how to start a retail boutique

How to Start a Retail Boutique

Are you ready to make your dreams a reality and start your own retail boutique? It’s an adventure into the business world that is unlike any other, in that you get to infuse your unique personality, style and taste into all facets of your store. But even with all the excitement, getting started can be daunting! Today I’m going to break down some of the big steps you’ll need to take to start your retail boutique.

Before opening day, you’ve got a lot of decisions to make!

how to start a retail boutique

Key Operational Questions Before You Start a Retail Boutique

  1. What kind of store will I open? Big, small, quaint, cozy, industrial, modern…?
  2. What will my niche be? In other words, what kind of products will I carry and customers will I serve? (not sure what a niche is, read about it here)
  3. Where should I be located? Downtown, strip mall, up-and-coming part of town…?
  4. How many square feet do I need? This will play a big role in the answers to the next few questions…
  5. How much can I afford for rent and utilities?
  6. Where will I source my products/inventory from, and how much do I need to buy before I open?
  7. How much money will it cost to buy opening inventory?
  8. What kind of system will I use to manage my inventory?
  9. How will I take payments and process credit cards?
  10. Where will I get fixtures for displays?
  11. How will I take care of book keeping?
  12. What kind of tax ID do I need?
  13. What type of business structure do I need to set up? (sole proprietor, LLC, S-Corp, etc.)

Yes, there are a LOT of operational issues to think about before you take the leap into business ownership! But don’t let this list overwhelm you. If the dream of owning your own boutique is real for you, your heart is probably racing with excitement right now as you read through this post. (Not quite sure if you can handle owning a boutique? Check out this post for help deciding.)

Okay, onward with more fun stuff!

Key Marketing Aspects to Consider Before You Open Your Boutique

Marketing is the strategy for attracting customers and making sales. Everything from the colors of your logo to the way you display products plays a part in marketing, so spend ample time considering how each of these items will appeal to your target customer.

  1. What will I name my boutique? This can be a super fun, yet dreadful process. If you’ve ever named a child, you know the responsibility that giving a name to something (or someone!) can bring. Trust your gut and also check to make sure the URL isn’t taken before you commit.
  2. Will I have a tag line or slogan?
  3. Who will help me with branding, including logo design and color scheme?
  4. Who will design my website?
  5. What kind of signage will I need? Be sure to consider inside and outside, and check on city permits…
  6. What will my marketing budget need to be for opening? Monthly?
  7. Will I need to hire a marketing person to handle this aspect of the business for me?
  8. What will I use for sales labels? Tags, stickers, cards…?
  9. What will I use for store packaging? Kraft bags, plastic bags, boxes…?
  10. What will I wear to work? Uniform, branded shirt, casual clothes, dress clothes, clothes from my store…?
  11. What kind of name tags or titles will I give myself and staff?
  12. Will I offer sales or discounts? When and what kind of sales or discounts? How will I let people know?

I recommend at the very beginning that you get yourself a nice shiny new notebook that is 100% dedicated to tracking your ideas. (or if you’re more of the techy kind, get an app like Evernote to manage your thoughts). Brainstorming is your friend in the beginning, and it’s where your best ideas will come from, so be prepared with a dedicated central location to keep these ideas organized.

I still have my original inventory notebook from 2010 when I started pulling the pieces together for my boutique. It’s fun to reminisce as I read through my notes and see how I was able to bring my ideas to life. (You can read here how I started my baby boutique).

Other Things to Consider

The devil is in the details, as they say, but thinking ahead on some of these little, often overlooked, items can save you headache down the road.

  1. What will my return policy be?
  2. How much should I pay my employees? It’s best to start researching rates in your area well ahead of when you need to hire.
  3. What new computer, tablet or printing equipment will I need? Hint…don’t count on lugging your home laptop back and forth everyday…
  4. Will I need dressing rooms?
  5. How much physical labor will it take to set up my store? Fixture installation and other prep work might require hiring a contractor, painter, or getting ready for a lot of DIY…

Bringing It All Together to Start Your Boutique

Once you’ve answered all of the above questions, including asking yourself these 5 important questions, you’re officially ready to begin the journey to opening your boutique. For some of you, this journey may have already started – congrats! For others, just take it one step at a time and always seek guidance from others who have been there before you. Throughout this website I’ve compiled tons of helpful information to guide your journey.

12 Simple Steps to Opening Your Boutique!start a retail boutique

Step 1: Do your research with the above questions and write your business plan. Choose your business structure and file paperwork.

Step 2: Get your reseller tax ID and register with your state. Then secure financing before you do anything else.

Step 3: Find your location and sign a lease. Set up utilities. Begin hiring process if needed.

Step 4: Order merchandise (attend a wholesale show or visit websites to order direct).

