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How to Start a Jail Commissary Business Even If You Have No Experience

A jail commissary business is a retail operation that sells items to inmates who are incarcerated in jails or prisons. Inmates are typically allowed to purchase items from the commissary using funds that they have either earned through work programs or received from friends or family.

The commissary may sell a variety of items, such as food and snacks, hygiene products, clothing, electronics, and other items that are allowed in the facility.

The commissary is usually run by a third-party vendor that has been contracted by the jail or prison. The vendor is responsible for managing the inventory, pricing, and sales of the items sold in the commissary.

In some cases, the jail or prison may receive a percentage of the profits generated by the commissary sales, which can be used to fund various programs or services within the facility.

Steps on How to Start a Jail Commissary Business

  1. Conduct Market Research

Conducting market research for a jail commissary business is important because it will give you the opportunity to understand the needs and preferences of your target market and to identify potential competitors in the industry.

To start with, you have to determine the specific jail or prisons you will be serving, the demographics of the inmates, and their purchasing behavior.

Reach out to current or former inmates, correctional officers, and staff members to get their insights about the products and services they need and how much they are willing to pay for them.

You also need to study the commissary operations of other jails or prisons to determine what products and services they offer and at what price points. Evaluate the pricing of other commissary vendors and see how you can differentiate your products and services.

Finally, you can use your market research to create a comprehensive business plan that outlines your business objectives, marketing strategy, and financial projections.

a. Who is the Target Market for Jail Commissary Business?

The target market for a jail commissary business is inmates who are incarcerated in jails or prisons. This includes a wide range of individuals who have been detained, arrested, or sentenced for various reasons. Inmates may have diverse backgrounds, needs, and preferences, which can impact their purchasing behavior.

In addition to inmates, correctional officers, and staff members may also be a target market for certain products and services, such as hygiene products or office supplies.

b. Is Jail Commissary Business a Profitable Business?

Jail commissary businesses can be profitable, but the level of profitability can depend on various factors, such as the size of the facility, the number of inmates, the products and services offered, and the pricing strategy.

c. Are There Existing Niches in the Industry?

No, there are no existing niches when it comes to jail commissary business.

d. Who are the Major Competitors?
  • Trinity Services Group Inc.
  • Aramark Correctional Services Inc.
  • Keefe Group
  • Summit Food Services LLC
  • Tiger Correctional Services
  • CBM Managed Services
  • Swanson Services Corporation
  • Correctional Food Services
  • Food Services of America
  • Quality Food Services
  • Mid-America Services
  • Pacific Gold Corp.
  • Quick Mart LLC
  • Five Star Food Service
  • Oldcastle Infrastructure
  • Montana Correctional Enterprises
  • Union Supply Group
  • Carolina Supply Group
  • Bob Barker Company
  • American Commissary Corporation.
e. Are There County or State Regulations or Zoning Laws for Jail Commissary Business?

Yes, there are county or state regulations and zoning laws that jail commissary businesses in the United States must comply with.

The regulations and laws vary by state and county, and they can cover a wide range of areas, including business licensing, zoning, land use, health and safety standards, and food and beverage regulations.

For example, some states may require businesses to obtain specific licenses or permits to operate a commissary within a jail or prison.

The zoning and land use regulations may also dictate where a commissary can be located and what types of facilities can be used for this purpose.

In addition, there may be health and safety regulations that govern the types of products and services that can be sold in a commissary. 

Food and beverage regulations may also apply to commissary businesses that sell food and drinks to inmates. These regulations may cover food handling and preparation, sanitation standards, and nutritional requirements.

f. Is There a Franchise for Jail Commissary Business?

There are currently no franchise opportunities available for a jail commissary business. Jail commissaries are typically run by third-party vendors that have been contracted by the jail or prison, and these contracts are typically awarded through a competitive bidding process rather than a franchise system.

g. What Do You Need to Start a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Business Plan
  • Legal Structure
  • Licenses and Permits
  • Insurance
  • Staffing
  • Supplies
  • Shop facility.
  1. Choose a Memorable Business Name

When looking to start a business, before you can begin to file the necessary documents with the constituted authorities or start your website, it is necessary that you come up with a name that you will be recognized with. It is essential that the name you come up with can easily be pronounced, is unique and easily memorable.

