A convenience store (sometimes called a variety store, corner store, or dépanneur) is usually a small store or shop that sells items such as snack foods, lottery tickets, tobacco products, newspapers and magazines. Many convenience stores also combine their services with a gas station, movie rentals, or a fast food outlet.
This guide focuses on operating an independent store. For more information about buying a franchise, visit The Canadian Franchise Association website or call them at 1-800-665-4232.
When you start a business there are several things to consider before you can sell your product or service. Most businesses in Ontario need to complete a minimum of three basic steps:
Our business start-up guide will give you more information on these steps and other basic requirements for starting a business in Ontario.
Business Start-Up Guide
Your business may need licences and permits from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.
In addition to the information you will find in this guide, you can use BizPaL—an online search tool—to find licences and regulations that may affect your business. You can also contact the Business Info Line to speak to someone about starting your business.
Permits and Licences Wizard
Contact the Business Info Line:
Some common licences, permits and regulations that may apply to starting your convenience store include:
Your local health unit is the main contact for information on food safety. Local health authorities are responsible for carrying out food service inspections.
You should contact your local health authority and arrange an inspection of the premises/equipment/and processes to make sure your business is complying with provincial and federal legislation.
The following link provides a list of contact information for local health authorities that perform inspections on restaurants and food businesses in Ontario.
Local Public Health Contacts
In addition to contacting your local health unit, if you are involved in the production, service or processing of food products, you will need to comply with safety standards and labelling regulations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
Regulated products and sectors
Regulations for the food industry
If you plan on selling lottery products on behalf of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), you must be registered with the AGCO.
A licence is required from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) in order to sell Break Open tickets.
AGCO - Break Open Ticket
In order to sell tobacco products, you are required to have a Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit. If you plan on importing tobacco products, you will also need an importer's registration certificate.
Stocking or selling cigarettes that do not have an Ontario tax mark (yellow tear strip) is prohibited. Unauthorized possession of unmarked cigarettes may result in penalties, fines, imprisonment and forfeiture of the product.
Contact the Ministry of Revenue:
Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit
If You Sell Tobacco - What Retailers Need To Know About Ontario's Tobacco Tax Rules
Find out what your responsibilities are for marketing, packaging or displaying tobacco products. You must also follow the regulations that apply to smoking in public places like offices, shops, or bars and restaurants.
The manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of tobacco products is regulated in Canada. Find out what regulations will affect your business if you sell tobacco products.
Tobacco: Federal Regulations
If you sell tobacco products, you should also contact the municipality where the business will be operating for any local licences or permits that you may need.
Association of Municipalities of Ontario
Businesses selling or renting videos directly to the public (including through vending machines) require a Film Exchange Retail Licence. If you are distributing videos to other retailers you will also need a Distributor's Licence.
Contact the Ministry of Government Services:
Theatres Regulation Unit
When your business uses recorded music, you are responsible for obtaining the right licence(s) for that use. The Copyright Board of Canada works with individual copyright collective societies who provide music licensing. Contact the following two organizations for more information.
SOCAN is a not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of music creators and music publishers. They can help you learn about your obligations and obtaining the required license(s).
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada
Re:Sound is the Canadian not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of artists and record companies, and provides the legally required license(s) for businesses. You can get help determining what licence(s) will be required, what the licensing process will be and how much it will cost.
If you have legal questions, contact a lawyer who deals with business regulations. The Law Society of Upper Canada's Lawyer Referral Service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer, based on your needs.
Contact the Law Society of Upper Canada:
Law Society of Upper Canada's Lawyer Referral Service
Depending on your location and the type of products or services being offered, federal, provincial and/or municipal business taxes may apply.
If you sell goods and services in Ontario, you may need a business number to collect and remit the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Most businesses that make less than $30,000 in any 12 month period are not required to charge HST; however, you can register voluntarily and claim input tax credits. Speak with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for more information.
Canada Revenue Agency – Business
Additional Tax requirements for convenience store owners in Ontario
In addition to general information, you can find information on specific registrations, reporting, remitting and record-keeping requirements for Ontario's tobacco tax.
