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Sell in style: How to start a boutique

December 19, 2023 | Published by Faire

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a smiling shopkeeper in a navy-blue and red striped jacket wraps a gift in pink tissue paper
a smiling shopkeeper in a navy-blue and red striped jacket wraps a gift in pink tissue paper

Dreaming of starting your own clothing boutique, but unsure how to begin? There are some nuances you need to know about selling fashion before you jump in, and we’ve put together this guide to give you a head start. It covers the basics of opening a fashion boutique, including how to define your audience and develop your brand, how to create a business plan, where to buy clothes to start a boutique, and more. 

What is a boutique?

The word “boutique” is actually French for “store,” but there are several differences between a fashion boutique and other types of shops. So, what are boutiques? They are typically smaller, independently owned businesses with a specialized selection of fashionable clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. The merchandise tends to be more upscale and/or targeted toward a niche market compared to larger retailers. A boutique can also offer a more personalized experience with one-on-one assistance for customers. 

Start thinking about what will set your boutique apart

Like any small business, a lot of thought and effort goes into opening a boutique. You’ll need to consider who your typical customers will be, what kind of merchandise you’re going to sell, and what will set you apart from other boutiques and larger retailers. 

For starters, think about whether you’ll specialize in men’s apparel, women’s apparel, children’s clothes, baby clothes, shoes, accessories, or a combination. Depending on the product you choose, you’ll need to look for a supplier specializing in that particular niche. For example, if you decide to sell luxury apparel, you can’t partner up with the first supplier you find but need to make sure you work with a trustworthy designer clothing supplier.

You’ll also need to decide whether you’ll do business in person, online, or both. Online boutiques come with certain advantages, like lower start-up costs, but you still need to cover a range of expenses and put effort into your website, inventory, shipping methods, brand development, and marketing. 

Many of the same considerations we outlined in this article about opening a new retail store apply to clothing boutiques. This includes creating a detailed business plan, discovering and purchasing your inventory, creating a social media presence, and planning the grand opening. 

If you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store, you will also need to scout locations with good foot traffic, negotiate your lease, and plan any necessary store renovations. You might consider starting small with a pop-up shop as well. 

The basics of boutique business planning

A good business plan is your first step to a successful fashion boutique. First, consider the company’s structure—whether you will be the sole proprietor or have a business partner, if you will run the shop or hire a store manager, and what other employees you might need to hire. 

Now you’ll need to iron out your financing. This critical component of your business plan should include an analysis of your financial statements, funding requirements, and how much you can afford to spend on every aspect of your business after securing financing. You might also consider applying for Open with Faire to stock your shop, as it enables eligible new retailers to get up to $20K in inventory and pay up to 60 days later. 

Finally, you’ll need to get a tax ID and find out what licenses, permits, and insurance you’ll need to open. Depending on your goals, you may need a basic business operation license, sales tax license, sellers/resellers permit, building permit, Certificate of Occupancy, alarm permit, home occupation permit, and/or apparel registration certificate. Retail stores also typically need to get insurance for property damage and personal injury. 

How to develop your brand

To stand out from the competition, you will need to develop an easily recognizable brand that feels aspirational to your target audience. Your branding should tell the story of your business, making your mission and niche clear. Consider the following aspects of your brand as you build your boutique business:

  • Design: Your brand identity should be aesthetically consistent and polished. Consider having a logo professionally designed since it can make a powerful first impression.  Make sure to consider the designs for your website, social media, and physical space (if you have one), including window displays, in-store displays, shopping bags, and more. 
  • Copy: Maintain a clear and defined tone and voice in your mission or “about us” statement, product descriptions, marketing content, emails, and other text-based communication. Consider what your brand’s values are, what it stands for, and what feelings you’d like to evoke in your customers. 
  • Web presence: Your web presence starts with a professional-looking website with high-quality images and clear navigation. Even if you’re primarily doing business in person, you’ll likely still want to include e-commerce capabilities on your website, especially if you plan to accept online orders for in-store pickup or shipping. 
  • Marketing: Start with a social media presence, including Instagram and other platforms like TikTok and Facebook. You can share photos and videos of your newest fashion offerings, engage with fashion lovers online, and share information and news about your store. You might consider paid ads that promote your brand and link to your website. Email marketing can be a powerful tool too. By sending out promotions and news to your subscribers, you can develop customer loyalty and increase sales. 

How to stock your boutique

Now for the fun and creative part: picking the clothes you’ll sell in your store. First, develop an idea for the look and feel you’d like for your boutique. You can make a mood board, window-shop at stores you admire, or just keep your eyes open while walking around a stylish part of town. Faire makes it easy to find inspiration and source new products from more than 100,000 brands.

It may help to learn a little bit about fashion merchandising, i.e., the art and science of buying, displaying, and visually promoting fashion merchandise. With some experimentation, you’ll learn how best to showcase your items to entice shoppers. Keep in mind that you might not want to stock only trendy clothing … products like felt hats or this corded sweatshirts are great examples of merchandise that will likely sell through multiple seasons.  

Once you know what kind of products you want to offer, you’ll need to understand the price point you can afford to sell your merchandise to ensure a good return on investment without being overpriced. This article about stocking your new retail store can give you a good sense of how to strike that balance. Some wholesale products come with a suggested retail price, or you can always just go by the standard markup method of multiplying the wholesale price by 2 or 2.5. 

Many boutique businesses source their products on a wholesale marketplace like Faire, but you may also want to sell products that you make yourself. It’s your business, so it’s truly up to you what you sell, which is part of what makes running a boutique so great.

Are you a new retailer? Read more about Open with Faire and learn how to apply for up to $20,000, with 60-day payment terms, to stock your new shop.

New to Faire? Sign up to shop, or apply to sell.

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