Some of the catchy business name ideas suitable for a jail commissary business are;

Creative Jail Commissary Business Name ideas
  • Cellmate Store® Inc.
  • Julia Johnson® Jail Stores, LLC
  • Yvonne Benson® Jail Stores, LLC
  • Captain Zeds® Jail Stores, Inc.
  • Above All® Jail Commissary Company
  • The Big House® Jail Stores, LLC
  • Inmate Mart® Inc.
  • Lockup Booty® Jail Stores, Inc.
  • Graybar Goods® Inc.
  • Cellblock Commerce® Inc.
  • Prisoner’s Pantry™ Inc.
  • Dino Dinah® Jail Commissary Stores
  • Linda Leandro® Jail Commissary Stores
  • Carol McCains® Jail Commissary Stores
  • Dorren O’Brien® Jail Commissary Stores
  • Chain Gang® Jail Stores, Inc.
  • Winnie Corner® Jail Stores, LLC
  • Jailbird Bazaar® Jail Stores, LLC
  • Shop Rite® Jail Stires, Inc.
  • Jailhouse Stores® Inc.
  1. Register Your Business

a. What Type of Business Structure is Best for a Jail Commissary Business?

The appropriate business structure for a jail commissary business is determined by several considerations, including the size of the firm, the number of owners, the level of personal liability the owners are willing to accept, and the tax consequences of the various business forms.

However, we usually recommend a limited liability company. An LLC is a hybrid corporate form that provides the flexibility of a partnership while providing its owners with limited liability protection.

An LLC can have one or more owners, and the owners are not personally accountable for the company’s debts or liabilities. This company structure is commonly employed for small to medium-sized organizations.

b. Steps to Form an LLC
  • Choose a Name for Your LLC.
  • File Articles of Organization.
  • Choose a registered agent.
  • Decide on member vs. manager management.
  • Create an LLC operating agreement.
  • Comply with other tax and regulatory requirements.
  • File annual reports.
c. What Type of License is Needed to Open a Jail Commissary Business?
  • General Business License
  • Resale license or sales tax permit
  • Zonal Permits
  • Signage Permit
d. What Type of Certification is Needed to Start a Jail Commissary Business?

You don’t require any certification to start a jail commissary business.

e. What Documents are Needed to Open a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Business plan
  • Business License
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • State-specific licenses and permits
  • Resale license or sales tax permit
  • Zonal permit
  • Insurance policies.
f. Do You Need a Trademark, Copyright, or Patent?

A jail commissary business may choose to register a trademark to protect its brand identity and prevent others from using a similar name or logo. A jail commissary business may choose to copyright its training materials, patient education materials, or other original works.

It is unlikely that a jail commissary business would require a patent, as the services provided by the business are typically not considered inventions.

  1. Cost Analysis and Budgeting

a. How Much Does It Cost to Start a Jail Commissary Business?

Starting a jail commissary business might cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or more, depending on the number of goods and products they want to retail and the size of the shop facility.

b. What are the Costs Involved in Starting a Jail Commissary Business
  • Business Registration, Permits, and Licenses: $3,200
  • Insurance: $1,600
  • Rent or Lease: $25,000
  • Employee Salaries and Benefits: $30,000
  • Branding and marketing: $1,500
  • Legal and administrative costs: $2,000
  • Supplies: $7,000
  • Miscellaneous Expenses: $5,000.
c. What Factors Determine the Cost of Opening a Jail Commissary Business?
  • The size of the jail commissary business and the products you want to retail
  • The choice of the prison location
  • The required licenses and permits
  • The cost of hiring and paying a business consultant and attorney
  • The cost of branding, promotion, and marketing of the jail commissary business
  • The cost of furnishing and equipping the jail commissary business
  • The cost of the insurance policy covers
  • The cost of registering the business
  • The cost of recruiting and training your staff
  • The cost for the purchase and customizing of uniforms
  • The cost of the grand opening of the jail commissary business
d. Do You Need to Build a Facility? If YES, How Much Will It Cost?

