Want to Start an Online Clothing Boutique? 7 Fundamentals You Need to Know
16 min read
Most people who want to start a side hustle or work from home consider selling on Amazon, maybe starting a blog, or some other creative online business to start with. Others really want to dive into fashion, and have a keen eye for design while working from home or traveling- no strings attached! This blog post talks about the 7 fundamentals you need to know before you open up a clothing boutique.
If you have an eye for fashion and love to bring fashion pieces together to create different looks, and creating new fashion ideas out of thin air – you may want to open up a clothing boutique!
The best part about opening up a clothing boutique is that you can stretch your creative wings and see what works, while building a collective customer base to take your business to the next level.
So if starting an online boutique is one of those dreams for you – you’ll need to read these fundamentals so you can get your bearings.
It may be tempting just to jump in – but the key to your success is going to be preparation and research before you start!
I can help with that.
Read this post to learn more about the fundamentals you need to know to start and grow a successful online shop or boutique to grow for years to come!
Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This goes to help support and run The Success Mountain website and keep the free information flowing!
| Choose your business model
It’s important to do this first, because it will change what niche you go into and what products you buy and sell.
Arbirtrage is where you can find clothes that are selling in another store, and you sell them at a higher price. You can, for example, go to Target and purchase clearance clothing and sell it on your shop. This method works the best in places such as Amazon or Ebay.
Another great arbitrage method is to purchase vintage clothing at thrift stores and sell them at a markup on Etsy. This is how Sophia Amoruso, author of #Girlboss got her start. There was even a TV show about her on Netflix!
Wholesale is how almost every product you see on the stores shelves were purchased. Often you will go to the wholesaler and get an account at a wholesale price. Then you sell it on your own shop or platform at a higher price.
Private label is essentially where you purchase a wholesale product that has no labels on it. For example, I once looked into doing a dog shampoo product and found the company by searching “dog shampoo private label” and working with a company to put your own branding on the product.
People often will find products on Alibaba/Aliexpress and work with a Chinese vendor there to create a product at a cheaper price with their brand name, and ship it to America to sell it.
Print on Demand
Print on demand is one of my favorite methods! There are multiple platform such as Zazzle, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Printify, or Printful to use. You can design a product based on what they offer, and can cross-post your products on your own website, or another platform.
The platform typically allows you to use their website to design the product so you can see how it looks.
Once your customer purchases a product, you go in and place the order to ship it directly to the customer. There are ways to automate this to make things faster.
Drop shipping is similar to print on demand, but you don’t have to create the product. Typically the online seller will find methods and software to upload products from a drop shipping vendor (most are overseas) and once the customer orders, the drop shipper (aka the manufacturer) will send out the product directly to your customer.
There are ways to find drop shipping vendors in the United States, but they are trickier to find, and it depends on your niche. Often, sellers will use a Chinese drop shipping vendor, but the shipping will take longer than in the US, and you have to be very clear about that to your customers.
You can see more information on all of these methods in my post about business models here, to help you decide what to do, and the pros and cons of each model.
Choosing the right model for your every day life
Choosing the right model will define all the work that you place in the business. It depends what you want your every day work to look like.
For example, do you want to buy wholesale and spend most of your time shipping products?
Or would you prefer spending your time working on your eCommerce site, tweaking, sending out sales and marketing emails?
Or maybe you would prefer to spend your time sourcing for vintage products and handling customer service inquiries on Etsy?
Maybe you want completely hands-free, no shipping out orders every day. If that’s the case, you can find ways to automate most models, but you don’t want to get excited with a model and realize that it’s not what you thought it would be like.
Really do your research before you jump into a platform. Dive deep into Facebook groups, watch Youtube videos – and really STEP BACK from all of the guru’s who are recommending you buy their product. Find those people who are genuinely doing well with their business, don’t be tempted to purchase anything just yet, you are simply dippinig your toes in to see what your every day would look like, and if it’s the right model for you.
Often each business model has various methods you can to do change what the every day looks like.
For example, hiring virtual assistants will require funds, however that would mean in a wholesale model you don’t have to source for products as often.