Step 5: Purchase office equipment and store fixtures and displays (this includes your point of sale POS system and cash register)

Step 6: Create your marketing plan and place advertisements (print ads need to be purchased up to 2 months out).

Step 7: Design your website, launch social media accounts, let people know when you’ll be opening and what you’ll have for them.

Step 8: Update your store with new paint, carpet, lighting, dressing rooms,etc. Install equipment and store fixtures and displays.

Step 9: Unpack your merchandise and create your first displays, including window front and dressing mannequins.

Step 10: Launch your marketing for opening day. Also make sure all equipment is working, including receipt printer.

Step 11: Get cash from the bank for your till (this one makes me chuckle, because I missed this step and almost opened my store with no money in the till!).

Step 12: Open your boutique!

It’s a thrilling process to make it all the way to step 12, and for those of you who have already crossed that finish line, I’d love to hear your story and own unique journey that lead to that day!

 

Your Boutique Success Coach

~Jackie

 

3 Ways to Choose a Niche for Your Boutique

Choosing a niche for your boutique store is an important first step in defining who your store serves and what kind of merchandise you’ll be carrying. When customers enter your store, you want them to feel like “this is for me, this place has so many awesome things that I want to buy.” And not only that, but for them to say “I want to tell my friends to shop here as well, because this boutique ‘gets us’!”

3-ways-choose-niche-760x395

So how do we create a niche for our boutique? Well, first let’s tackle the big question for those who are wondering…

What is a niche?

A niche is a category of items or specialty services that are uniquely selected to revolve around a central theme for your boutique. For instance, when I began my boutique, my niche was maternity and baby items. As I grew my inventory and brands, I was careful to select only the products that would compliment my  niche and serve my customers who were either pregnant, had just had a baby, or were purchasing a gift for a new mom and/or baby.

It’s not always easy to stay within your niche. Many times I’d have customers recommend that I carry products that were just beyond my niche. For instance, I often times was asked to carry clothing for older kids, which at first seemed like a good idea, but upon further evaluation, I realized that being really good at newborn through toddler sizes was better than being mediocre at newborn through kindergarten. I had to set boundaries for my inventory so that I could be successful at meeting the needs of my core customers, not the occasional requests here and there for products that didn’t fit my niche. It became easier to turn down customer requests after defining and clearly setting that boundary for my store.

It’s good to listen to your customers, but it’s important that you don’t deviate from your core niche. You’ll never be able to accommodate every request, so get good at letting customers down gently but immediately so that they’re not waiting for an answer from you. A good line is “That’s a great idea, but we only carry sizes newborn through 3T at this time.” (insert your own set of rules).

Your niche is who you are, but it is also who you aren’t.

It’s critical that you look objectively at the products you intend to carry and create a selection of complimentary items that will create more merchandise for your customers to buy.

Let’s run down a scenario: You decide to open a hipster/bohemian style boutique store carrying merchandise like organic cotton clothing, locally screen printed t-shirts, and second-hand clothing. Your audience is 18-30-year-olds who desire a more casual, laid back lifestyle.

What kinds of products could you add to your niche? Your store would do well to offer hand-sewn headbands, knitted hats, and reusable tote bags. It would not fit your niche to carry brand name baseball caps and designer hand bags – your customers would find it odd and off-putting, and the chances of you having to clearance out that inventory would be pretty high.

3 Ways to Choose Your Niche

1. Your Passion

Having a passion in your heart to open a boutique to sell a certain type of product is where most retail store owners begin. It’s the fire that ignited the dream, and it’s a good indicator on what your store will carry.

For me it was maternity clothes and cute baby items. I had already had two kids and struggled to find stylish maternity clothes that didn’t make me feel frumpy or like I was wearing cheap, faded stuff. I knew other moms shared my struggle, and I wanted to open a store that not only met this need, but also sold super cute baby gear with absolutely no Winnie The Pooh designs on them (ugh – to me that is just not stylish, but no offense if you like Pooh and Tigger 🙂

My niche was born around my passion to fulfill a need in the marketplace that I personally felt was a pain point. It excited me and was thrilling to begin outlining the departments of products I would carry. Does your idea do that same for you? If so, that just might be your niche!

2. Fill A Hole in the Marketplace

Some of you are super savvy business people already, and you’ve decided to open a store because you see a hole in the marketplace. This is a great indicator of a niche because it’s likely you won’t encounter a great deal of competition. Perhaps you foresee a new trend hitting your area, and you want to get ahead of it and be the first to offer it to local customers.

Filling a void in the marketplace does require asking yourself two important questions:

1) Has anyone tried to fill this product gap before? If so, why didn’t they succeed or stay in business? (A good business person asks the tough questions, and learning whether or not your area can support your specialty based on history is important.)

