Top Ten Guide to Boutique Ownership
It begins with the window; that captivating, whimsical, creation by a talented soul. This is the moment where my love of a boutique starts. It draws me in every time (often with little regard to oncoming traffic). I just must see that blouse closer, or those light fixtures, or… on and on. For me, this is the visceral reaction a beautiful boutique can elicit. It is why brick and mortar retail is not dead but poised for a resurgence.
When I was in my early twenties, no one had heard of Facebook, let alone Instagram. Website shopping was the talk of the day. “The stores will all close” they cried, “who will need them with the convenience of the internet?” But yesterday, I sold $1,600 of ready-made bedding to someone who wanted to feel why they were spending $250 per sheet. They wanted the authentic expertise of a stakeholder to educate them on the value and quality of what they were purchasing.
They also wanted an outing, to enjoy the sunshine, to be captivated and engaged by incredible displays and a quirky yet competent character whilst doing so.
This brings me to why we are here and is the perfect introduction to me—Heather Draper, owner of The Heather Company Design and Décor—a proper boutique. My journey to entrepreneurship started, as I imagine, many other's did—with a long list of no's.
No...you are not accepted to design school.
No...you cannot put prices on goods in the showroom to improve ease of sale.
No...we cannot open every box before delivering to inspect it.
Yes. I can do this better.
So there I was with a meagre $25k in savings, a mom with a line of credit I could access, and an amazing mentor who agreed to partner with me on my first boutique. I never questioned the idea of owning a boutique, and over a decade later I still don't. So this is for all the boutique lovers out there who create something amazing, or are passionate about an aspect of retail who have been told it is impossible. I can tell you, it is not.
Here is my top ten guide to boutique ownership:
1. You Must Work There
You are not Starbucks or Lululemon. You are unlikely able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to successfully brand or market yourself. You cannot create a village, tribe or culture with the meagre marketing budget of a boutique. You can, however, create a following the big box retailers would kill for with your single largest asset: your passion. You must be the face of your company, you must greet your customers and fill them with all the joy and excitement your shop brings to you. This will make your ideal customer your loyal supporter. This is the unique value that only a boutique has, and is your single largest sales driver.
2. Hire for Passion
You need that bright, young (or not-so-young) thing whose eyes light up with wonder when they step in your door. That person can be guided by you, moulded by you to do their passionate version of what you do. They will create and bring their own loyal clients who will buy from your boutique.
3. Pay Well
Your boutique is your baby, your life's work and dream. You do not want a revolving door of students who are around just long enough to get good before going on to their dream jobs. You want someone who also loves boutique life, but for whatever reason cannot have their own. You know what that person wants and needs; a reasonable lifestyle. Provide that—even to the detriment of your own ideal lifestyle if need be—as five years down the road they will be almost an equivalent driver to sales as you. Then you can upgrade your lifestyle, and you will have the perfect right-hand person you can trust with your baby!
4. Profit Share
“This place is not financed by a rich husband” are the first words every newbie hears when they are hired at my shop. The intention is to make it clear the money that comes in the door is the only money there is to go out. More money in sales equals more money in pay cheques. I have found the best way to do that is via profit sharing. This technique allows for a bonus only when the store is profitable while reminding staff there is a cost to running this shop. In my shop, the profit sharing bonus is split equally amongst my long-term staff and myself and is divided by hours worked. If you want a staff that believes in the mantra “one team, one dream”, make it so.
5. Chose the Right Location
You know what boutiques have that other stores do not? Soul and amazing window displays. The high-rent strip of a trendy shopping district will eat your profitability in rent while providing you with 50% of customers becoming looky-Lou-time-wasters. Two blocks down that street, on the sunny side, with massive windows will give you:
- Potential customers who want to walk a little further down the sunny side of the street.
- Potential customers entering or leaving the district who have been forced to sit at a red light and admire your windows. Your ideal customer will stop in, if not at that moment, they will definitely make a note to come back.
- Clients who come with intention. These customers did not simply mosey through your door along with the ten others on the main strip. They walked one block past the tattoo shop and dodgy pub to get to you. They are already invested.
- No one is boutique shopping for a mini version of a big box store experience. They want, in fact, they crave uniqueness. Pick a location that makes a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Wow your customers with the experience.
For your staff and for you for your customers. Four spots should do the trick. No one is paying for parking and walking 1/2 a block or more to impulse shop in your store. They must be able to impulse park when they see those windows, so they can come in with intention.
7. Choose Good Neighbours and Support Each Other
You may think a district with a million clothing stores does not need another, but you might be wrong. Your competition is one of your best advertising tools. You alone can only attract so many people through your door. If customers from neighbouring shops also come in your door, you are winning. One boutique can hardly afford to advertise, five boutiques together can secure a full page. Work as a team to make it happen and everyone will get ahead.
8. Buy What You Love
Who cares what is “trendy” or what everyone else is buying. You have a unique vision and a true passion for what you are doing. Do that. It is the only thing that makes your boutique distinctive. To be common is to die a slow death competing with box stores.
9. Learn How to Merchandise for Ease of Sale
I cannot stress this enough. A lovely display of one-of-a-kind pillows seven feet off the ground is not shoppable. If your shop is such that you need high displays, you require one display to show the product, and one to sell it. Few customers are going to ask you to pull the pillow down, and getting a ladder causes an awkward pause in your sales flow. Have everything you sell at your convenience, ready to put in the customer’s hands so they fall immediately in love. Love equals sales.
10. Love What You Do
The hours can be long and the pay can be small, especially compared to other career options. You have to be fuelled through all the slow days and tough months with the joy you receive uniquely in your shop. That joy will fill your heart in a way no other job will, and in time will level out your bank account to something reasonable. You will likely never get rich as a boutique owner, and I don't do it for the money. But ten years later...the money is pretty darn good.
Your ideal customer is buying you. Be you and you will do just fine.