However, you will still likely need to travel to trade shows to find the perfect ones for your company.
You can also hire a fulfillment company that will allow you to not have to pack boxes all day of orders.
| Choose your platform
To start your online shop, you’re going to want to choose what platform you are going to sell on. This may be a decision you must make alongside choosing your business model.
Your platform will define most aspects of your business. Selling on Amazon is going to be a completely different experience than selling on Etsy. The long-term goal should be to spread to multiple platforms, but I highly recommend starting with one platform at a time.
Are you wanting to take advantage of Amazon’s FBA program with Amazon storing your product and handling shipping to your customers?
Or are you wanting to sell on Etsy where you have more control, a built in customer base and can build your own audience offline?
Or would you prefer to sell on your own website and build an audience from scratch?
Either way, each one has it’s pros and cons, so you’ll want to research and decide which model will be best for you.
| Choose your niche
Before finding products for your shop, you’ll want to choose a niche to sell in. This means defining what kind of customer you want to sell to. Do you want to sell baby clothing? Or perhaps fashion accessories? Maybe fashion accessories for men?
Start to outline what your ideal customer looks like, what they wear, what their fashion problems are, what they need that they can’t find often.
Obviously if you want to sell to women you can’t just say “all women”. You have to be quite specific. Is it high-end fashion? Is it women who are mothers who want to still look great for the office?
Also – it’s important to ask if you are adding value or noise to the current market. It’s difficult to break out of the noise if you are selling print on demand t-shirts to everyone. Instead, you could focus on nerdy t-shirts for IT geeks. Or you could focus on fashionable accessories for women who work in corporate offices with unique and minimalistic pieces.
Drill down your niche as much as possible – and do a lot of research on your ideal customer before you decide. Some niches are too saturated for the market or your platform.
| How to source for products
So where do you get wholesale clothes for your online boutique?
You can find them:
– At trade shows – search “fashion trade shows in the United States”
– Search online – Search for “womens fashion wholesale” – and dig deep. This may be a difficult method because there are a lot of wholesale advertisers that aren’t actually wholesale.You can purchase bundles of vetted wholesalers sometimes, too.
– By stalking other stores for products you love – really! See a product that you think would be perfect in your boutique? Call the vendor on the tag – ask about setting up an account with them!
| Choose your products
What is currently selling?
Although this can vary widely from location, culture, platform, etc – take a look at your competition in your niche.
What products are selling from the bigger brands?
What is selling right now?
What looks like it would be a ‘fad’ product that you don’t want to jump into?
Sometimes identifying fads are hard to tell, but it’s important to see what products are ‘evergreen’ (aka, selling forever or for a very long time) and which products lifespan dies out quickly. ‘Basic’ clothing pieces are an example of evergreen products.
Is there still earning potential for your niche?
Do your research to ensure there is still earning potential for the products in your niche. Fidget spinners, for example, were a very fast fad.
Create a core, cohesive product line – and don’t choose random products
Please do NOT be tempted to choose multiple, randomly chosen products. You’re looking to create a core line of products that can stand by themselves alone and make sense, but also all pieces should go together.
This core product line should speak to your company and your brand specifically. If someone were to hear your brand, see your logo, and see those core pieces, it should show them everything they need to know about your brand.
This tip comes directly from Marcus Lemonis on The Profit!
If you choose random products or multiple ones without any sense of direction, your still will lose its earning potential very quickly.
Start out small
When you order your products, don’t order a whole entire case. Order roughly 2-3 pieces in each size, and as you sell, order more. The amount of products you sell will vary by season, sizes, and as the taste of your customers evolve.
Plan ahead for trends and seasons
Plan ahead for seasons, fads, and styles. One of the striking things I learned about selling wholesale online is that all retailers are simply guessing how much each piece or product line will sell each holiday. They don’t have any clue on what to purchase or how much – they are simply guessing. The only data and knowledge they have to go off of what will be popular for the holidays is past holiday sales and customer behavior.
Also, consumer trend reports do help. Seeing what trade shows have is a great way to see what products are being introduced to the market and will help you see what will perform well during Christmas.