No, you don’t need to build a facility for your jail commissary business. This is so because your shop will be located inside an allotted space in a prison facility.

e. What are the Ongoing Expenses of a Jail Commissary Business?
  • The cost of purchasing products, such as snacks, toiletries, and personal care items, to sell in the commissary.
  • The cost of employing staff members to manage the commissary, stock inventory, and serve customers.
  • The cost of leasing or renting a space to operate the commissary, as well as the cost of utilities such as electricity, water, and gas.
  • The cost of purchasing equipment and supplies necessary to run the commissary, such as shelving, refrigeration units, and cash registers.
  • The cost of promoting the commissary to potential customers
  • The cost of liability insurance
  • The cost of obtaining necessary licenses and permits
  • The cost of paying state and federal taxes
f. What is the Average Salary of your Staff?
  • Shop Manager (Owner) – $45,000 Per Year
  • Merchandize Manager – $32,000
  • Cashier (Accountant) – $29,630,000 Per Year
  • Sales Boys and Sales Girls – $26,100 Per Year.
g. How Do You Get Funding to Start a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Raising money from personal savings and sale of personal stocks and properties
  • Raising money from investors and business partners
  • Sell shares to interested investors
  • Applying for a loan from your bank/banks
  • Pitching your business idea and applying for business grants and seed funding from the government, donor organizations, and angel investors
  • Source for soft loans from your family members and friends.
  1. Write a Business Plan

a. Executive Summary

Carol McCains® Jail Commissary Stores is a startup company that will be located inside the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

Our team has extensive experience in the corrections industry, including experience managing commissary operations in several large correctional facilities. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities that come with operating a commissary in a correctional facility, and we are committed to providing the highest level of service to our customers.

To support our operations, we will invest in state-of-the-art inventory management and point-of-sale systems to ensure that our operations are efficient and accurate. We will also implement rigorous quality control measures to ensure that our products meet the highest standards of quality and safety.

b. Products and Service

Our commissary will offer a wide range of products, including snacks, toiletries, personal care items, and other essentials. We will focus on providing high-quality products at competitive prices, while also ensuring that our operations are efficient and cost-effective.

c. Mission Statement

At Carol McCains® Jail Commissary Stores, our mission is to provide quality products and exceptional service to inmates within correctional facilities. We aim to create a positive and secure environment by delivering a diverse range of affordable, high-quality products that meet the unique needs of incarcerated individuals.

Vision Statement

Our vision is to become the leading provider of commissary services to correctional facilities across the United States.

d. Goals and Objectives

A jail commissary business’s goals and objectives are to make goods and products available to inmates and officials within prison facilities.

e. Organizational Structure
  • Shop Manager (Owner)
  • Merchandise Manager
  • Cashier (Accountant)
  • Sales Boys and Sales Girls.

Marketing Plan

a. SWOT Analysis
  • Incarcerated individuals have limited access to outside goods and services, so a commissary business has a captive audience with few competitors.
  • Commissary items often have high markups, which can lead to high-profit margins for the business.
  • Incarcerated individuals typically make regular purchases from the commissary, providing a steady stream of revenue.
  • The business can control the inventory and stock levels based on demand, minimizing the risk of overstocking or understocking items.
  • Due to restrictions on what items can be sold in a jail commissary, the business may have a limited product selection, which could impact sales.
  • The business is subject to the policies and regulations of the jail, which could impact the ability to sell certain items or operate the business in a certain way.
  • The business may have limited opportunities to market to potential customers, as incarcerated individuals have limited access to advertising and promotional materials.
  • Some people may view a jail commissary business negatively due to its association with the criminal justice system.
  • The business could expand to other jails or correctional facilities, increasing the customer base and potential revenue.
  • The business could look to diversify its product offerings to include items that are not typically sold in a commissary, such as education or vocational training materials.
  • The business could explore the possibility of selling items online to family members or friends of incarcerated individuals, potentially expanding the customer base.
  • The business could explore partnerships with other companies or organizations that serve the incarcerated population, such as reentry programs or advocacy groups.
  • Changes in jail policies or regulations could impact the ability of the business to sell certain items or operate in a certain way.
  • A downturn in the economy could impact the ability of incarcerated individuals or their families to make purchases from the commissary.
  • While there may be limited competition within the jail, outside companies could enter the market and offer similar products or services.
  • The business could be subject to lawsuits or legal action related to the sale of certain items or operations within the jail.
b. How Do Jail Commissary Businesses Make Money?

