Thinking of starting your own boutique? Either online or setting up a physical store or both? I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way and want to share some of my experiences with those of you that are thinking of opening a store of your own.
It has been a dream of mine to own my own store since I was in my early twenties and working as a window dresser at Sportsgirl. Now almost thirty years later it has become a reality.
One of the questions you may ask is why it took so long? Well, it all came down to money and timing. I gave up on the dream in my late twenties as it all seemed too hard and I had moved in a different direction towards a career in Information Technology (IT).
After working in IT for two decades, I opened a small coworking space in my small town as I didn’t want to commute to the city. This coworking space morphed into an art gallery. Art wasn’t selling well and my concept didn’t really take off. I had six months left on my lease so decided to introduce some clothing and gift items and go from there.
After trialling my products in the current space, I realised that there was a market for fashion in my hometown, but I was in the wrong location. So I took the plunge and leased the main prime location that had been vacant for more than 5 years and I haven’t looked back.
So what were the steps involved in setting up my boutique? I have outlined the process below.
I have had the name “My Vintage Beach” registered as a domain name for about a decade. I love beachy boho style fashion and with my store being right on the beach in Bundeena, the decision to use this was a no brainer. My favourite colour is also turquoise, so I went with a blue coastal colour pallet.
The advantage I have had over many new startups is that I’ve spent the past decade working in IT and design. Therefore I was able to design all my own branding and website without any help. This has saved me thousands in startup costs.
The items I created were:
- Business cards
- A6 cards to promote store and include in online sales orders
- Website with Shopify
- Set up all social media accounts. I am using Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest
- I created most of my products using Canva and Vistaprint for all my printed material.
Point of Sale
I then researched the best options for my point of sale system. At first, I went with Square but then decided to upgrade to Vend as it synchronised well with Shopify. My store also grew its amount of inventory quite quickly so I needed a good robust system. I then linked this all up to a Tyro account and eftpos machine. I use Square still occasionally in emergencies if the internet is down in the store.
You can’t have a successful store without the right stock. I’ve spent the last few years watching and learning what other stores buy as well as influencers on Instagram. So when it came time to buying, I knew which labels I wanted to target.
I made a few mistakes in the beginning by ordering stock in a too high price bracket, however, have been able to eventually move it and made changes. This is something that you will constantly be doing over the course of running your business.
I have been lucky that because my store is the only store in the area, I have been able to secure all the labels that I wanted to stock. I also have a bricks and mortar store. If you are exclusively setting up an online store this is where you might find it difficult as there is quite a lot of competition with online stores so the market is saturated. If you actually have a physical store it is a different story.
With those brands that I wanted to stock, I just picked up the phone and rang them or sent an email through the contact form on their website. Almost everyone came back to me straight away so I was able to get the stock I needed to open.
Another way I have found stock is by visiting trade shows. This is where you can see so many distributors at once and also place your first orders on the day. I will continue to go to the big trade shows every year in Sydney and in Melbourne to make sure I keep on top of trends and find new interesting retailers.
I was lucky that I had a few friends who were able to help me with the fit out. I wasn’t sure where I wanted everything so I bought mobile racks and a few tables. This is constantly evolving as I change up the store regularly.
Some of the bigger expenses were:
- Round point of sale tables
- Clothes racks
- Stools and chairs to display homewares
- Daybed for homewares display
All of the furniture used for display purposes is also for sale. So when they move, I just purchase something new to change the store up a bit. The last thing you want is to have your store always looking the same. A lot of my customers are tourists but there are so many regulars in my small town that wouldn’t pop in all the time if it looked the same.
Since I still work in my IT job and have a small child, I can’t be at the store all the time. I have been fortunate to find some amazing staff members in my small town and now have a team of six. They all have different styles and their own strengths.
It is imperative to find the right team to manage the store in your absence and I have been lucky in this regard. I also am very happy to be able to employ local people, which is very important to me.
One of the most important areas of running a boutique, other than having the right stock, is the merchandising. I’m fortunate that one of my staff members is highly skilled in this area so if you are looking at hiring anyone in your boutique, this is a must-have skill.
We have spent a lot of time studying the behaviour of our customers and have moved things around frequently to see where they go first and what items they frequently pick up. The difference between selling and not selling a product could be simply where it is placed in the store, so this is very important.
I’ve now been open for three months during the busiest time of the year. I’m hoping that my success continues and plan to now spend more time building up my online presence through social media. This is critical to my success so that during the winter months when we don’t have as much tourist traffic, I can rely more on online sales.
I look forward to 2019 and what it might bring. If you have any questions about opening your own online or bricks and mortar store, I’d love to hear from you.