The best business to start in 50 major US cities

Making money isn't that hard, as long as you understand how it works. People will happily spend what's in their pocket if they need or want something. The trick is to be the only person who can sell it to them.

Finding these little gaps in the market is a major advantage when starting a new venture. But market research is an expensive and time-consuming process. Thankfully, we found a little cheat code for aspiring business owners.

It comes from the research and design team at ZenBusiness. Using Google search data and recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, they figured out what businesses are most in-demand across 50 of the USA's biggest cities. And they put the findings into the following maps and tables highlighting the best businesses to start.

The laws of supply and demand

The first thing you need to start a new business is an idea. Then you need some start-up capital and a serious work ethic. But all this will be pretty useless if you can't find anyone who wants what you're offering.

If the market is saturated with companies offering services similar to yours, you'll have a tough time attracting customers or turning a profit.

The best businesses offer something new or something that people can't get anywhere else.

"The ultimate test of entrepreneurship is building something that is one of a kind,” says PayPal founder Peter Thiel. "Instead of worrying about competing, focus on minimising your competition. Make yourself one of the only choices for customers."

The best business to start in the USA

Gyms are the most in-demand new business in major American cities, according to the survey from ZenBusiness. It was the most-searched-for new enterprise in 15 of the USA's biggest cities, including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Fort Worth.

Fort Worth is one of the best cities to set up a new gym. Google search data shows that the demand-to-supply ratio for gyms in the Texan city is 20 times greater than many other major US cities.

Study reveals the best businesses to start in America’s biggest cities

What's driving the demand?

The COVID-19 lockdowns are a big factor in driving demand for new gyms. After spending almost two years living under some kind of restrictions, many people are looking to make up for all that lost time by getting active again. For others, the pandemic forced them to reassess their lifestyle and health choices.

The general push toward more self-care has inspired people to get fit and stay fit. Many of these 'newbies' feel self-conscious or nervous about walking into a gym for the first time. And some simply want a no-frills gym with a reasonable monthly membership rate. This has led to a massive demand for budget-friendly gyms and fitness clubs with classes that cater exclusively to beginners.

The most in-demand industries across American cities

With over 600,000 new business searches, car washes are the second most in-demand business in 50 of the USA's biggest cities.

They came out on top in 14 cities, including Seattle, Milwaukee, and Denver. And car washes were the most searched for new business in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fans of the hit show Breaking Bad will remember that Albuquerque was the location of Walter White's car (and drug money) washing operation.

The car wash is one of the fastest-growing small businesses in the USA. Currently worth around $14 billion, the car wash market is expected to grow by 5% over the next few years.

Busy schedules and time constraints mean most people would rather pay a few dollars than spend an hour scrubbing their own vehicles. More vehicles per household, environmental regulations prohibiting residential car washing, and demand for budget, fast-wash services are also major growth drivers.

Anyone can start a carwash business

The car wash industry is one of the very few where small businesses dominate. The majority of car washes in the USA are independently owned businesses, and no major US car wash company has more than a 5% market share. The car wash industry is a truly free market where anyone can compete, and those providing the best service rise to the top.

And there are some nice profits up for grabs. According to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, small-scale, self-service car washes average over $40,000 per year in profit; larger luxury car washes can net owners more than $500,000 per year.

Feeding the people

Restaurants and catering businesses feature heavily in this study from ZenBusiness. Added together, they're the most searched for new business in 17 cities. That signals more demand than gyms and car washes. However, the researchers from ZenBusiness decided to see what kind of restaurants and food people want.

There are around 4,500 restaurants in Las Vegas. But the people want more. Or, to be more precise, they want more of a very particular type of restaurant. Residents and tourists in Sin City searched for Indian restaurants 1,009 times per local restaurant per month; that's the biggest supply/demand disparity in any major city across the USA.

The folks living in Phoenix, Memphis, and Mesa want more steakhouses. Diners in Omaha are desperate for a good breakfast and brunch place, while those in Chicago and Arlington are hungry for soul food.

There's money to be made in Bakersfield, California, if you're willing to satisfy the city's sweet-tooth craving for creperies.

There are nowhere near enough German restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, according to the number of new local business searches. It might sound odd at first. However, over 35% of Louisville's population claims German ancestry.

The city has a German Heritage Society, and the city library is full of books written in German. Louisville holds a mini-version of Oktoberfest every year. The two-day festival includes beer, music, more beer, hundreds of stalls selling traditional German food, and then a bit more beer.

The Most In-Demand Businesses in U.S. Cities

The principles of supply and demand are central to any new business. Finding an untapped market won't guarantee big profits, but it will definitely put any new venture in the best position to succeed.
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