Find out the best businesses to open in rural areas
American small towns don’t have the large customer bases that big cities do. However, they can typically supply a reasonable — and devoted — pool of town residents who are prospective customers for small businesses. That’s especially true for those offering products and services locals value while delivering a warm and personal customer experience.
Think of it this way: You may not have to hustle as much if your company is a big fish in a small-town pond rather than small fish in a big-city ocean.
If you’re an entrepreneur who prefers life in a small community, you may wonder what good business opportunities are available to you.
Towns typically need similar types of businesses as large urban centers. Here are some of the most popular — and successful — small business ideas for small towns.
Starbucks, Dunkin, and other popular coffee providers often bypass small towns because they may not be able to generate enough business to make an investment in a location payoff. That’s why a coffee shop is my top small-town business opportunity for prospective business owners to consider. The demand for coffee and other beverages is high, and many small towns don’t have a purveyor.
Take your coffee shop to the next level by serving wine and beer later in the day when the demand for coffee goes down. Many small towns don’t have places to hang out in the evening, so this business model could allow your location to serve a dual purpose that earns you a secondary income stream that could make your coffee shop a highly profitable business.
Tip: Turn your coffee shop into a unique local experience by selling regional products like baked goods, cheeses, and sweets. Your suppliers will generate buzz for your coffee shop, and the local aspect will appeal to residents and visitors alike.
Pet owners are picky people. They want to know and trust the people who groom and board their pets. Pet moms and dads don’t want to entrust their animals to an unknown trainer, boarder, or pet grooming professional at a Petco or other mass retailer in a far-away city.
The need for trust in pet service providers is why every town needs its own pet services business. With all the pandemic pets, the pet sector is a growing one that shows no signs of slowing down. This provides an excellent opportunity to open a doggy daycare business, grooming shop, dog-walking service, or another pet service.
Tip: Offer food, treats, grooming aids, and other products at your business through a mini pet store. Pet owners are more likely to take recommendations from someone who cares for their dog, cat, or other animal and purchase the things you suggest.
Specialized clothing store
Is your town known for a particular sport or activity like kayaking, hiking, or skiing? Perhaps it’s home to a popular high school or local sports team. Maybe it’s renowned for its gardens, a local product, a historical event, or a quirk.
Why not open a clothing boutique that serves a regional need or celebrates your local area? You’ll have built-in local demand and avoid the trend toward buying things online. It’s unlikely that the t-shirts and unique regional items you sell are readily available through online businesses.
People are picky about their hair. They won’t trust it to just anyone. Personalized knowledge and service are why most towns have one or more barbershops and hair salons. People prefer to patronize hair businesses with barbers, cutters, and stylists who know them and understand their unique needs. They also want hair services that are convenient and accessible. A long drive isn’t an option during a hair emergency.
Tip: Make your hair salon a local community meeting place. Serve coffee and other beverages. Encourage beauty salon patrons to share news and gossip. It will encourage people to hang out and purchase additional services from you, like getting their nails or makeup done or enjoying spa treatments. Just make sure you get the correct certifications to offer other services.
Bakery products, by their nature, must be fresh and natural. Traveling long distances isn’t an option when it comes to muffins, donuts, and bread. If you bring baked goods home from a seller in another place, they’ll either become stale quickly or they’re packed with preservatives.
The demand for fresh and natural products is why many small towns have a local baker. Running a bakery isn’t easy, so it’s essential to do your research and meet with some owners of successful local bakeries before you open one.
Grocery store or specialty food shop
A grocery store is one of the most practical recommendations on this list. A food supplier is something that everyone in your town is guaranteed to need at some point, even in today’s world of Amazon and grocery delivery businesses.
Like many small-town business ideas, there are many directions you can take this concept. Perhaps you could focus on the necessities people often forget when they go to the supermarket. Of you could offer specialty foods people can’t get anywhere else. Maybe you could set up a food store with a farmers’ market theme, inviting local growers and food producers to sell their goods. Just make sure your food business has a reason for being and that you can express it in a way people in your town understand it.
Lawn, landscaping, or gardening service
One thing that most people in small towns have that those living in cities don’t is a lot of grass and big yards. It’s why they need lawn and gardening services.
If you provide top-notch lawn, landscaping, or gardening services, you’ll likely have repeat customers that return year after year. Plus, they’re likely to recommend your landscaping business to people in your area. Open your new business offering a limited number of services you do well, such as cutting grass and fertilizing lawns. As you build trust with clients, add more, such as gardening help, planting, trimming, and pest control.
Starting a food truck business might not seem like a top opportunity for small towns. However, depending on the location of your town, the seasonality of the people who live there, and the weather, a food truck could be a great opportunity. Many small towns are known for outdoor activities, such as sporting events, festivals, and markets. Being able to drive your food business to where crowds are is a great way to introduce your cooking to residents. Once they get to know you, they’ll patronize your truck when it’s parked in town.
