A Great Way to Stand Out in a Cookie Cutter World
Why Start a Boutique?
Few businesses are as original as the fashion boutique, especially in the world of big box retailers and megastores. If your town has a funky little boutique that sells vintage and new clothing, that’s probably one place you think to take out of town visitors, because it tells a bit about the community.
People who regularly shop in boutiques get to know the staff and the merchandise, and often get first word about new merchandise coming in or upcoming sales. And since the owner of a boutique is almost always a local resident, they have that much more reason to make the shopping experience pleasant, because they might run into their customers at the grocery store or the post office!
Boutiques often stock items that can’t be found anywhere else, particularly if vintage items are included in the inventory. And they are often designed and decorated according to the style of the proprietor, giving them a one-of-a-kind vibe that you just don’t get in a department store. And that is part of the secret to great boutique style: usually a boutique sticks with one or two types of merchandise and concentrates on that. The most successful boutiques don’t try to be all things to all shoppers.
Maybe there’s a vacant storefront in your town that you’ve been eyeing recently, or maybe a cute little house that’s zoned commercial that would make a great location. So, what is it you imagine? A t-shirt boutique? Or how about nurses’ uniforms? Other great choices for boutiques include handbags, hats, handmade knits, and vintage clothing. An accessory boutique featuring sunglasses, hats, and jewelry could be successful, particularly if it was located near other places selling clothing.
People love shopping at boutiques because, let’s face it, it’s more fun than taking a list to a discount retailer and filling a shopping cart. People enjoy the personal attention you get at a boutique, and a well designed and decorated boutique can feel like a haven to harried shoppers, particularly during busy shopping seasons like Christmas, prom season, and back-to-school.
If opening a boutique sounds like something you would enjoy and excel at, then why not explore the idea further? It doesn’t have to be a chore. As a first step, you could buy an inexpensive spiral notebook and fill it with notes, pictures, and magazine cut-outs of things you like.
From that, you can start seeing trends that you may never have thought of. For example, suppose most of the pictures of outfits you like include the color pink? Or what if a certain accessory happens to be in every picture? Maybe all the things you like have a real one-of-a-kind feel to them.
Getting a better handle on what you like best can help you figure out the type of boutique you would be best suited for. And, if you can’t find pictures of outfits you like because you keep running across adorable pictures of dogs wearing sweaters, well, then, that tells you that your boutique doesn’t necessarily have to cater to humans.
If you have always thought it would be cool to have your own little shop, or if you can’t stop thinking about it now that you’ve started, then maybe opening your own boutique would be a smart move. While you will certainly spend many hours working hard, you’ll be working hard for yourself and your customers, and that is tremendously satisfying.
This article will discuss the steps you should take to start up your own boutique.
Preliminary ResearchThis is much more fun than it sounds. This is where you get to dream, and record some of those dreams.
Write things down. That sounds so simple as to be stupid, but when you’re tackling a new project as big as opening your own business, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget details. Whether you have folders, or a three-ring binder, or spiral notebooks, write down your ideas.
Keep notes about the locations you visit. Was there a water stain on the ceiling that you need the landlord to check out? Would the location next to the coffee shop help or hurt your business? How hard would it be to change the zoning on that little cottage on the edge of the business district that looks like it was made to house a boutique?
Keeping good records from the beginning is a skill that will serve you well.
Describe the Customers you WantThis will help you make other decisions down the line, including décor, merchandise, pricing, and even store hours.
There isn’t much sense in stocking funky vintage wear if your imaginary customer is a woman in her 50s who drives a new luxury car and works at a bank. Likewise, you won’t get much demand for stockings or business separates if you want to serve the college student in whose ancient car is covered with bumper stickers. Keep in mind your typical customer as you proceed.
If you have a clear vision of who your ideal customer is, that will make the next step simpler.
Choosing and Furnishing a LocationThis is where your dream really starts to come together. You can build anticipation with posters and signs in the windows and on the door indicating that a new boutique is coming soon.
Obtain business licenses, sales tax accounts, and a dedicated store phone. If you’re going to have a website, register a domain name and choose a web hosting company – preferably one that offers templates and other help creating websites.
Getting your store ready is a lot of hard work. Call in favors from all those friends and family members who owe you. Cleaning, painting, and furnishing always take longer than you think, and besides, it’s much more fun with more people to help out.
Thrift stores and the “returned paint” counter at your hardware store can be sources of good deals on furniture and paint. Thrift store furniture goes fast, though, so be ready to act.
It may seem vulture-like, but retailers going out of business can have great deals on store furnishings such as shelves and clothing racks.
Securing financingFace the fact that things will cost more than you expect, and that you will face unexpected expenses, and plan your financing accordingly.
You can apply for a business loan, or perhaps use your own savings, or a little of both to get things started. When you apply for a business loan, you need to have a solid business plan with as concrete financial projections as you can pin down.
Some cities are able to make grants and/or low interest loans to new, locally owned businesses. This can help you tremendously: you could end up with more capital than you thought, and often, city governments will present these grants at public meetings, which means that there are that many more people who will find out about your business.
Stocking the MerchandiseDuring this phase, you'll work hard, but your boutique will really start to look like a store. All the work you put in now will pay off once your store is open.
If you’re selling new merchandise, like uniforms, jewelry, or sunglasses, contact wholesalers and make arrangements for credit and payment. Your boutique should have a generous supply of merchandise. Half-empty shelves look sad.
You need storage space in the back of your boutique so that as merchandise is sold, you can replace it quickly. The initial stocking is a task you can get a younger sibling or a local student to help with: sorting items by size and color, and stocking the racks and shelves. When your boutique opens, customers should find as extensive an array of items within your niche as will comfortably fit in the store.
Fit the dressing rooms with hook latches and lighting. Try to avoid fluorescent lighting in dressing rooms: it isn’t flattering. You should paint your dressing rooms in a flattering neutral shade.
Getting Ready for Opening DayThings will get more exciting as your opening day approaches. Plan ahead to make it a success.
You might want to have some extras for the opening: color coordinated helium balloons on the ceiling with colorful ribbons trailing to just above head level, or perhaps a box for a drawing for a door prize.
When the big day is over, you’ll probably be exhausted, but if you can, jot down some notes about the day. Things are bound to have happened that you didn’t anticipate. Maybe you went through your shopping bags quicker than you expected and need to order more. Maybe several people asked for a type of merchandise you didn’t have, and you can consider stocking it. You’re bound to encounter surprises during your boutique’s first week. Make sure you learn from them.