Opening a boutique? Tips & Ideas

It can seem like a minefield when you start to think through the nitty-gritty of opening a store, but with intelligent planning you’ll succeed in gaining & retaining a loyal strong customer base. Before the massive canapés-&-bubbly opening event you are picturing can actually happen make sure you’ve done the right thing. Below we’ve briefly summarised the steps you need to take, over the next few weeks we’ll go into each step a bit deeper. Subscribe to the blog so you never miss a post:


Pick a catchy business name. That’s one that tells us what you sell, but leaves us curious to see what’s behind your doors. it should be stating the obvious that the name is an easy one to remember.

Don’t neglect the boring stuff:

Register your business name for an ABN talk to your insurance agent –  factors such as your location merchandise impact your insurance rates – you need to know what’s involved before going any further.

This is the fun bit:

Decide on what you specifically will sell. Sketch some styles you plan to carry. Make trips to a fashion shows in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or the Gold Coast, or overseas. Make friends contacts sign up to mailing lists to stay in the know. Compare the different ranges, styles designers’ work before making a final decision. Ask about shipping times, because nobody is going to buy a fur coat in November. Find out what is involved in the ordering supply process. But don’t make any concrete decisions till you get home!

Location, location, location.

A number of things will influence you here – your budget being first foremost. Obviously your location needs to be convenient for you, but also must be convenient for your prospective customers – choose an area with other shops in the same price range. Consider environmental factors as well, such as climate, parking, wheelchair pram access so on. Weigh up benefits of a standalone store a shop inside a mall – rent related fees, maintenance etc.

It’s what’s inside that counts:

Whatever type of boutique business you start, you need some furnishings. This holds true even for online boutiques those run from home. A boutique in a mall, market or storefront needs computer equipment, office furnishings, clothing racks, store fixtures, hangers mannequins. Even if you are running your store from home or online you still need a few furnishings such as computer equipment, desks, business chairs storage racks.

Le client n’a jamais tort

Pardon my French, but this point is important (look up the phrase – it’s one you need to know). You want customers to want to come back so create an attractive environment in your store to welcome them*. Expect to do routine housekeeping on a daily basis to keep your boutique inviting to shoppers. Have you considered commercial cleaners for windows, floors and dusting? It’s probably worth the investment.

* check out Make the Most of Merchandising for some tips on how to do this.

What about the big wide web?

That’s a whole new ballgame which we won’t discuss at length here, but do your research remember that the internet is only going to get bigger in the future. You may want to consider launching an online store at the same time as your bricks mortar one. If you already have one, market on it like mad to get as many of your online admirers through your doors.


About now you can start ordering the champagne, because this is where the event planning comes in. Have a massive opening event to get your name out there… if the name is in accord with dot point one, nobody will forget it!

Bring out the Journalist

The first thing to consider is the journalist questions. Every writing, marketing, selling, & communicating tutorial, that is worth the paper it is written on includes these. So if you’ve forgotten Grade 4 English here’s a recap: Who, What, Where, When, Why, Which How. Probably don’t try to answer them all, though (See point 4), but it’s a starting point if you are stuck for ideas. “What” is the most essential element …

Make It Memorable

Believe it or not, there have been “Joe’s Barbershop” “Pete’s Fish Chips” before. Sure, you may have told the world who what you are, but you have also told them you have no imagination! Apply some creative grey matter – yours or somebody else’s – to the challenge of quirkiness. Stand out, create personality but above all, pay attention to the two next points.

Easy to Spell

You would think this is a no-brainer but its amazingly easy to overlook. Accept that Kathi’s Boutique will be Kathy’s Boutique on every invoice, item of mail & newspaper report you ever see. Even worse, people googling your name on the internet may never find you if the spelling of your store isn’t intuitive.  

KISS – Keep It Short & Sweet

…or Keep It Simple, Stupid) Why? Because “McIlwraith’s Menswear, Purveyor of Quality Garments for the Discerning Gentleman” probably won’t impact customers, or get talked about very often, whereas Mac’s for Men has the potential to stay top of mind. Keep the name short – remember, you’ve got business cards, signage & possibly a website to think of!

Emotive words – The Good & Bad

Every word & phrase that is written or said conveys emotion. Consider this when you are dreaming up your name. Consider it in context with what you are doing. So while kittens are cute & lovely – which is normally a good thing – if you’re opening a logging business, Kitten Logging probably isn’t a great name. How does the words make you feel? Chances are, if they make you feel energized, excited, happy or peaceful, they will have the same effect on others.