Tip: Food trucks can be rented for special events. So for a small town that doesn’t have a catering service, hiring a food truck can be a great alternative. Plus, there is less competition among food trucks in small towns than in big cities, meaning you could really be in high demand.
Small towns are often home to many children. And most small-town school districts don’t have the same resources as their big-city counterparts. They don’t offer tutoring to help students that are falling behind. The internet has many virtual tutoring businesses, but many students prefer a live and in-person teacher. Start small by tutoring subjects you understand well. Over time, you can expand your operation by hiring tutors in other subjects.
Tip: Social media can be a great way to market a new tutoring service. Simply connect with parents and teachers associated with local schools.
Car wash and detailing service
People prefer clean and shiny vehicles over dirty ones, whether they live in a tiny town or a big city. It doesn’t make sense to drive long distances to get a car cleaned. It could end up a mess by the time you get home. That’s why most small towns need a vehicle cleaning service. If you decide to open one, make sure you locate it in a relatively busy, well-trafficked area, ideally near a gas station or auto repair shop, to stay visible and attract more business.
Tip: Businesses like car washes can be costly to purchase, set up, and operate. Check out some popular small business loan options for entrepreneurs setting up a new operation.
Gym, exercise, or yoga studio
Most people won’t travel long distances for a workout. A far away exercise location is a common reason people give up on their fitness goals. Plus, the boutique fitness trend is hot and shows no signs of dying down. Many people don’t like giant gyms, so a small-town boutique location that offers personalized fitness services could take off.
Every town deserves a great restaurant or two. In a small town, what makes an eating establishment great is often different than in suburban locations or cities. It may need to cater to business clients, be the ultimate date-night choice, feel comfortable for families, provide takeout or delivery services for busy people, and maybe even be a party destination. Before opening a small-town restaurant, take time to get to know your community, its demographics, and its needs. Then tailor your restaurant around your strengths and interests as a chef or restauranteur and what the people in your area want. Your restaurant could be a massive hit if you nail the combination.
Tip: Before you open a restaurant or any type of business, write a business plan. It will help guide the growth path of your operation. Plus, you’ll likely need one if you apply for a small business loan.
Sports or theme bar
Is your town known for supporting specific sports teams or activities? Why not open a sports bar or a watering hole that celebrates what your town loves? After the pandemic, people look for opportunities to gather and share their passions again. Come up with the right concept, and you could sell a lot of drinks (within safe and legal limits, of course!)
Home improvement, contracting, and repair services
Residents of small towns often have significant home improvement, contracting, and handyman needs. Yet they often don’t have contractors or a handyman service to satisfy them. If you can help people with their home improvement and repair needs, you could be of great value to your community. If a town doesn’t have someone who can help with these things, people often have to book appointments days or even weeks in advance. This can be a considerable problem in emergencies, such as when power blows out or a sink or toilet backs up. Depending on the size of a community opening a home improvement or repair business could be a smart — and lucrative — move.
Many larger national and regional cleaning companies don’t want to serve smaller rural areas. It simply doesn’t make sense to send cleaning crews out to those places. If this is the case in your community, it could be a smart move to open a cleaning service. Startup costs are typically reasonable. (You likely won’t have to rent a storefront, purchase real estate, or buy expensive equipment.) And people will pay a significant amount for quality cleaning help. Plus, they’ll likely recommend you to similar businesses and others in your area if they like the cleaning job you do.
Wine or Liquor Store
The pandemic proved that even in a crisis, people don’t stop consuming alcohol. This is true in big cities and small towns. That’s why it could be a great idea to open a liquor store if your town doesn’t already have one. Alcohol tends to be an of-the-moment impulse purchase. Many of the larger liquor delivery companies don’t serve rural communities. If you become your community’s liquor or wine purveyor, all those drinkers will become your customers and may even pay a premium to buy from you. This could turn into a really lucrative business opportunity.
Bed and breakfast or Airbnb
If your town is a tourist destination, it could make sense to open a bed and breakfast or rent out your home or a few rooms online. Even if the area is already served by hotels, motels, or other lodging, many prefer the more personal and unique experience of staying in a BNB or private home. It can be an excellent way to better get to know the community they’re visiting. And it can be a great opportunity for you to subsidize your mortgage or earn some extra income.
Tip: Offer tour guide services as part of your lodging package. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself and delight your guests.
Small town business ideas: The bottom line
The options for small-town business concepts are almost unlimited. People in rural areas typically need the same goods and services as those living in big cities. And they want to access them locally from somebody they trust. Before opening a small-town business, consider your skills and what you enjoy doing and see if it could fill an unmet need in your community or another small town.