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’!”
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