How do you order from a wholesaler or manufacturer?
This is where the gentle game of cat-and-mouse begins. You both want something, and you both have to know if you can trust the other. It’s like a shady Craigslist deal – so it is very important on how you present yourself.
If you’re purchasing directly from a brand – they will be more hands-on and worried about how their product is handled.
If you’re purchasing from a manufacturer – they’re often less worried about what’s happening with the product, and more concerned about order volumes.
If you’re purchasing from a distributor – they may have different requirements for you (such as requiring you may actually be able to get
The brand wants to protect their company, their image, and their margins. They need to worry about where their product is being sold (some don’t care, but others very much do) and what you are doing with their product. Their overall goal is to sell more – and if you taint their image in any way, it could mean less customers and a bad reputation for them in the market. They’re putting the trust in YOU.
When I was selling wholesale products on Amazon, often brands wouldn’t want any Amazon sellers to sell their product.
Because a lot of sellers have made them look bad by selling below their MSRP or minimum advertised price. If the brand wants to protect their high-quality pricing, they can’t have any of their sellers selling below a particular price. So they set MAP limits. If you break them, you’ve broken the trust with the brand, and they will probably revoke your right to sell their product. See what I mean by fragile? It’s all about building a network and relationship of trust.
So when you find a product you want to sell, you want to approach a conversation with them very carefully. You’ll want to have a list of prepared questions so that they can know you are a professional. Ask to set up a wholesale account, and ask them some of your questions. Eventually, you will get a price sheet, and can calculate your numbers and purchase an order. Often you can send them a purchase order (Google purchase order template or use one from Word).
Voila! That’s how to order from a wholesaler!
Consider your list pricing before purchasing
Before you purchase your products, you want to know exactly what your profit margins are going to be. Find out the wholesale price, calculate the ideal cost you want to sell, and make sure your profit margin is attainable. You’re aiming for a 30-50% return.
When pricing, include an influx for shipping, hourly time, the work it takes to put everything together, and any sales you will have at some point.
An important lesson to learn here is that – no matter how much you want to, pricing lower will not get you more sales.
Why? Because customers will think your product is cheap. And it’s not! Is it? No!
You’re sourcing good quality products because you want to build your mansion on a strong foundation and reputation of high-quality, right?!
So don’t price low – it doesn’t help you in the long run (and the short-run, if I think about it).
You may need to negotiate with your vendor for good pricing, as well.
A post that will be helpful for you will be this post, the 5 Quick Steps to Buying Wholesale Products!
| Get ready to launch!
So you’ve decided where you want to sell, the types of products you want to sell and the niche, and you’ve found a few vendors you want to purchase from. Now, before starting your store, you will need to focus on some of the logistics and legalities of running an online shop.
This post will help!
Once you’re ready to create your store on whichever platform you chose, you’ll want to get an excitement brewing for your launch!
Create hype around your launch
- Come up with a fun way to get some excitement going. Use social media, do a few live videos, spread the word on your own personal social media pages, and anyone who will listen!
- Create social media accounts with your brands’ logo
- Pre-post information so when visitors come to your social media profiles it’s not empty
- Schedule out social media posts to go out right at launch time, as well as any exciting offers you have.
- Post frequently!
- Network with people who you think could help you – like bloggers. Offer them a free product in exchange for a review.
Starting a boutique online might seem overwhelming at first – but the knowledge you’ve learned today will play a big part in getting started. You now know the steps you need to take next to start moving your business forward and creating the boutique you’ve dreamed of!
Who knows – when you succeed at starting your boutique and growing it to scale, you could be shopping at all the best trade shows, having a blast with branding photo shoots, travelling to the best cities (if you want to) to check out the latest fashions, and expanding out to a real brick-and-mortar boutique one day!
Simply start with the steps above – choosing a business model, coming up with your overall business plan, getting legalized with your state (congratulations you’re now a real business!), sourcing for product and finally, launching your new online boutique!
One step at a time, and you’ll look up to realize you’ve gone so much further than you expected you could. You’ve got this!
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