Contact the Ministry of Revenue:
Canada Business can help you find government financing options for your business. There are programs that apply to businesses across Canada, and others that apply only to businesses in Ontario. Use the Canada Business financing search tool or browse by type of financing.
You can also access Canada Business information through the ONe-Source online financing wizard. The wizard guides you through 3 easy steps to create a personalized list of results for Ontario business financing programs.
Contact the Business Info Line:
You can find Ontario-specific assistance for your business including advice, financing options, tax incentive programs and more using the Ontario government’s free online directory of support programs for business.
The OBPG provides:
Ontario Business Program Guide
The success of any business starts by setting goals and managing the ups and downs of daily operations. Here are some key factors to consider when starting a convenience store:
Having the correct business insurance can provide peace of mind. Contact an insurance agent to discuss your business insurance options, or to develop a plan that is right for your business.
You may also wish to contact your local chamber of commerce or industry association, as some organizations offer members lower rates on their business insurance.
The following list is included to remind you not to overlook the complex areas of business insurance. It is best, however, to discuss your specific requirements with your insurance agent.
Insurance for Your Small Business
Marketing can help you determine the value of your product or service and communicate that information to customers. Depending on your market and its size, you can consider using flyers, business cards, brochures, newspapers, radio, TV, the phone book or the Internet. Keep in mind, a satisfied customer or a positive referral is often the best form of advertising.
When preparing your marketing and/or advertising material, there are regulations to follow. When you promote a product or service, your customers need to have enough information to make informed choices. You can get more information on advertising requirements from the Competition Bureau.
Contact the Competition Bureau:
Misleading Advertising and Labelling
Setting the right price is important in ensuring the success of your business. Here are a few questions you may want to consider:
When determining your fees, make sure you include the cost of your labour, the overhead and the expenses that will be incurred.
In the end, the right price for the service is the price that the consumer is willing to pay. Correct pricing decisions are often key to successful business management.
Negotiating is part of doing business. You negotiate with suppliers, distributors and customers. Good negotiations can lead to prosperity, while bad negotiations can damage your business profitability. Before you start your business you may want to learn about negotiating.
The use of business support services can be essential to the success of a small business. Professionals can provide knowledge and expertise to ensure your business is operating efficiently.
As an entrepreneur, there are several types of professional business services you can consult:
For most businesses, choosing an appropriate location is critical. Your ideal location will depend on your business needs, zoning restrictions, and where your customers and competitors are. Taxes, noise and the local business environment are also important factors to consider when reviewing your options.
Do your research and consider these factors:
Choosing and Setting up a Location
Your business will need equipment and furniture, and it is important to decide what you need and how much you want to spend. Some common ways to save money on furnishings and equipment are:
Keeping accurate records will help you keep track of your inventory, as well as to determine the demand for different products. Your mix of products will depend on your location and target market needs.
Remember to keep your customer in mind when selecting products. For example, a convenience store in a resort area would stock a different line of goods than a local corner shop.
The supplies you rely on to run your business need to be managed efficiently. The following are some of the most common types of suppliers:
Finding and Managing Suppliers
You must have procedures for controlling inventory and costs. Ask people in your industry for information about procedures for:
Prices and Price Indexes
There are many associations that may be of interest to you. It is not necessary to join an association, but some of the advantages include:
An example of an association for a convenience store is:
The RCC is a not-for-profit, industry-funded association representing more than 43,000 store fronts of all retail formats across Canada, including department, specialty, discount, and independent stores, and online merchants. They provide resources for training, host events, and act as an advocacy group on behalf on Canadian retail merchants.
Contact the Retail Council of Canada:
Retail Council of Canada
For other information that relates to starting your business, you can read the following guides:
Additional resources that may be of interest to you include:
You can also find books, magazines and other relevant print material at business service organizations in your community. To locate a Canada Business Ontario (CBO) community partner, contact us through the Business Info Line at 1-888-745-8888.
Information contained in this document is of a general nature only and is not intended to constitute advice for any specific situation. Users concerned about the reliability of the information should consult directly with the source, or seek legal counsel.
Some of the organizations listed above are not subject to the federal Official Languages Act or the French Language Services Act of Ontario. Their services may not be available in both official languages.