Running A Business

How to Start a Clothing Boutique: 11 Steps for Launching Online or Offline 

Apr 21, 2023 • 10+ min read
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      Are you wondering how to start a clothing boutique? Boutiques are small retail stores with specialized lineups of high-quality items that are sold at above-average prices. 

      For example, you may find a clothing boutique that sells a variety of high-end designer jean brands, trendy hats, and handmade candles. As you walk in, you’ll likely be greeted by the employee on duty and engaged in small talk. This kind of unique, intimate shopping experience is the hallmark of a clothing boutique. 

      While clothing boutiques were traditionally brick-and-mortar stores, the concept has now been transferred online, too. So, what’s required to get one up and running? Here are 11 key steps you need to follow.

      How to start a clothing boutique in 11 steps.

      Starting a clothing boutique is an exciting venture. Although, like any business, it requires time, effort, and dedication. Here’s what you can expect from ideation to launch.

      1. Choose your boutique’s concept.

      Before starting a clothing boutique, you’ll need to perform market research and strategize how to set your shop apart. Aim to attract a specific audience with a specialized lineup of niche products. For example, if you’re a designer who’s passionate about ethical and sustainable fashion, all of your items could be ethically made and environmentally friendly to target others who share your concerns. 
      Sandhya Garg, the founder of a luxury womenswear boutique and a season 13 Project Runway contestant, recommends thinking about the age group you want to sell to, their pain points, and their daily lifestyle. “Creating a customer profile around your ideal buyer is very helpful,” she explains.

      2. Pick a business name.

      Once you have an understanding of your store’s concept, start brainstorming a business name. It should be catchy, memorable, on-brand, and something that can stick with your business as it grows. Additionally, the name needs to be available everywhere, including:

      • On the most prominent social media platforms (e.g. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook).
      • The domain (check using Go Daddy).
      • In the U.S. trademark database.
      • In your state government website (most state government websites have a business name search tool, like the California Business Search page). 

      3. Get an EIN.

      Next, you’ll need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. You can request it online for free, which only takes a few minutes. The number will be used to identify your business, similar to how a Social Security number identifies an individual. You’ll use it to file taxes, apply for business credit, open a bank account, and more.

      4. Register your business.

      With a business name and an EIN, you’ll be ready to register your business on the state level. You’ll need to choose the state you want as your business’ home and then follow its registration process. 
      The steps typically involve selecting a business legal structure and registering your business name. If you select a sole proprietorship or partnership, you’ll need to file an assumed business name—also referred to as a fictitious business name or DBA.

      5. Get licenses and permits.

      As a person or business selling tangible property to the public, you’ll usually need a seller’s permit from your state that identifies you as a collector of state sales tax. Additionally, if you plan to buy wholesale products and resell them in your boutique, you’ll need a resale certificate to avoid double taxation.   
      Depending on your local laws, you may also need to apply for a business license with your city clerk’s office. Be sure to research the federal, state, and local laws that apply to you.

      6. Open a business bank account.

      Ready to get to the clothing part? You’re almost there. But first, it’s important to open a business bank account to keep your business and personal finances separate. To do so, visit the bank of your preference and request a new business checking account. You’ll often need to have your EIN, state business registration documents, and licenses/permits on hand. 

      7. Set up your clothing boutique’s storefront.

      With all of the above in order, it’s time to set up your storefront. Clothing boutiques can be online, brick-and-mortar, or both. The best route will depend on factors like your budget and preferences. 

      Some owners start online and then reach a point where they expand into a physical location. Others start brick-and-mortar and then expand online. Here’s a closer look at how to get set up either way. 

      Online clothing boutique.

      The quickest, easiest, and most affordable way to set up an online clothing boutique is through an e-commerce platform like Shopify or SquareSpace. These user-friendly platforms enable non-techie individuals to set up and customize e-commerce stores, upload products, accept payments, charge for shipping, manage inventory levels, market, track results, and more. 

      In exchange, you’ll be charged a monthly subscription fee, as well as fees for processing credit cards. For example, Shopify’s plans range from $39 to $399 per month, and the online credit card fees range from 2.4% to 2.9% of the transaction amount, plus $0.30 per transaction. 

      While you could have your own website built or build a site and add a store, the e-commerce platforms are hard to beat in terms of ease, convenience, and low upfront costs. 

      Brick-and-mortar clothing boutique.

      If you decide you want a physical retail clothing boutique, you’ll need to rent or buy a commercial space that suits your needs and wants. 

      When choosing a location, consider where your ideal customers live, work, and play. Boutiques will benefit from areas with foot and/or road traffic that are convenient for customers to visit. For example, spaces near other popular boutiques, national restaurant chains, salons, or other attractions. However, higher traffic often equals higher rent or prices, so you’ll have to find a balance. 

      As the owner, you’ll be spending a lot of time at your boutique, so you’ll typically want to find a location that’s not too far from your home. 

      Additionally, it’ll need to fit into your budget, be the right size, and be in decent condition. If renting, landlords may ask for the first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, and coverage of ongoing bills like water, electricity, and snow shoveling. 

      And don’t forget the other costs of getting your store up and running, including:

      • Outfitting the space to create an inviting, on-brand environment for your customers.
      • Filling the store with inventory. 
      • Hiring employees to staff the store.
      • A point-of-sale system in-store to process payments. 

