There are people who like fashion and there are people who love fashion. And then there are the kind of people who breathe it. Who walk past people on the high street and imagine how they would style them. People who walk into shops and start imagining all the things they buy for their wardrobe, what they would pair with what, and what outfits they could create for the other customers in the store!
For those with a passion for fashion, the chance to open your very own boutique store might be a dream come true. You dream about owning a store, curating racks of stunning items that you know people will love, connecting with your customers, sharing your stylish ideas with them when they look in doubt, and helping them find the sort of confidence-boosting pieces that will work with their personality and lifestyle perfectly.
But like all tantalizing dreams, the road to boutique success can be sink or swim. Nor is the reality as glamorous as just the dressing and expressing part we just indulged in. Despite how amazing Rachel Greene’s role looked in Friends, the reality of owning a store can be hard work. It’s ordering, invoices, marketing and moving dead stock. As Erica Kaing said in the Huffington Post,
"To open a clothing store, you have to have an eye and be able to choose what's right for the customer, but then you have to be able to sit down and meld the aesthetics with the numbers."
That’s not always easy. And it’s not the only thing you need to perfect.
So, here is your essential guide to opening your own retail store and giving it the best chance of succeeding:
(from someone who wants to do it too!)
1. Everything Starts With Concept Research. Lots Of It.
Kick off your fashion store as 'brand' in itself with a concept book full of branding ideas. Think of it as a creative version of a business plan. Your way of growing a store into a brand through the communication of a look and style as opposed to numbers. Imagine your customers: what magazines they read, what brands fit their hopes dreams, lifestyle, and what price-point they currently shop. All of these will start to shape what your store and brand looks like and, most importantly, who your clientele exactly is. You have to know there's a market for your ideas before you take anything to market, so it might even be a good idea to get some work in a boutique similar (maybe in another area) to see what they do well, what sort of things sell the most and where you can realistically improve on what they do.
2. Location. Location. Location.
To say location is ginormous would be an understatement. Location is life. It’s everything. It’s where your brand and business will live and thrive. So, once you have decided on which state, city, town and street you want to set up shop, think about the physical space you want to be doing your thing in. Having a real estate agent to help you is a good start, but it’s probably going to be in your best interest to hit the streets, find the one you want to be on, make some inquiries and keep both ears to the rumor mill. Why? Because the very best shops and spaces never hang around long enough to make it to the market. They get snapped up on a whisper. That’s why you need to start getting your name out in the neighborhood and making friends with local people and brands. This is who you will be selling too, so you’ll want to make sure you understand these people and this community to make been a vital part of it relatively easy.
3. People Watch For Days
When you think you have found the neighborhood you want to be in, go and sit outside the store you’re interested in, or a cafe on that street, and have a look at the kind of people that stroll pass. Have a look at their personal style, their age, fill in the gaps about their lives, look at what shopping bags they are carrying, make a note of how busy it is, and what sort of people are walking around in pairs - friends, couples, families and business colleagues. The more you can understand your neighborhood and the potential customers that live and shop here, the more you will able to fine tune your boutique store and the way you present it. This is going to help you get it right from the outset....and it's people watching fun!
4. Budgets Are Essential. Stick To Them.
Whether you are getting a line of credit, partnering up with someone or bootlegging everything on a shoestring budget, your budget will be specific to you, your store and your location. But once you know what your budget is, do everything you can to stick to it or, better yet, come in under it. If you need to paint the exterior yourself, paint it yourself. The same goes for designing your flyers and marketing material. As for your in-store props and supplies, don’t be afraid to head to flea markets, trawl through Facebook marketplace, eBay and Amazon. Making your money stretch as far as you possibly can whilst still nailing your store's style brief (that you set out in step 1) is your priority here. This means knowing how much you have, tracking each spend and prioritizing where you spend your money. It can be very easy to quickly be taken off track and swept up in the excitement of everything new and everything now. You can always add to your store over time, but you want to still be around to do that!
5. Networking Is Your Secret Weapon
Get out there as much as possible and talk to people. Talk to the businesses around you, head to local networking events, connect with new people, groups and other businesses on social media, and really get to know your customers. Anything that will help you get to know more people and get them familiar with you is going to give you an almighty leg up in this game. It’s like when you and your friends are heading for a night out: Are you going to the restaurant where you’ll have to queue to get in or the place where you know the owner and will get the best table, best service and friendly familiar feeling? It's exactly the attraction you want to create for your store.
6. Keep Stresses at Bay
Starting and running any business can be packed full of ups and downs, uncertainties, mistakes, errors and bunches of stress. The trick is to accept this and then figure out how you can get on top of it. The reason you took this leap and started a store was to have fun with your life and do something you love, so make sure you love it. Learn how to run a business in a non-stressful and productive way, via personal and professional development. Books, podcasts and even a business coach can help you work on your business and not just in it, help you figure out systems and teach you how you can keep your business running even when you are not there. Leverage, leadership and planning is essential. You want your boutique business to work for you, not forever the other way around, so be smart and protect your heart - keeping what you love what you love, and not another statistic for business that went bust.
7. An Online Presence Is Everything
Having a physical store and nothing else is going to put you at the bottom of a very steep hill. You need to have as much of an online presence as possible that focuses on translating into sales. That means being on top of your Instagram game, keeping people excited and engaged via YouTube videos, and making sure your brand speaks loud and clear through the channels where your ideal audience most frequents. But don’t stop there. As well as your physical store, online shopping capabilities are also a must and expands your reach dramatically. (This articles advice can also be applied to a completely online fashion store.) A website that works as well as being on brand is essential to the smooth running of a business that is now open 24/7. Have gorgeous images of all your items, hire a creative copywriter that will be able to bring your pages to life, have a blog that will expand your brand behind the scenes and personality, and make sure it all links up with your social media presence. The more you can get found on Google or be shared and talked about on social media, the more sales you will make. It’s as simple (and complicated!) as that.
8. The Right Side Of The Law
Throughout your start up business journey you will require the services of strategy people such as a solicitor and bank account manager to make sure you’re not treading on any grey areas or the wrong side of the blue line. It could be to do with your products safety needs, your packaging, understanding your contracts and leases, and your supplier/vendor agreements. Starting a business opens you up to a lot of legal jargon, so make sure you know what it all means by having the right people in your support network. And budgeting for that!
This is not a full and complete how-to guide by any means, but I do hope it's helped outline the basic starting points for you and got your ideas engine revving. Ideas are one thing, but people, procedures, perseverance and plans will help you go all the way...no mater your business!
Do you dream of owning your own fashion brand?
Tell us about it in the comments below!