Take a course. Meet up with business friends or make new business friends. Tour a new city. A change of scenery or space will get your creative juices flowing again.
This blog post brought back so many beautiful memories! If you’re looking for more information about Salam Shop and my journey, you can check out this blog here that I did for Life of My Heart a few years ago.
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