How to open your own boutique: Tips from a boutique owner
You are an extremely passionate person with a love for fashion. Whether you grew up dressing Barbie dolls to becoming your friend’s personal stylist or recently gained a new love for clothes and accessories, you aspire to live your dream of opening your own boutique one day. But how do you make your dream come true? This is where many of us get stuck. Life throws you curveballs and you have to decide to swing your bat, with a chance you’ll strike, or wait for a better pitch; both have a possibility of succeeding or failing and you aren’t guaranteed success either way. Change can be scary, but that’s why you always need a little help from your friends! This is where we come in. Lotus Boutique emerged from the same dream and our journey from deciding to swing the bat to where we are now can be summed up as one incredible rollercoaster ride full of loops, downs and lots of ups! We want to empower you to start your journey of following your dream and opening your own boutique; lucky enough, we’ve already been there and can help you get started! We’ve taken our experiences and everything we have learned and put together a guide full of tips and tricks to help you along the way. Think of us as your confidant; we are here to make sure you enjoy the process and get you going in the right direction!
You’ve been asking yourself, “So how do I get started? What am I getting myself into here?” Whether you are looking to open a brick-and-mortar or online boutique, both start with the same initial process. Think of this article as Part 1 of a series in which we will later branch into both online and brick-and-mortar specific information. Let me start by giving you an overview of the process to help your mindset. Before you even begin the process of opening a boutique, you must have a vision. You might be passionate about many things such as fashion, food, traveling, but what area of concentration will your business be about? Selecting one genre is step one. A boutique must clarify a specific concept easy for the customer to identify with. Women’s fashion, men’s fashion, home décor, art, whatever passion you want to concentrate on. Step two is the most important step of all: conceptualize your vision and break it down into a business plan-think big picture to small picture. Narrow down your genre into product categories that align with your target customer. Basically, what products will you sell and to who? Determining what product will generate the highest profitability falls hand-in-hand with your boutique location that demographically corresponds with your target customer. Sounds like a circle of confusion- where do you even begin? One word-research. You have to “dot your i’s and cross your t’s” to ensure your business plan is supported with statistical data and factual information. Determine your niche in the marketplace by focusing on fulfilling a community need or meeting a high demand. Give your boutique meaning by correlating a relevant name & logo with your company’s mission statement. Everything your brand is about needs to have a meaning behind it. Your overall goal here is to figure out exactly how to execute your vision throughout your business that differentiates you from everyone else where customers’ will want to shop your product and ultimately generate profit. Think about it- you’re stepping into the business world where you will be competing with so many others, what will make your business any different? When presenting your business plan to negotiate a lease, you are basically trying to prove why they should invest in you. Just like if you were a contestant on an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank! You know the show where people have to present their business ideas in means of getting the “sharks” (show hosts) to invest in them? Yep that’s the one! Although this example is more extreme and pressure-oriented, hopefully it helps put things in perspective. As you develop your business plan Talk about a web of complexity! Who, what, when, where, and why are questions to ask yourself about each decision you make in the process. It’s like fitting pieces of the puzzle together to give you the answer of ‘how to’. Let’s get started!
- WHO: As great as it would be to offer a little bit of everything, you have to think in terms of the customer: who is your customer? What are their wants and needs? Is there an age range driving the retail business demand or an age gap suffering from lack of options? Be strategic on selecting your target market. If you did your research, you should know your area of opportunity. If you are jumping into a saturated market for example, means you should focus more so on differentiating yourself from the competition. The products you carry need to back up your brand, so customers have a clear sense of who you are as a boutique and choose you over anyone else every time.
- WHAT: You’re opening a boutique because you are passionate about fashion right? What specifically are you passionate about? If you’re anything like us, you love every trendy style women’s fashion has to offer from top runway looks to edgy street wear, bohemian feels to cocktail dresses, oh and don’t forget accessories! Maybe you love baby fashion and you can’t have a stylish baby lifestyle without a line of trendy blankets and diaper bags. Whatever your passion, you have to think realistically and narrow down your product range. Since you’ve determined your target customer, you can more easily select specific product geared towards their needs. You must be careful about offering too much because the broader your product range, the bigger your inventory will be. Don’t forget you have to provide options too! And all this product needs to turn around and produce a profit. A clear message, straightforward selection of product with a few options is the most balanced formula in yielding a higher profit.
- WHEN: Something to think about when coming up with a product selection is when the customer will be looking for certain product. Tangibility of your product assortment is very important to cater to your customer needs throughout the year. Forecasting upcoming trends or events per season of the year is key to success. Remember beanie babies? Who doesn’t still have an attic full of them... limited edition, tags attached and all? Because I sure do. Boy those retailers who quickly caught onto that trend hit the jackpot! But timing is key. If you spent all your funds allotted to buying a big shipment of beanie babies and get your shipment in just as the fad ends, you are now stuck with a full inventory you can’t sell and no profit coming in to buy anything else. Oh it pains me to even think about such a situation.
