Local Business Ideas from the Big Apple

I’ve never seen as many small businesses and hustles as I have this past year living in Manhattan. There is someone doing almost anything imaginable for a buck…okay, a few bucks….

I visited my hometown in Missouri recently, and although Main Street seems to be thriving with bars and restaurants, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the services and goods provided in New York aren’t being provided in the smaller areas.

I completely understand that money is tighter in middle America, people tend to take care of their own issues, and there are fewer people to buy goods and services.

However, with a little ingenuity and “big city” ideas, I would argue that many people could grow thriving businesses in fields that they may not even realize exist!

What makes me an expert? Well, alongside being an avid consumer of the most esoteric goods and services imaginable, I also founded a $1M per year music school in the San Francisco Bay Area, have run PR services for more than 15 SMBs, started a New York non-profit for arts education, and grew up as the daughter of two business owners – one a founder and owner of a salon/spa – and the other, a sales manager and advisor in financial services.

My experiences in business are broad, and I’ve learned through all of this, that managing a business is hard work and shares similar wins and losses, regardless of the industry.

  • Managing and hiring great workers is difficult.
  • Regulations, permits, laws, and tax codes are always in-flux and creating new hoops for small businesses to jump through.
  • Online reviews and word-of-mouth with your client-base is king.
  • And, your livelihood depends on your willingness to learn, grow, implement, strategize, and excite those around you.

That said, sometimes owning your schedule, creating your own future, and building up your life, your employees’ lives, and your community overall is well worth the blood, sweat, and tears.

Are you up for the challenge, but unsure where to start? The first trick is trying to find something that can be a renewing monthly cost. Subscription-based models are the way of the future, and you can somewhat guarantee what your monthly income will be. It provides a little bit more security than the standard model, and it provides your customers/clients with your services consistently.

So, how can you start a new local business that will excite your community?

Let the Big Apple provide some starting ideas!

To make it in New York, companies have to follow 3-core rules:

  1. You have to be able to provide your service quick – scheduling an appointment within 24 hours is generally the best way to land the deal.
  2. Your work has to be impeccable or the customer will find someone else.
  3. You need to build a relationship with the customer/client. Community is key. Referrals will build your success.

***This post is only to serve as inspiration for the possibilities. Please check with your state, county, and town regarding permitting, laws, licenses, and other regulatory statutes.***

Also, check out this amazing podcast for entrepreneurs and business owners: How I Built This with Guy Raz

Top 10 Small Business Ideas from the Big Apple to Your Small Town – If they can make it here, they can make it anywhere!

