Setting Up a Shabby Chic Shop? If So You Need To Read This.

A Shabby Chic shop can be the ultimate goal for those of us that love painting furniture. But is it always a good idea to pursue this dream? Let’s look at what’s involved…

The Shabby Chic look has always been on my radar, I have always admired the look long before I got involved in how to achieve it for myself on my projects.
I still remember the feeling of ‘wow’ that I felt when I walked into my first Shabby Chic furniture store.

It was in a little town in Spain where I was living at the time. An English couple had set up a Shabby Chic shop and were importing furniture from across Europe. Then they were mostly adding dark wax to everything and painting the occasional piece. the concept was amazing to me, how the furniture was transformed by adding this ‘miracle wax’ that the guy had in a huge drum in his workshop.

Man I was jealous! I really wanted a shop just like theirs. They seemed to be so sorted. It’s been something that I have wanted to do ever since then, like so many others in the Shabby Chic arena, opening our own shop seems to be something that we all aspire to for so many reasons. Is it the right move though? What can you expect to encounter if you do go down the route of having your own shop space and is it really worth it?

Reclaim Your Home.

I know for a lot of the people that I speak to in the furniture painting arena this seem like a completely natural progression. After all their houses are often crammed with projects. Furniture everywhere that is just waiting to be shown off to prospective buyers!
If you only had a place to display these projects, surely the cash would come rolling in and you would have lots more room to do more painting wouldn’t you? Surely opening a shop is the ideal answer?

Let’s have a look at some of the pro’s and con’s of doing so…

A strange mindset shift happens when you first take on a premises to display your work from. Suddenly everything feels real…very real, like OMG what the hell have I got myself into real!

You are now not the individual in the back bedroom painting for fun and the occasional payday here and there, now you’re in the real world where you feel that you have to present yourself in the very best light at all times because a customer could turn up at any moment. It is exhilarating though, and trust me when I say that there will be 1001 things to do in order to get your area ready, whether it’s a concession or a shop, you are going to be busy long before you think about making your first sale!

Without wishing to state the obvious, the first thing that you have to work out is your budget. Bear in mind that there are always unexpected expenses to take into account and you don’t want to get caught out before you get started.

Some of the things that you will need to plan for are:

Telephone/Internet connectivity
Business rates
Possible hidden connection fees
Contents insurance
Public liability insurance
Display items
Point of sale materials

These are a few of the things that will need to be in place from the get go in most instances. Everybody has to have them I’m afraid. There is always a cost to doing business once you make the transition to being visible on the high street.

Even the couple in Spain discovered that if they didn’t ‘contribute’ to the Guardia Seville’s (Spanish Police) newsletter (one sheet of A4 paper!) then they should not expect anyone to attend should their alarm ever be set off or a break in occur. Business always costs!

This is phase one, if you are not already doing so you will also need to factor in some expenses for an accountant and possibly someone who can be called upon for legal advice. For the legal side we joined the Federation of Small businesses who are on hand with a legal team that we can call and question over anything to do with our business.

You can also expect a call from the music licensing agency. They will be very polite and before they tell you who they are they will ask “do you listen to the radio at work?”. If you answer “yes” then they will politely inform you that you owe them £150 or you could be fined for publicly broadcasting copywright protected music.

If you are working from home, you likely have a lot of time on your hands to paint and experiment with various things. This will change when you have a shop.
You’ll find that you have much less time to paint as you will be serving in your shop. This is unless you are able to employ staff but this also comes with built in pitfalls as you need to be able to trust your staff implicitly to be honest and also to know what they are talking about when serving customers.

You will also have to be up to speed on employment law. For example do you employ your staff? If so you will be liable for their NI contributions as well as holiday and sick pay. You should also draft a comprehensive contract to protect yourself in the event that an employee becomes unreasonable with you.
If you are thinking of taking on some help on a self employed basis be careful. In the UK there are restrictions on doing so if it is the persons only source of employment. To protect yourself I would always advise asking your accountant or going direct to HMRC to avoid falling foul of the law.

Sorry to sound like it’s all doom and gloom, it’s really not but having been through the process myself I would hate to see someone stumble before they really got going because they didn’t know what to expect, so I’m giving it to you ‘real’.