- WHERE: Now the fun part- shopping! You have to buy your goods somewhere, and going to market is pretty awesome! I definitely suggest physically going to market at the beginning and periodically throughout your career. Once you visit a few different markets, you will most likely establish some great relationships with vendors and that partnership is an advantage you can’t gain shopping online. Wholesale is everywhere and online of course is the quickest and easiest way to buy product. Establish your company’s buying budget, negotiate as much as possible, and ensure you are obtaining great product that your customer will love!
- WHY: From here, you have the stage set to determine your product cost to price margins and enter into your inventory. There is a reason for everything we do and ultimately want to provide the best product to our customer that will sell and yield a profit to keep this process going in addition to financially growing your business.
- WHO: When determine the location of your store, you need to find an area with the highest concentration of your target customer. Whether you are determining the state, city, or local mall you want to open in, the process is the same. Research the demographics of the area(s) you’re considering to figure out where your boutique concept will fit in best and succeed. It’s always all about the customer.
- WHAT: What type of store structure are you considering? Do you want to be in a free standing structure, a tenant in an indoor or outdoor mall, or integrated with/within a preexisting building or business? This part is best done best when you enlist assistance from a broker, attorney, CPA or other professionals to ensure you aren’t getting taken advantage of in any way. Always outsource additional information before securing/negotiating a deal or signing a lease.
- WHEN: Time of year affects things a little bit, but getting in on a new establishment as it’s being build or waiting for your ideal space is best case scenario. Do your research, network and know your area inside and out. Waiting for the prime time will optimize your opening success.
- WHERE: Shop your competitors. Know the businesses that are similar to you or carry like product. This will help you determine where your store location should be in a shopping center. It helps being near similar businesses because customers will turn that area into a shopping destination. So if they are going to shop from another store, they will most likely visit yours and the other few in that area. If you are too similar and too close to another boutique, customers will mentally link you together as the same. They will assume you always having the same product and if they have a bad experience at one store, they will assume your store will provide the same negative experience. If you are a stand-alone boutique and are purely a destination store, being close to a community where many of your target customers live and go out to eat is a good idea.
- WHY: Going through all this research trouble yields one purpose: to guarantee your chance of business survival. So many businesses fail and the last thing you want to do is go through all this hard work to ultimately close your doors. Establishing your niche in the community secures your boutique’s foundation from the start.
- WHO: [In my Saturday night game show introduction voice] Let’s play “Name that Brand!” Yes this is the first thing that comes into mind when thinking about branding. If a game show were to show participants pictures of the inside or outside of your boutique with no name, or a grouping of relative items or visuals in your space, would be able to identify this picture with your store? You need to make sure they could! Every aspect of your store needs to represent your store’s vision. Giving your boutique a great name, something individualistic but not too out there or random, that ties together the meaning of who you are and what you represent is important; same goes with your logo. How will you stand out from the rest? A name gives you a meaning, a meaning gives you purpose, a purpose gives you leverage, and leverage gives you an advantage. So as much as you want to name your boutique after your favorite pet, you really need to put some thought into your name and how it is perceived in the marketing world.
- WHAT: What really goes into branding anyway? Advertising and marketing your boutique comes in many forms, and whatever methods you choose should focus on the goal of getting your name out there. Customer experience and word of mouth are by far the most important and easily done since both are free!
- WHEN: Getting yourself known quickly is what you’re striving for here. ASAP folks!
- WHERE: Venture social media avenues, utilize any sources available to you through your mall or community, but whatever you do, make sure you are cultivating a positive image. Get your friends and family to get the buzz going around schools, daycares, workout centers, work places, anywhere and everywhere! Get everyone just as hyped up as you are about the new boutique in town!
- WHY: You want to generate a customer following to basically keep yourself in business. But with the many boutiques out there, it’s important to advertise yourself; otherwise, no one will know you exist. Marketing your brand gets results; don’t lag with this!
- WHO: Technology is used in every aspect the boutique world, some more than others, but it’s the main source we use to communicate. Yep, that means it’s finally time to upgrade your severely outdated iphone 4 and create your new business contact information! Being the boutique owner, you can decide how involved you will be in the store itself. Are you going to manager the store or do you plan on hiring a manager? Whatever you choose, make sure your boutique has it’s own email, phone number and contact listing in commercial location guides. You want to market your boutique as a separate entity for possible future growth.