2) Am I filling a short-term “trend” instead of a long-term “ideal customer need”? (Trends can be very profitable for stores, but don’t rest your entire business plan on fulfilling what could be a short-term, fly-by-night trend. Find a niche that’s bigger than one trend and build your store to fill a customer profile or caters to a type of person who desires that trendy item, and offer other products in addition to the super trendy ones). A good example of this might be bow ties. Bow ties are a hot trend right now and have been for the past few years, but a stand-alone bow tie store may not make it if they don’t offer other male-focused products like hats, man bags and socks. Get creative and make your boutique “the” place for your ideal customer to shop!

3. Open a Franchise With a Proven Niche Model

You don’t have to start from scratch when opening a boutique- there are several franchise options out there that have already done the guess work for you. With a proven niche and business model, opening a franchise boutique is a turn-key way to realize your dream of being a business owner without doing the sourcing, planning and guessing that a custom boutique requires.

A few popular franchise models that I’ve seen in the midwest include MODE, a women’s clothing boutique that offers ‘designer jeans’ at a fraction of the price and other clothing and jewelry, and Lillian’s, a women’s clothing boutique that operates as an “occasional” shop, meaning it’s only open certain weekends of the month and select weekdays. Entrepreneur.com has a pretty decent search tool for finding franchise opportunities, but be cautious of spending too much time trying to find the perfect match for you. Many franchise opportunities do require a large chunk of money up front, along with a net worth of $100,000 or more. If you don’t see a great franchise – turn your own unique idea into a boutique and learn as you go!

Leave your comments and questions about finding your boutique niche below.

Your Boutique Success Coach

~Jackie

5 questons before you open a boutique

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Boutique

Before taking the leap to start a boutique, it’s important that you take the time to analyze what owning a business will look like in your life. Whether it’s a brick and mortar store or an online boutique, owning a business is a big (yet awesome) responsibility.

5 questons before you open a boutique

Do you have what it takes to start a boutique?

Maybe it’s because you have an eye for fashion, or you see a need in your city that your boutique can fill (that’s why I started my baby boutique), or perhaps you have a brand new idea that is fresh and unexpected. Whatever the reason, you’ve got the passion in your heart for opening a boutique and it’s time to find out if you’ve got what it takes!

You might be asking yourself: Am I qualified?

To tell you the truth, it’s really not about having a certain amount of job experience, retail knowledge or even business skills. If you’ve got the passion and vision to jump in, you’re already part way there. But before you go further, take a moment to do a reality check and make sure you’re going to be able to stick with it through the long haul. As I said, business ownership is a huge responsibility, and while you may be in the “what if” stage now, asking yourself these questions will help you determine whether or not you’ll move into the “I’m really doing it” stage.

Here are some important questions that you need to ask yourself as you walk down the road towards opening a boutique. So grab a pen and paper and take at least 30 minutes to answer these questions with an open heart and mind.

5 Self-Evaluation Questions Before You Start a Boutique:

1. Do I need a regular paycheck?

There are no guarantees that you will make a profit your first year. You’ll need to evaluate your living expenses and determine how much, if any, of your current paycheck you can afford to lose. If you’re not prepared to live on personal savings or having a side income until you become profitable, do you have support from a spouse, parent or close friend that you can rely on?

2. What kind of hours am I prepared to work?

Running a brick and mortar business means being present in the store during the hours that it’s open. Will the hours that you put on the front door be staffed primarily by you, or do you plan to hire staff right away? I know this fact seems obvious, but this is something that we often forget in the beginning stages of our business planning. Hiring employees adds another layer of complexity to running a business, and in the early days you may not have the funds to pay someone to help you out. It’s entirely possible to work the hours yourself, but at least for the first several months you’ll need to prepare your life (and those in it) for a lot of time in your awesome new shop.

3. How much of my personal savings am I willing to invest?

There’s no better way to start a business than to bootstrap it yourself. (Bootstrapping is when you use personal funds to start and grow your business). You’ll need money for start-up costs including inventory to sell, fixtures, office equipment (such as a cash register, scanner and a computer and printer), but also for over-looked expenses like trips to market to purchase inventory, store build out or construction costs, and signage, bags and product tags.

4. Am I willing to ask family and friends for support?

In business and in life, there are always unforeseen circumstances that pop up, and when you’re an entrepreneur, it’s not as simple as taking the day off to tend to things. Taking a day off means closing the store, disappointing your customers and losing profits for the day. It’s smart to start thinking through your friends list and asking those closest to you if they would be willing to help in times of need. This can also apply to financial situations if cash flow becomes an issue while your money is tied up in inventory.

5. What are my weaknesses?

This one may be the most important question you’ll ask yourself. Go deep. What is it that you hate doing the most? Balancing a checkbook? Working alone? Managing finances? Figuring out marketing? It’s impossible to be awesome at everything – so give yourself slack if you have more than one area of weakness…we’re all human! The trick is identifying those weaknesses or huge pain points for you, and writing them down NOW. Don’t hide behind the excuse “I’ll figure it out later,” because later will be here before you even open the doors your first day, and you need to find resources to help you learn or outsource these areas.