If your experience is anything like mine, some of the other things that you will have to take care of are:

The thousands of phone calls that you’ll get as soon as you sign a lease from agencies trying to sell you on a new energy tariff. Honestly for the first few weeks I thought my head would explode from the sheer volume of calls asking me to switch energy providers. If the phone rings, you want to answer it, after all it may be a customer. I didn’t dare not answer it, I mean, I am a new business and can’t afford to ignore calling customers.
Every SINGLE time…Hello, can I speak to the person that pays the energy bills please…This went on for weeks. Be prepared!

You may get a visit from the council to ensure that you have proper exit signs in place and that there is nothing dangerous in your shop. If you do it’s a fair bet that they will also want to see at least one good quality fire extinguisher and a comprehensive first aid kit too so these are things worth investing in. If you’re using any paints then they are certainly worth having anyway so factor in the costs when doing your budget.

You will find that a good percentage of your time will be taken explaining things to customers and there will never be enough hours in the day.

When you are eventually ready and prepared to open your doors to the public you will likely be exhausted but if you’re like me, very very happy!

Having our own Shabby Chic shop has been a fantastic experience. It has allowed me to get to know some of the most amazing people. We have had visitors from all over the world, from as far away as Australia. Many of the people that I have gotten to know through having our store come and often stay for an hour or two, it’s like talking to friends, not customers. For all the hard work and being tied to being at the shop for the set hours I have to say that for me it has been a wonderful experience.

It also allows me to keep my work life at work (mostly lol!) and allows me to enjoy my time at home more.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on owning a shop. Do you have one? would you like to have one? What issues have you come up against in taking your business to the next level?

I hope that some of the points raised here help some of you  avoid some of the obstacles that are there when first setting up your Shabby Chic shop.
Post a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sam x


  1. Oh so true, and those energy suppliers are relentless! I am in the process of opening an Antique & Interiors Emporium (we open Wednesday!) and my phone has rung hot since I signed the lease 2 weeks ago.

    Great blog and very informative to those looking to make the leap.

    • I thought they’d never stop…Hang on…They haven’t! We also have had some private medical calls too!
      Good luck with your Grand Opening on Wednesday, Such a shame we aren’t closer, would have loved to come along & support you! I will be there in spirit! Wishing you every success Helen! Sam xx

  2. all so true. biggest point I would make is the sheer volume of shabby chic shops. its now the norm n not the alternative.

    • That’s so true too! Some towns are flooded with them, others not so much, so location is key! Although there’s nothing stopping someone opening up next door! Thanks for your comments! Sam x

  3. Hi Linzi, That’s why we wanted to write this blog. The pretty shop is just a small part of it all, It’s the very long hours, the behind the scenes work, that some people don’t factor in! Time management is crucial, if your business depends on your painting furniture on a regular basis, you will need to factor this in if you are going to be in the shop, with, hopefully, people popping in & out all day! Wishing you lots of luck if you do take the plunge! WHats your FB link? I’ll pop over & give you a like, If I haven’t already! Sam xx

  4. Hi Alex, What a fantastic idea!! Thanks for that, I will make this into a Facebook post in the coming days, Would be great for crafters to help each other out! Brilliant! Sam x

  5. I tried setting up a small shabby chic business, but found selling the end product online was much easier, however due to delivery costs I limited the market on sites such as ebay and gumtree. I wrote about some ideas, and am going to add your post link to the article

  6. So glad I found this thought I was going mad with all the energy calls and crafty they are too, trying to trick you into signing up, nearly caught me out, had me in tears in the end too! Yes we got the Music licence call but luckily a friend had already mentioned we would need this. The federation of small businesses has been invaluable and you get your card machine cheaper and free business banking whoop, whoop! Opening our emporium was a steep learning curve but I don’t regret a thing and if you get the location right then wow! After six months of trading we were up for The National Vintage awards and made it to the final. Good luck everyone, be brave, go for it!

  7. I have been painting for 6 years now, I only find what antique or vintage pieces I can afford. I look online an see all these most beautiful reproduction pieces that they are painting an making the big bucks. Does anyone know where to purchase such pieces for good price to turn profit? Im an antique lover so yes the real thing would be nice but I see most are not originals

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