- WHAT: Basics here- phone, internet, computer, printer, stereo system/music setup, loss prevention necessities, POS (point of sale) system, and any components needed to complete a POS transaction are going to be the minimum requirements. Think in terms of operational requirements needed to run your store on a technological level daily to function.
- WHEN: You will probably establish some sort of “command central” before actually opening your store; you’ve got to figure out your inventory process somehow. However, actual POS items can be installed once a location is established after construction is completed.
- WHERE: What I like to call “command central” is your behind-the-scenes technology hub that functions as the heart of your business. This is usually located in an office of some sort, but you can really set it up anywhere easily accessible to you as the boutique owner. This is most likely going to be separate from the POS computer at your store since it will serve as a technological avenue for all aspects of your business (i.e. financial) containing confidential information.
- WHY: During this day and age, it’s very difficult to run a business without using some form of technology. Not only is it very difficult to keep up with hand-written receipts or a notebook of inventory, but also customers expect a shop to be able to function quickly and smoothly… we have to look like we know what we’re doing! Customers also like a quick checkout, being able to call or email you with any questions as well as actually being able to talk with a real person and not an automated message. The entire retail realm revolves around technology so keeping up with the latest tech device or trend is our mission!
Phew! Hopefully you are feeling much better about our introduction from earlier. Or at the very least, the circle of confusion and web of complexity has turned into a diagram of possibilities! Let’s summarize with an example:
Your life long love for women’s fashion is the reason you wanted to open a boutique in the first place. You already planned on filling a need in the community based off your own experience of graduating college. It was time to ditch those t-shirts and gym shorts and dress the part of a young adult in the business world. You had trouble finding a versatile selection for daily work attire that was actually cute and fashionable. Slacks, blouses, poly-blend suit jackets, nylon hose socks…need I say more? No way were you going to spend the rest of your career life dressing in those! So you want to be able to provide cuter options for the career woman not only for the office but for any profession as well as turning your daytime look into a nighttime look. Since you already found your niche in the community, you wanted to broaden your age range from early-twenties and up so it would accommodate anyone graduating at any age in life. Your target market, however, would consist of the age majority of customers that will frequent your business the most. We will say mid-twenties to forties and concentrate on product type that most appeals to them.
Clothing will consist of all departments: tops, bottoms, skirts, etc. Accessories will focus only on a few departments: jewelry, shoes and handbags. You will dedicate most of your funds on clothes, so your accessories will act as smaller additions to help encourage the customer to purchase a whole outfit. Jewelry and handbags will be your largest accessory focus offering many trendy styles at all times. You are aiming for a small-scale shoe selection of about 10 options of flats, pumps or heels at all times as well. This leaves little budget left for anymore product, so you decide to stick to these categories and leave out other departments such as intimates.
Your city is extremely mall-oriented and rarely see a freestanding boutique location, so you want to open in the most popular mall in your area. You partner with the property leasing agent to determine the best space location for you, near but not next to stores with similar product offerings, as well as size, how many square feet accommodate your brand best.
You’ve had your name decided early on and after all your research you have come up with a logo! You have found a printing company that will manufacture your shopping bags for a reasonable price as well as a sign company that can install your name and logo on your storefront. You created an account for your boutique on every social media site and took advantage of an advertising special to run a small add in your immediate community magazine. You created business cards and gave them to a few friends and family members to help spread the word!
You purchased everything you need for your POS system and since the back of your store is so small, you decided to rent an office/warehouse space for all of your product to be shipped to and to use as your “command central”. You figured out the most efficient way to process your inventory and entered that into your system that is will be linked to your POS at the store…cool right? You decided on just cameras as your security system and have a stereo system setup purchased too all ready to go in your space. You thought through each step of technology it will take to operate the store on a daily basis to ensure you are setup for success and are ready to start store construction!
So as you can see, the first stage in opening a boutique is all about developing your plan. This mainly consists of brainstorming, researching, conceptualizing and basic planning in order to form a solid foundation to build on. Once your business plan is completed in its entirety, you can do anything from here! Refocus your mindset to being confident and selling your brand! You must stay positive no matter what! Are you having a difficult time finding an affordable space or coming up with the initial funds to get you started? Your computer crashes and you lose all your inventory information or a property agent turns you down? Oh those curveballs will come. Expect them, embrace them and don’t let them take you down! It takes a lot of mental and physical stamina to be a boutique owner because YOU are the business. If you feel defeated, the brand suffers. So stay strong, always stay positive and remember you have friends to help you through the journey! I hope we have provided you with helpful tips to guide you and get your boutique started! Stay tuned for Part II & III of this series featuring how to set up and run your brick-and-mortar and online boutique.
Here is your "diagram of possibilities" below: