Opening A Business on the Outer Banks, NC Images/boatbusiness.gifOperating a business in a resort area with a population that varies from 34,608 in Dare County, 24,282 in Currituck County and 769 on Ocracoke Island during the winter months to over 275,000 people per day during the peak summer season can be a challenge.

Every year, summer vacationers turn into entrepreneurs trying to support the lifestyle they enjoy on the coast.

I was drawn to the Outer Banks because there are always people moving into the area who want to go into business for themselves, or people retiring or moving away from the area who want to sell their business, says Brent Tomlinson, President and Broker-in-Charge at Tomlinson and Associates Inc. The Outer Banks presents a lot of opportunity for someone like me, a business broker who helps a client buy or sell a business.

Each year hundreds of new businesses open but what is the key to surviving as a business owner on the Outer Banks? Why do some survive while others fail? The best advice I can give, whether you already own a business or are thinking about starting or buying a business here, is that you must have a business plan, continues Tomlinson. This is especially important on the Outer Banks due to the cyclic nature of being in such a tourism-dependent area with such a disparity between the high-traffic summer season and the off-season. Your profits from the summer months must be squirreled away for the long winter months,says Tomlinson. The winter months are a good time to train your staff on all aspects of the business so when the seasonal business arrives, your business runs like a well-oiled machine. Our website has more information and tips on buying or selling a business on the Outer Banks: 

Annie Nelson purchased the Sunrise Grill in Kitty Hawk earlier this year.

My dream has always been to live by the water, said Nelson. We found a restaurant with potential in one of the most beautiful areas in the country and decided to follow our dreams and give it a try.

Phil Wayland of Chip’s Wine and Beer Market in Kill Devil Hills echoed Nelson’s comment.

The close knit community, beautiful living environment, and tremendous opportunities available made the Outer Banks a top choice for us to purchase a business, said Wayland. We wanted to be a part of something special and find a place that our family could thrive along with our business.  The Outer Banks has provided not only excellent business opportunities but also a great place to raise our children.

When choosing a location, Wayland looked carefully at storefront locations and considered traffic flow and ease of access to his location. First you need to decide if your particular business venture would be better suited for a shopping center location or free standing building,said Tomlinson. Once this is determined, the storefront should be in a location with high traffic and visibility, easy access for traffic flow, reasonable rent (not to exceed 15% of sales in most cases), attractive signage, proper night lighting and plenty of parking.

Those starting or buying a business must have also have a business plan. The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) offers free business counseling 11 am – 2 pm Tuesdays at the chamber office in Kill Devil Hills and other times and locations by appointment. SCORE is a partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration and provides webinars, software samples, on-line and printed materials to assist SCORE business counselors with their consulting.

SCORE Representative Tom O’Brien said that SCORE is a good sounding board for business plans and a watchful eye for those who might be new to the area or have some areas of business that they are uncomfortable with.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses in business management but the SCORE team can help minimize and overcome those hurdles, said O’ Brien. We review the elements of the business plan, discuss how to pursue financing, outline license requirements and are able to offer tips on marketing, accounting and other items as needed.

All services of SCORE are free and confidential. For more information, call (252)441-8144 or visit

Tomlinson says the wide spectrum of sales figures and the business demand of a tourism based market does present a challenge for most business owners.

I encourage my clients to use promotional discounts during the season and clearance markdowns as the season comes to an end. I tell them to use the winter months to plan for next year, said Tomlinson. I urge them to take a hard look at remaining inventory, decide what worked and what did not work, to learn from this process, to determine how to best use available space and maximize sales per square foot. I remind them to attend trade shows in search of new products and make connections for better wholesale pricing and to promote the services of their company.

The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce also works with area businesses to help them network and make connections for business success. The Chamber Ambassador Program, where business professionals serve as liaisons between the chamber and business owners in the community, helps bring people together to create relationships and partnerships. The group meets regularly to greet new chamber members, brainstorm new recruits, volunteer to work area events, and to learn more about chamber programs and services available to small businesses.



Please Note:
*Businesses operating or located in the town of Nags Head, Manteo or Kill Devil Hills may need a privilege license. Always contact the town for business license requirements.

*While businesses located in Dare County may not be required to have a business license, they are subject to Business Personal Property Tax.

*Businesses operating as a hotel, motel, cottage court, or weekly rental are also subject to an occupancy tax. For more information contact the Occupancy Tax Department at 252.475.5964

*Businesses operating as a food service are also subject to a meals tax. For more information contact the Food & Beverage Department at 252.475.5957

*For business licensing information for all required licensing in the state of North Carolina call 1.800.228.8443 or visit the State of North Carolina web site

Information about county business licenses and taxes that businesses are responsible for can be obtained by contacting the Dare County Tax Office at (252) 475-5950 or Currituck County Tax Office at (252) 232-3005.

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