      As you shop around and explore retail properties, it can help to talk to neighboring business owners. Ask them how they like the building, if they see steady traffic, and if they’re happy with the property management company (if applicable). 

      8. Make or buy clothing inventory.

      Once you have a clothing boutique storefront, you can begin filling it with clothes. But how do you do that, exactly? 

      Buy from wholesalers.

      One way is to go to fashion trade shows, which happen every season in many major cities. Hundreds of vendors attend these events and set up booths, showing off their clothing products. You can check out the wares, take note of vendors you like, exchange information, and place orders. This can be a great way to stock your boutique and make industry connections. 

      You can also scout out the online equivalent of fashion trade shows on sites like AliExpress and Alibaba. These sites feature hundreds of thousands of vendors from all around the world who sell items wholesale. You can shop around, read reviews, and vet vendors to find those that you think would be a good fit.

      When considering partnerships with wholesale suppliers, it’s important to look for those that provide quality products that align with the needs of your target audience. “Check your samples for fits and finishing so you are not surprised about production stock,” advises Garg.

      You’ll also want to find out about their production time and shipping turnarounds to ensure they align with your schedule and supply chain strategy. Keep in mind, international suppliers may offer lower prices or more variety but can be more difficult to work with if you need to return bulk shipments or contact someone over the phone. 

      Design and manufacture yourself.

      Another option is to design and manufacture your clothes. If you’re a designer, you may want to take creation into your own hands. Going this route can be labor-intensive, but gives you full creative control over your product line and its quality. As sales increase, you could transition into gradually outsourcing manufacturing. 

      Dropship (for online clothing boutiques).

      If you’re going the online route, you can opt for a dropshipping service where you select the items you want to sell and a third-party company fulfills the orders on your behalf. In this case, you don’t have to worry about investing in inventory, storing it, photographing it, shipping it, etc.

      However, you will be entrusting all of the steps to a third party which comes with risks and costs. You’ll have to ensure that the partner can meet your brand’s standards at a competitive price. “With order fulfillment, if you have a certain way of packing orders, share printouts of the packaging process and have a clear return policy process,” says Garg.

      9. Stage your clothing.

      After you’ve found great clothing products to feature in your store, you’ll need to show them off. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, this will involve planning out your store’s layout. Most purchase and style mannequins. You can also select a combination of retail display unit types. 

      If you’re opening an online store, you’ll need to take high-quality photos of your clothing items and feature them on your website. For those just starting out on a tight budget, you can model your clothes (or ask friends or family to) and use a cell phone to take photos. 

      Well-established operations may hire models, rent studio space, and hire professional photographers. No matter where you are on the spectrum, it’s important to ensure the photos look professional.

      A few tips:

      • Make sure the photos aren’t blurry.
      • Choose a place with a clean background.
      • Choose an area where there’s plenty of natural lighting.
      • Take multiple photographs of each item and pick the best ones.

      10. Set prices

      A key factor that can make or break your clothing boutique is pricing. You need to ensure you set your prices in a way that covers your costs, earns you a profit, and fits into the budget of your ideal customer. “Start with the cost of making goods, add shipping, taxes, duties, profit, advertising, trade show expenses, and any other overheads,” Garg says. 

      From there, you will add your profit margin to get your retail cost. The industry standard ranges from 2.2 to 2.5x markup, according to Emily Farra, a senior fashion news writer at Vogue. The right price point for your boutique will depend on factors like your location, ideal customer, store concept, and market positioning. For example, luxury and sustainable brands will have higher profit margins than more thrift-oriented brands.

      11. Market, market, market.

      With the foundations of your clothing boutique in place, it’s time to get the word out. Build active social media accounts across the most popular platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. You should be creating consistent content to raise awareness of your brand, store, products, and upcoming launches. You can create organic content, partner with influencers, and run paid ads. 

      Additionally, you can build an email list and launch an email marketing campaign, network with other business owners, build a following on YouTube, plan launch day events, and advertise offline in your local area (for brick-and-mortar stores). 

      A key to gaining traction is consistently spreading awareness, so you can stay top of mind with your target audience.

      Launch your new clothing boutique.

      Are you ready to bring your clothing boutique dream to life? These 11 steps can help you get there. It all starts with deciding on a concept and getting to know your target customer. From there, you’ll have to jump through a few legal hoops. However, once that’s done, you can get to work on opening your storefront, sourcing clothes, setting prices, and sharing your boutique with the world. 

      Whether you’re on a shoestring budget or have a lump sum to invest, there’s a way to open a clothing boutique. Plus, if you need an injection of capital along the way, you can always look into a small business loan. 

      Learn more about Lendio’s retail financing options.

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      About the author
      Jessica Walrack

      Jessica Walrack is a freelance finance writer and journalist with over a decade of experience. During that time, she's written hundreds of articles about loans, insurance, banking, mortgages, credit cards, budgeting, and taxes for well-known publications including CBS News MoneyWatch, USA Today, US News and World, Investopedia, and The Balance Money. Jessica also helps startups, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies in the industry to execute their content marketing strategies. Her love of numbers and passion for simplifying complex concepts makes covering finance a natural match.

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