Top Tips: Running Your Own Fashion Boutique
Having your own retail shop is hard work, NO, it is LONG hard work and as with any other occupation it has it’s highs and lows and many pitfalls to avoid.
For those of you who are considering a short term let on a unit here’s a few handy hints for you to consider:
Your collection may not be sufficient to support a complete product package to your customer so where are you going to source the rest of the offer from? Basic but a tricky one! Many designers want to produce their own collections but what most do not realise is that one retail unit may only need one ratio pack of stock. Typically this could be 1 size 10, 2 size 12s, 2 size 14 and 1 size 16 making just 6 in total. Getting this manufactured to you spec can be more than difficult! So why not consider buying in-wholesale stocks to complement your own collections. Some designers can even bastardise garments by embellishment, printing and embroidery so it’s still a unique garment and you can then replenish your stocks regularly without the cost of holding the stock yourself.
Don’t underestimate this cost and try to “do” as much of the refit you can yourself without compromising the look and ambience you are trying to achieve. Remember you need a uniformity of image too and this will include standardised hangers, all garments size cubed and swing targeted with full pricing information. You must make it easy for your customer to shop. There are many companies that now advise on such matters and you could always ask such companies to draw up quotes and ideas to your budget. Also try to think of your cost base too. Look around the location where you wish to set up your unit. Are there any “similar” types of boutiques or units closing if so get in there quick and ask about prices for buying the shop equipment?
EBay is always a good place to look and organisations such as the British Shops and Stores Association have a quarterly bulletin and any of their retail members closing down will advertise fixtures and fittings in this bulletin.
This is key to your style. Front windows are the gateway to your shop and an attractive display changed weekly will attract potential customers. Try to keep colours to a minimum in the window e.g. try a maximum of three main colours but accent with just one fashion colour such as black, grey and winter white with a vibrant cerise pink. Don’t confuse your customer by offering a mix of colours. In store display is also vital – make use of the walls, side of rails and even the entrance to the fitting room but also remember not to clutter and the old adage “less is more”.
3) PRIME FOOTAGE
This is your maximum chance to maximise sales and tends to be the areas that are first seen by the potential customers as they work through the door or look through the window. You must use this prime footage space to the full advantage and by having a simple stock change EVERY week on the rails nearest the front door and back wall display you can manage to change the whole ambience of your shop effectively and cheaply! Some times you only need to purchase a few new knitted tops, t-shirts and trousers in new colours and suddenly the whole shop can be transformed. It is also a great selling feature to say that EVERY week you have new stock in the shop. It keeps the customers flowing in.
Be different and make a stand. It is so important to offer a professional service and remember the service applies to the customer before they buy, during the sale and after the sale has been made. You must develop that feel good factor with your customer and find that fine line between being helpful and honest but not pushy and over bearing. Special customers deserve special treatment and it is much easier to look after existing customers than find new customers. You can open outside normal working hours, hold special preview evenings and even have loyalty cards (providing they don’t look cheap!) for those customers that warrant that extra attention.
Be careful here it is a difficult area. Garments, especially prints, can tire easily on display. High street retailers normally work on the assumption that the life of a print is maximum 4-6 weeks. So what can you do with tired lines? I have actually tried a mix of strategies e.g. holding a midseason sale every 8-10 weeks, taking stock off display to hold an end of season clearance sale and also not discounting at all. For me not discounting was the right way. I held the view that if the customer was going to buy the garment then £5 off or 1/3 off was not really going to make a difference so every 6-8 weeks I would take off tired lines and sell off the stock on Bromley North market. It was really effective and far enough away from my retail shop customers not to cause a problem. I also implemented a non replenishment policy whereby only classic lines such as crew neck knitwear would be restocked. The rest was sold off with oddments on the market. This policy worked well as customers soon realised that if they liked a garment that had to buy it quick before it was snapped up.
This is never easy and this is where the long hours can come into play. A good assistant and managers are, without doubt, worth their weight in gold so basically look after them. In my case I juggled and worked from within the shop selling when I needed to, closing the shop on Thursdays (to do the market) and visit the wholesalers on Sundays. I know retailers that poach staff from others – not nice especially if it back fires. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and get on with it yourself!
Don’t forget the VAT returns and the PAYE and NIC for staff. Stock must be thoroughly checked and return notes raised promptly. Tills need to be checked each morning and reconciliation made with the till. You will need to keep accurate records for the end of year financial accounts. Remember that if you do use petty cash from the till to put in a chitty so you can account for every penny! Sales need to be monitored and documented on a daily basis and this helps compile our sales history e.g. how are size 14’s selling compared to size 12’s? What colours are working for you this season? Organisation is key to the successful running of any company and none more so than in a retail unit!
These basic principles have helped me enormously over the last twenty years. When I had my designer label I also had two shop units running at the same time. Tricky to coordinate but it worked from a stock perspective. With FashionCapital / FashionEnter we opened several boutiques which included outlets at Kingley Court, Bluewater, Milsom Place in Bath and Bicester Village and the same basic principles above were applied again. With so many empty units across the country opportunities are ripe for pop-up and short term options just remember to read and re-read all the paperwork and to be fully aware of all the costs involved before signing that agreement.
By Jenny Holloway