(2019) ALL YOUR BOUTIQUE BUSINESS QUESTIONS ANSWERED
I get a lot of questions on social media about how I started, what are my general tips, and how to find success in the industry. So I decided to write a blog post about it instead of answering a ton of DM’s that might not give you the best information. If you are reading this, you may have been one of those girls or you may be just a follower or customer who reads the blog! Either way, I am going to be super real and completely transparent about everything I know.
I will answer this in a Q&A form with the most asked questions. But first, please keep these things in mind… I might say a lot about how hard and daunting and tiring this career is, but that is because I would be lying if I didn’t say those things. Ya’ll asked for the TRUTH! My job is HARD whether people think it or not. I work about 80 hours a week. I am working when I am at the store, at home, in bed, on vacation, on a plane. However, I LOVE my job. I love the company my mom & I have built and I would literally never trade it for the world!!!!
How do you start a boutique or related business? You will need to acquire a business license, a resellers permit (tax ID), a business plan and enough capital to support that business plan. You will also need the not so fun things, like.. insurance, any type of legal documents from a lawyer if you have a business partner, etc. To start buying wholesale you need the the business license and the resellers permit to write orders with vendors. You can find vendors online or through markets in Atlanta, Dallas, NYC, Vegas or in their showrooms in LA. When in doubt… GOOGLE IT OUT! I mean you can do anything on the internet, which is basically how we figured it all out!
How did you know this career path was right for you? If you read the blog about how the business started, you know that I opened it right when I was done with college. I don’t know why, but in my mind ever since I was in high school I ALWAYS pictured owning a clothing store. I really don’t know why because fashion didn’t interest me THAT much and I was never the best dressed. I just knew deep in my SOUL that it is what I wanted to do. My mom always wanted to open her own business and when I graduated and finally had time to take the leap as well, it was the perfect time for us to start (we really didn’t plan for this until the end of my junior year of college when we started to get the idea). I actually had a full time job lined up with Target after graduation (DREAM COMPANY, I know!!!) but I had to turn it down to follow my real dreams. My mom had also left her job. We just knew it was the right thing!
Did you wish you had started this business earlier or waited until you were “ready”? We ran into this boutique world at 110% full speed with NO looking back! Again, we did not know what we were doing at all in reality, we just followed our hearts and our original business plan. However, that meant that we had NO additional income coming in. Gratefully, we were able to live off our savings for the first year. But this meant that we NEEDED to push ourselves if we wanted to pay ourselves after the first year of being in business. Thankfully, we were able to do that but it was definitely super stressful at times when it didn’t seem like that was going to be an option. If I were to give advice to someone who is debating on quitting their full time job or wondering if they should take the leap and start their own boutique… If it were me, I would probably stick with my full time job at first and start off slowly! Start by taking the necessary steps to STARTING a business, create your social media pages, a logo, buy a handful of packs of clothing, make a website, create content. This is a business that takes A LOT of time and work if you do it the right way. This means that it would be extremely exhausting to start off with a ton of inventory while still juggling a full time job. If I had an option in that position, I would start small and grow while you don’t NEED the salary from the business. Take every single dollar you make and put it back into the business (we did this as well). It takes a lot of money to have a lot of inventory and the supplies so keep that in mind before you quit your day job, LOL (like I said, I want to be REAL and I had no clue these were the facts when I started off). This job is a lot more about buying a cute garment and selling it to a customer. There is inspections, tagging, steaming, website design, cleaning, vendor relations, etc. This would also give you the opportunity to know whether all these tasks are really for you or not. Once you prove to yourself that making a salary is possible and you want to do this as a career… THEN QUIT THAT DAY JOB GIRL!
How much money did it take to start? Were you just an online store at first? How did that go for you? I won’t give an exact number but like I said, you can start out SUPER small with $2,000-$3,000 and turn a profit with that. However, that won’t make you a full time salary immediately. If you go all in, with an online store, you will probably need about $10,000 and a whole more if you want to start off with a physical store front. And that definitely doesn’t guarantee you a salary either. It’s scary to put that much money into something but that is why research and planning is so important! Yes, we only had a website at first and it worked out for us eventually once we learned how to drive more visits to our website and increase our conversion rate at checkout.
How long did it take for you to truly start making a profit? We definitely have eventually spent way more than those numbers stated before overall. We have bought a boutique trailer, redid the inside of that, bought a company car to tow it and completely renovated a storefront. Those things alone are a very big expense. They aren’t necessary but we have felt that all of the things we put our money into were the best thing for our company. We still don’t have as much money in our business account as we started off with. I’m not good with finances (my mom is the head honcho when it comes to that part of the business) but it will take a while to make all that money back for the business. However we finally are able to take a decent salary for ourselves after the first year. Most business owners do not pay themselves until the second year in business or longer. There are different measurements of success but to me we are successful for only being in business less than 2 years.
