Five Things to Know Before Opening a Boutique
Disclaimer: I'm getting real real today. AND there's a freebie at the end of this post.
Working in retail takes somewhat of a thick skin. Retail is a beast of its own, always demanding & not giving back for years. It's like that friend who constantly takes, takes, takes, but only gives once they feel ever so inclined to do so. The true passion is what fuels you to not give up through those first few years of finding where you stand.
Working in the design department with retailers, I don't have to feel those things - but oh, I have felt them before. I design & develop websites & collateral for retailers but there was a time that I owned my own boutique and the sting is real. We did really well our first year, but it always felt like nothing was enough - no amount of investment was enough, no amount of hours put in were ever enough, your competition couldn't copy you enough. My store was like this beast that stood over me all night but yet lovingly drove me forward. It was a passion like no other and when you're in retail, you understand what I mean. You can't live with it, can't live without it.
Through my years working with other retailers, I've seen quite a few big mistakes made and even had the chance to hear these retailers tell me honestly & up front what they did wrong. Sometimes, the best business owners are the ones who will admit their mistakes and move forward, learning from them but not living in them.
So, here are the top five mistakes to avoid when you open a boutique:
1: Don’t begin copying what everyone else is doing.
Did you know there are over approximately 1.1 MILLION boutiques in the United States? That number doesn't encompass e-commerce, simply physical brick & mortar stores. According to Quora, almost 20% of those won't make it past the second year. There were over 250,000 stores on Shopify in 2016 alone - and if you didn't know, Shopify is not the only place to host your ecommerce store. Wow. It's no wonder so many retailers feel the need to see what their competition is doing and I absolutely get it. While I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't watch your competition, I'm simply saying this: focus more on what you're doing than them.
I've watched both sides. On one side, we have the retailer who sees their competition and pays attention yet focuses so heavily on their own marketing plan and buying schedule that their competition falls silent. And on the other side, you have the retailer who is simply obsessed, to put it mildly, with their competition. They spend hours watching them on social media, copying their sales & their purchases. They follow them at market & they block them on social media. It's safe to say that first retailer is going to win, always. I've seen it happen too often.
If you put half as much time into your own business as you did watching your competition, you'd be successful. Here's my advice: focus. Don't ever watch your competition on social media, don't ever compare. Remind yourselves who your customer is (who they really are) and map out a marketing plan that speaks to them. And hell, befriend your competition. I highly recommend it - it's life changing. It's like taking your first breath in five years.
One thing I always recommend to my clients who are new to using social media for business is this: stop scrolling. Take a few days off, let your mind reset. It's very hard to be original when you're constantly playing the comparison game. Reset, recharge, & try to come up with original ideas that work for you. Develop a social media action plan that is one month's worth of posts, so you don't need to see what others are doing. Feeling ahead of the game will leave less time for panic & less need to copy.
2: Don’t start playing the popularity game.
One of my favorite podcasters, Jenna Kutcher, once said "popularity doesn't pay the bills." What a statement, right? And it rings SO TRUE. Too often, I see retailers playing the follow/unfollow game (and I was guilty of it at one time), spamming their competitions' customers like crazy. They're scrounging for ONE small sale versus one longtime customer. Did you realize that your potential customers can see right through you? If you're at every place, every second of the day, doing all the things, searching for every small sale, your customers aren't going to find you authentic. The crazy thing we need to realize as retailers is that if you align yourselves with the right customers that you want, they'll show up (more on that in a second). The amount of likes & comments mean absolutely nothing if they aren't converting to sales.
3: Your branding should be aligned.
I see this happen when there is an overworked business owner who is trying to manage everything at once instead of outsourcing. And I get it, I hear you - why spend one more dime hiring anyone? Well, I've got three good reasons you need to be outsourcing: your sanity, your rest, your family time - and there are probably one hundred more I could share.
One reason you need to be outsourcing is YOUR BRANDING. If you have no idea of how to design, no idea of what you want to say to your core target market - then you're wasting time. Don't send one more email, don't post one more facebook or instagram post without truly digging deep & focusing on who it is you'd like to talk to. Otherwise, you're working backgrounds in circles.
Your branding should be so perfectly aligned that when your customers receive an email, see a social media post, or even see a piece of your logo, they know immediately who its from. You want them to click, you want them to be intrigued. Make it easy for them.
4: You better be taking advantage of social media.
I recently spoke to a retailer in Seattle who shared her story of giving up & letting go. Her words truly resonated with me because she had inevitably given up on social media because she felt too busy. What she came to find about social media, as many other business owners do, is that she wasn't too busy, she was too scattered. She wasn't fully developing a social media plan, she was trying to throw something together in the car line or in the stock room before she went on lunch break. Friends, there is no reason you shouldn't be on Instagram, Facebook, or even Pinterest. Some of the largest retailers have had their pivotal moments because of these platforms. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you aren't doing it right.
My advice: sit down on your slowest day of the week, whatever day that may be. Give yourself one hour of quiet time to map out your month. This could mean one post every day, it could mean three posts everyday. It's all about what you're comfortable with - there is no minimum. Decide what images or graphics you'll need, how many quotes you'd like to share, or what kind of sales you'll be offering. Map out ideas of Instagram Stories and stick to them. Every Sunday, ensure you have the images ready and the captions prepared, turn an alarm on your phone for the day to remind you to post. I love the app "WhentoPost" that tells me the best times of the day to post on social media.
5: Play for keeps.
Find yourself thinking of now instead of the future? You aren't alone. By ignoring your social media & list-building efforts, you're almost ensuring that your business will only thrive today. What would happen if your systems shut down and you lost every bit of information you had on your clients...and then you had to move locations? What would you do? Every effort you make should be to ensure you have three things: an email list of every customer or potential customer you've ever met, a solid relationship with your core customers, and a clear plan for the future. Every step you take should be ensuring you're one step closer, even if that's half an inch, to your future.