  • Unique Mini Spas
    • Foot Massage: Focusing on reflexology and relaxation, Foot Massage shops are popping up everywhere in New York and California! This can be a rejuvenating lunch break for professionals, and a great weekend treat for moms on the go. Relax Foot Spa has a model, and several locations in NYC!
    • Drybar: Offering only washes, blow-outs, and small up-dos, Drybar is running New York City beauty. Women line-up for the service, relaxation, champagne, and chick-flicks playing on repeat in these walk-in shops. And, the hairdressers are happy to only focus on wash and dry – no harsh chemicals and no “oops” moments with the shears!
    • Himalayan Salt Room: For a moment of zen, New Yorkers are booking time in salt caves throughout the city. This is a unique experience that pulls those interested in health, beauty, fitness, and relaxation!
    • Thermal Bath Cycle: Used for centuries in Scandinavia, Greece, and Central Europe, Thermal Bath Cycles reset the immune system, relax the muscles, activate the circulatory system, tones the skin, and promotes joint health. By moving gently from contrasting temperatures, the body enjoys a reset, and it’s a lot of fun! This is a popular date night for new couples and parents to escape it all. AIRE even provides a wine bath for ultra-luxurious special occasions.
  • Pet Care
    • Pet Sitting and Dog Walking: If you love our furry four-legged friends, why not help out with pet sitting and walking? Many people dread the idea of sending their furry families to kennels while they’re at work or on vacation. Maybe you can help keep the pet(s) comfortable and cared for!
    • Pet Taxi: When we moved to New York, we hired a pet taxi to pick us up from the airport. We knew that we would have two fussy felines, and didn’t want to risk not being able to take a standard cab. It was a great experience, and we learned that these pet drivers actually pick up pets from their apartments and run them around town for grooming, veterinary care, and – can you believe it – shared custody drop-offs! 😂
    • Mobile Grooming: Like a food truck for pets, mobile grooming is becoming all the rage! Complete with massage for the pets, spa treatments, and ultra-luxe perks – pet parents are spending big dollars on their furry friends!
  • On-Demand Personal Assistants
    • Delivery Services: If you live somewhere without Seamless, Uber Eats, Instacart, DoorDash, Capsule, and Postmates, you have a huge opportunity to bring these services to your community. Especially in the days of pandemic and quarantine, people are needing groceries, prescriptions, takeout, and emergency items delivered to them. I’ve recently been to a community without these services, and the amount of time they spend running errands that I haven’t done in years is astounding. This one is a game-changer for everyone.
    • Personal Assistants: If you’re someone who is a jack-of-all-traits, more and more professionals are opting for personal assistants or virtual assistants. Rivvly has a business model of online assistants who will spend five hours a month helping you with everything from meal planning and grocery shopping to holiday and birthday gift buying to managing the family calendar and scheduling appointments and activities all the way to basic tech support, implementation, and set-up. How can you help your community be more productive?
  • Home Services
    • Housekeeping: I love having a subscription-based house cleaning service. Noah and I are both extremely tidy, but I never can get fingerprints off the windows or stains out of the oven as well as the professionals.
    • Laundry Wash-and-Fold: Many of our friends (and sometimes us) participate in weekly wash-and-fold. I love doing laundry, I know, I’m weird. But, sometimes we just don’t have time. So, dropping off our pre-labeled bag at our front door and expecting it back that evening smelling fresh and neatly folded is a great stress relief.
    • Lawn and Gardening: This is a great monthly subscription model! In the spring, you’ll cater to the gardens and plant, in the summer lawn upkeep and watering, in the fall – leaf raking, and in the winter – snow removal. If you can also landscape and install watering systems and sod, even better! To be honest, Manhattanites don’t truly know the struggle and joy of having a personal lawn, but San Jose did! Lawn Love was loved by many in the Bay Area.
    • Handyman: We are fortunate to live in a building with maintenance staff that helps when a sink is clogged or basic issues with electric, plumbing, carpentry, HVAC, etc. However, within a few hours, you can also request services such as basic carpentry, painting, mounting, renovations, and easy repairs from companies like Mr. Handy NYC.
  • Going Green
    • Refill Shops: People are steering clear of supermarkets, if they can help it – Thank you Instacart! But, I would argue that going into the local five and dime is coming back. And, one of the ways we’re seeing that here is through the greener approach of the refill shop. Offering eco-friendly and organic alternatives to traditional methods, these shops offer bulk purchase refills of soaps, cleaning supplies, lotions and more. Not only are the products safer for you and your family, but through the act of “refilling,” you’re eliminating tons of plastic packaging.
    • Donation, Upcycling, Recycling Management: When we were moving across the country, we had to eliminate almost our entire estate from furniture to clothing to antiques to electronics to automobiles and tools. During COVID many of these services weren’t available, but I did find them, and I truly wanted to use them! There are people who will come pick up everything you have to sell/recycle/donate, sort it and then either sell it providing the original owner a consignment deal, donate it providing the original owner a donation receipt, or recycle it based on the quality of the merchandise. Remoov is a great example of this model.
  • Throw a Party
    • Dinner-Party Catering/Chef: Instead of booking that table for 15, why not enjoy a party in the comfort of your home, without the stress of cooking yourself? Hiring a chef for the night has become a top gifted item in NYC, and it makes the party fun for everyone. Are you a great chef and host who could offer your services for your friends and community? Cozymeal is a favorite in our friend group – and a great model!
  • Trending Beauty Services
    • On Trend MedSpas: Instagram photos are changing the beauty game almost daily! The beauty game isn’t just hair, nails and waxing – now we have microblading, eyelash extensions, laser hair removal, laser vein treatments, body fat removal, permanent makeup, and all types of fillers…If you’re always on the top of beauty trends, why not bring them to your community?
  • Men’s Services
    • Men’s Salon/Spa/Barber: Ladies and Gents – I’m here to say it, the old-fashioned barber is BACK! From special lines to close razor shaves to personalized haircuts, men are becoming the next wave of the beauty industry. So, build up a spot with big leather chairs, some old-school vibes circa Mad Men, a few glasses of whiskey, and a warm towel, the gentlemen would like a shave.
  • Healthy Living
    • Juice Shops: There’s nothing “new” about the juice shop. But, the subscription model for the week, the month, and the “detox” are a new twist. Bring them in everyday for a juice and some conversation, not only are they healthier, they also have a new friend – and that will keep them coming back.
    • Farm to Table Box: Working with urban gardeners, local farmers, and local artisan food-makers, Farm to People has been a favorite for us. It forces us to eat healthier, leave less of a carbon footprint, and support our local food growers. We’re thankful for the group that puts it together and delivers it to our door weekly. If you don’t have something like this in your area, and you’re a food-conscious, locavore, why not start one?
    • Tea Dealers and Eastern Medicine: Many people are shying away from western medicine for small health issues and opting for more natural paths towards wellness and prevention. Eastern herbalists and tea dealers are very popular in New York and San Francisco. Bringing this type of healing to your town might be just what the “doctor ordered.”
  • Pop-Up Events
    • Choosing one business model can be truly tricky, especially if you’re like me and want to support them all! So, one of my favorite models in the pop-up shop! A pop-up partner, like UrbanSpace, coordinates a location with the city and gains the permits necessary to bring arts, entertainment, food, shopping, and cultural events to random places around town like parks, squares, and street fairs. If you have a penchant for planning and supporting local businesses, maybe you could create a pop-up culture in your community! My favorite is the Bryant Park Winter Village, check it out!

What unique small business is thriving in your area? We love to hear from you, let us know!

Other At-Home (or Near Home) Ideas!!!

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Noah and Majhon

2 Replies to “Local Business Ideas from the Big Apple”

  1. I would love to do a pop up food truck at some point, unfortunately finances will not allow it at the moment.I’m hopeful that I will be able to do it one day though. I’m not sure if I should do tacos or burgers though, maybe both?

    1. That sounds awesome! While finances are growing, you could maybe start with a stand at a farmer’s market or street fair. Good luck!

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