How did you gain such a big following? We don’t have a HUGE following really. However, we have a pretty good amount of loyal customers who frequently shop with us! We have now been getting over 100 viewers at a time on our LIVE sales (knock on wood) and the live sales have been our most successful sales channel so far. The answer to this question has been the same since I started asking it to other people a year ago. The answer is.. CONSISTENCY. I didn’t want to believe this when I first heard it because that seemed like a long time before the results paid off. But that is what the truth is and what happened for me. I thought one day we would go viral from a post or a video or a blogger would mention us and we’d blow up… yeah.. NO. Once I realized this was not what was going to happen, and I started WORKING MY A** OFF… that is when we saw results. I was super consistent with new arrival launch dates, facebook and instagram posts everyday, showing my face on instagram stories, doing live sales more often. It FINALLY started to come full circle this past September when our sales started taking off! The 4th quarter is almost always when retail businesses grow. We saw this growth in our first 4th quarter starting in September (after we had launched about 3 months prior to that in July 2017). Of course, I just thought that this was normal growth for a business. However, we stayed pretty stagnant from our 4th quarter sales and carried on around the same numbers through January 2018-August 2018. Once that second 4th quarter hit, I finally started to see all the consistent scheduling, activities and posts start to pay off. I didn’t see the growth as it happened, but overtime more customers gain your trust and buy from you. BUT… there was another contributing factor into all of this, I’ll explain on the next question..
What are some of the best business decisions you’ve ever made? This won’t be the same scenario for every business but I am just talking about what worked for us. One of the reasons our sales and following grew was because we leased a store front. Obviously, we had some growth before this or else our house wouldn’t have been overloaded with inventory and need to move out of it. But when we got the storefront and got the fancy signs and cute supplies, it really paid off for us. This is NOT because I get in store sales now. In fact, our in store sales are SUPER slow. We are not in a location with a lot of foot traffic but we knew that going into the lease (we didn’t want to spend our life savings on rent). We really just needed a space for all of our inventory, a photo space, storage… and then along the way make some sales in store. So the reason, in theory, we grew when moving into the store wasn’t because of in store sales but because I think it gave us a more reputable face to our business. Customers won’t shop with you unless they trust you. Sometimes it does takes having a successful looking store and legit backgrounds to get that trust from those customers. We also now had more space to get in more inventory and create bigger live sales to continue to sell more.
What were some lessons learned the hard way? The hardest lesson…. KNOW your customer and KNOW your numbers before you think you are going to be a super high end boutique and buy tops for $50 wholesale and think you are going to make money off of them. L-O-L. I will leave it at that for me personally.
Is this something that you could have done by yourself, or was having a partner key? It is definitely something I COULD have done by myself and I know a lot of women who do that. I definitely know VSB would not be where we are now if it weren’t for my mom as my business partner though! I am clueless when it comes to taxes, insurance, balance sheets, financial planning, etc!! She does SO much and I am so grateful for that. I also know people who have a business partner and end up failing because the partnership is not a good one! So it’s definitely something that is different for everyone!
How do you find/ decide what vendors to work with? It took a lot of trial and error to see which vendors to work with. Every vendor has different sizing, price points, style, and polices to take into consideration. There are some vendors that I LOVE the style and the pieces are so cute but the sizing is too tiny (like, junior sizing) for my customers. I know which vendors sell best for us now and which ones just sit there. I found out about most vendors when I go to markets. It is so much better to see and feel the clothes in person. It is so fun to find new vendors in person and create a relationship with them.
What did you find most helpful in terms of marketing when you first opened? I didn’t put this in the beginning stages of the blog because, well…. I STILL DON’T KNOW! Honestly, what I still find the most helpful is free social media marketing. I’ve tried it ALL, print ads, google ads, google ad words, small marketing agencies…. that was one of the most exhausting parts. If you can’t find what works for you, it could seem like you are spinning in a hamster wheel. The most helpful thing in the beginning was creating a Facebook VIP group and doing giveaways to grow the group. However, that isn’t as much of a successful option these days because of the Facebook changes making this a lot more difficult. You just have to find what works for you. Where are your customers? The majority of mine are on Facebook, so I really put a lot of time into that. I know a lot of people that find huge success on Instagram but that isn’t the case for us at the moment. We find much higher results from Facebook posts so we put in a lot of energy into making organic posts.
Like I said, this is my DREAM job. Like I want to be doing this until I am 80 years old. Vogue Society is my baby. It is all ours, it isn’t someone else I am working for, it isn’t something that was set up for us and my mom & I both take pride in that. If you feel the same way about your business or about the thought of it.. GO FOR IT, GIRL!!! #CommunityOverCompetition
If I had one piece of advice, it would be to join the Boutique Hub! I have learned so much from this community and it is so empowering to know you have people in the same shoes as you to support you and answer your questions. I have also met some of my best friends through the Boutique Hub. I think you have to have your business up and running for 3 months to join, but I am not 100% sure on that.
This career ain’t for the weak! I am constantly in a state of exhaustion and I have had mental breakdowns multiple times. I would be lying if I said it was easy.. but it is SO rewarding. I do love it and I am so excited for the future! There is no better feeling then seeing your customers look so great in the clothes that you hand picked for your store!