Jail commissary businesses make money by selling goods and services to incarcerated individuals. These businesses typically operate a cashless system, where individuals use funds that are deposited into their commissary account to make purchases.

c. Payment Options
  • Bank Transfers
  • Credit or Debit Card
  • Cash
  • Checks
  • Electronic Payment Systems such as PayPal or Venmo.
d. Sales & Advertising Strategies
  • Offer a variety of products and services
  • Price items competitively
  • Utilize word-of-mouth advertising
  • Partner with advocacy groups
  • Develop an online presence
  • Create promotional materials
  • Provide excellent customer service.

Financial Projection

a. How Much Should You Charge for Your Product/Service?

The price of goods or products retail by a jail commissary business is based on the type and brand of products.

b. How Much Profit Do Jail Commissary Business Owners Make a Year?

According to industry estimates, the average gross revenue for a jail commissary business is around $50,000 to $120,000 per year, but net profits after expenses can vary widely depending on the specific products that are retailed.

c. What Factors Determine the Amount of Profit to Be Made?
  • Number of clients
  • Product offerings
  • The location of the business.
  • Staffing and labor costs
  • Overhead costs, such as rent, utilities, and insurance
  • Marketing and advertising
  • The level of competition in the location where the business covers.
d. What is the Profit Margin of a Jail Commissary Business?

According to industry estimates, the profit margin for a jail commissary business can range from 5 percent to 20 percent.

e. What is the Sales Forecast?
  • First Fiscal Year (FY1): $160,000
  • Second Fiscal Year (FY2): $240,000
  • Third Fiscal Year (FY3): $350,000.
  1. Set Up your Shop/Office

a. How Do You Choose a Perfect Location for Jail Commissary Business?
  • The commissary should be as close as possible to the jail or correctional facility where the business will operate.
  • The location should be easily accessible for deliveries and customers.
  • The location should be safe and secure for both employees and customers.
  • Ensure that the location complies with all zoning and regulatory requirements
  • Consider the size of the incarcerated population in the area and the level of demand for commissary goods and services.
  • Assess the level of competition in the area.
  • Consider the cost of leasing or purchasing a location in the area.
b. What City and State is Best to Open a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Houston, Texas
  • New York, New York
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Miami, Florida
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • San Francisco, California.
c. What Equipment is Needed to Operate a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Point-of-sale (POS) system
  • Inventory management software.
  • Shelving and display units
  • Security equipment (surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and metal detectors).
  • Transportation equipment (trucks or vans equipped with refrigeration units to transport perishable items).
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, hairnets, and aprons to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the products.
  • Cleaning supplies such as mops, brooms, disinfectant sprays, and trash bags.
  • Refrigeration units
  • Labeling equipment
  • Office equipment (computers, printers, and other office supplies).
  1. Hire Employees

The size and scope of your new jail commissary shop will determine whether or not you need to hire personnel. You may be able to handle all parts of the business on your own if you are establishing a modest, small business. But, if your company expands and more clients are added, you may need to engage extra workers to assist with attending to customers.

  1. Launch the Business Proper

Organizing a launch party for a new jail commissary business can be an excellent approach to introducing your business to the community and raising awareness of your products and services. Yet, whether or not to hold an opening party is ultimately a matter of personal preference and company objectives.

a. What Makes a Jail Commissary Business Successful?
  • Providing high-quality and personalized service
  • Building trust and credibility
  • Offering a range of products and services
  • Focusing on safety and reliability
  • Establishing strong relationships with partners and referral sources
  • Effective marketing and advertising
  • Managing costs and maximizing efficiency.
b. What Happens During a Typical Day at a Jail Commissary Business?
  • The shop is open for the day’s work
  • Goods are properly arranged
  • Walk-in customers are attended to
  • Deliveries of orders are made
  • Administrative tasks are carried out
  • Stocks are taken and reports are written and submitted to superior officers
  • The business is closed for the day.
c. What Skills and Experience Do You Need to Build a Jail Commissary Business?
  • Customer services skills
  • Interpersonal skill
  • Accounting and bookkeeping skills
  • Business management skills
  • Bargaining skill
  • Work experience in a retail shop environment
  • Experience in managing people
  • Experience in business administration
  • Experience in handling retail software.