[Personal insight]
For me, it was book work. Ugh, even saying the word makes me uneasy. I’m not into the numbers and ledgers game, it’s boring and redundant to me. But I convinced myself that by purchasing QuickBooks when I opened my boutique that I would be fine, it would all work itself out. But guess what, it didn’t! Three months into owning my shop, I paid a friend to come in and help me make sense of everything, but she only had one day to help. So I then took a referral from a friend for a local accounting firm, but that backfired when I found out they charged $140 an hour! I later was referred to a bookkeeper who was a dream come true. She was neat and tidy, charged only $40 an hour, and also reminded me of when I owed the government money and how to stay on top of things myself.

Get Started!

Take the time to thoroughly think through your answers to each of these important questions, and then share your answers in the comments below.

Were you surprised by any of your answers? What did you learn anything about yourself?

Your Boutique Success Coach

~Jackie

how i started a boutique

How I Started My Own Boutique

I had the idea of starting my own baby boutique back in 2007 when I was pregnant with my oldest kiddo. At the time I was living in Minnesota, and as most pregnant women do, I hit the stores shopping for cute stuff for my little nugget. That’s when I came across my first baby boutique, and I instantly fell in love with the idea.

Only…mine would be better! Mine would have more than just baby stuff, mine would have maternity clothes that wasn’t ugly (you ladies hear what I’m talkin’ about), and it would be bright and cheerful and a place that expectant moms would feel super cool for shopping at.

My dream was born!(and consequently, a few months later, so was my daughter, Cora!)

how i started a boutique

Following the Dream

Fast-forward about two-and-a-half years, and we had moved to South Dakota and had had another baby (a boy this time, our son Maddox). I continued to work full-time in marketing, but secretly hated it and was constantly dreaming about my cute little baby boutique.

Insert the recession.

It was 2009, and Maddox was only 6 months old when WHAM, I lost my job. “We’re losing the client, so now we can’t afford to keep you on staff.” OUCH. That hurt. But honestly, it was a huge relief in many ways, and it was the push that I needed to realize that I’d never let my dream come to life if I wasn’t forced out of a comfortable paycheck.

So there I was. Jobless and full of dreams. I took a job selling insurance just to help pay the bills while I began pulling together the information I’d need to start my store. (But let me tell you, that was another great reminder of why I so badly wanted to follow MY OWN dreams! Ugh – if you have ever sold insurance, I applaud you!)

Doing My Homework

Having never run a boutique or any type of retail store in my life, I struggled to find relevant resources for the information I needed to get started.

So I did what most people would do, I headed out to Barnes & Noble and  I bought “How to open a retail store for Dummies,” and of course hit Google to scour the Internet looking for answers (of which there was very little good advice).

And guess what? IT WAS HARD.

I spun my wheels for over six months just trying to figure out how to write a marketing plan (remember, I was a full-time marketing pro prior to this, but it’s a different ball game when it’s your own money!) and I started asking questions like:

  • How much money do I need for inventory?
  • Where will I find suppliers?
  • Where should I set up my shop?
  • How much will rent cost?
  • How will I accept payments and keep track of inventory?
  • Will I need employees (and how the heck does that work?)?
  • How will customers find me?
  • What if I don’t make it in business?
  • What if no one likes my store?
  • How do I do bookkeeping?

There were so many questions! So much to understand before starting my own boutique. So much implied risk. But if I did it, so can you! (See my How To Start a Retail Boutique info here).

Opening My Boutique!

I opened Cutie Pie Belly & Baby Boutique in September 2010 in downtown Sioux Falls, SD and it was amazing! Probably one of the most thrilling days of my life. (yes, lots of little things went wrong, but it was my dream to open this boutique and it was a reality!) I’ll share those funny little mishaps in another post.

It took almost 9 months from the day I was laid off to bring my boutique store dream to life – a coincidence I find funny since, you know, that’s about how long it takes for an actual baby to come into the world!

Here’s my cute little shop in all it’s glory!

CUTIE-002baby boutique retail store displays

Do you have a dream?

If you’re reading this and feeling a little twinge in your heart saying “yes, that’s exactly what I want to do!”, then I’m here to say to you “You CAN do it!” Trust yourself and your heart if opening a boutique is in your dreams. Throughout this blog I plan to walk you through the steps it takes to make your dream boutique a reality and what you need to know ahead of time so you can be in it to win it.

How to start your boutique

Stick with me and we’ll cover all the bases on how to start your own retail shop. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s riskier than a steady job. But with the right work ethic, advice and planning, you can be successful!

Your Boutique Success Coach
~Jackie