It’s Called What??

Unless your company is deliberately controversial your goal here should be that your customers are dying to talk to you & not to be embarrassed of your name. Does the name imply humour? Quirkiness? Should it convey a solemn or mature approach? Does it sound like a bargain basement or a high end boutique? This is all about knowing your prospective customs & their personality. Match your name to it.

Picture It as a Logo

Colour is huge, much bigger than most of us realize. Most colours have both negative & positive connotations attached to them, for instance, red conveys energy, excitement, passion, but also anger. Blue can seem depressed & boring, or mature, cool or evocative of the sea. Green is almost always linked to ecology & nature.


I trust that you plan to be in business for quite a while, so don’t pick a name that won’t last. Don’t name your store after the latest dance craze, or a celebrity (these things should go without saying!). Don’t tie your shop to a suburb, or even a city – you may move in the future. Ask yourself, in ten years’ time, is this name going to be awkward?

Website/Domain Names

Planning on going online? Make sure your bricks & mortar store & your web address are similar. If your shoe store is called Fancy Footwork, & your online store is, chances are no-one will automatically make the link. You are going to have to work twice as hard to market in both areas & your customers stand a high chance of getting rather confused.

Playing Checkers

Run checks on the name – is there anything similar in your industry? Could your company be confused with your competitor. Is it infringing on trademarks, copyrights or other legislations? Does it have an unfortunate spoonerism? (spoonerism: the transposition of the initial consonants or consonant clusters of a pair of words, often resulting in an amusing ambiguity of meaning, such as hush my brat  for brush my hat)

Rinse & Repeat

Come up with a shortlist of names (at least 5) & give them to friends family to critique. Exercise some harsh editing & narrow it down. You’ll have The One in no time!

Our advice here is seek professional legal advice from a solicitor*. Don’t try to figure it out on your own, remember there will be certain aspects of the law that will vary from region to region.

Tell your (local & experienced) solicitor that you plan to open a store, discuss at length the following subjects:

(the Acts included here are Queensland or Australian Government Acts – you may have an equivalent if you are located elsewhere)

  • Registering your business name with the government
  • The Corporations Act 2001 which relates to companies financial products services, if that is applicable to you
  • GST, PAYG other acronyms relating to that 3-letter word: TAX
  • Partnerships, trusts, sole ownerships etc.; which model is best for you
  • Are you planning to lease? Get their advice in relation to the Retail Shop Leases Act 1994
  • Invented something? Cover all the details of Intellectual Property; this includes copyrights, trademarks, patents designs.
  • Staffing what regulations you need to meet in terms of Wages. Also discuss any training that staff may require, dismissals. Go over the Anti-Discrimination Act to familiarize yourself with what is appropriate.
  • Some councils have restrictions on the number of people working at a location – check if this will apply to you
  • The Work Health & Safety Act 2011 and what it means in your case
  • Insurance & how it relates to your environment, property  applicable risks
  • How to write up Supplier Agreements, Privacy Statements
  • Ask your solicitor to write up contracts you will require to process payments. This includes the small print on invoices.
  • Signage that is required in your store – on subjects such as theft, your rights visitor rights,  safety evacuation procedures.
  • Your responsibility in relation to the environment waste management.

It may give you a headache even thinking about all these, but it is a solicitor’s job to know the details and put them into practice, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Want to educate yourself some more? We can’t promise this will be light reading, or comprehensive, but here are links to some Laws and Acts you do need to know,  and some tools you might find helpful:

Corporations Act 2001
Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Retail Shop Leases Act 1994
Anti-Discrimination Act 1991
Competition and Consumer Act 2010
ATO Laws regarding Business and Tax
Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2010
Find out what records your shop should keep using the ATOs record keeping tool
lculate staff wages with this tool from the Fair Work Ombudsman
Check out this website for a tool to collate and manage your business plan

* Please note, this article cannot and should not be taken as legal advice, and we don’t guarantee any of the links’ accuracy or effectiveness, or take responsibility for any outcomes!

Before you think about yourself, what you like, you must think about others. This isn’t just politeness, this is the basis of your shop’s existence. To be successful you must fill a need. & what the people you sell to perceive as a need is not necessarily what youperceive as a need. 
Pull out your notebook on a blank page, write down the answers to these questions:

1.      Who are your target market?
2.      What do they like?
3.      What motivates them?
4.      From the answers to the above questions, what do they need?

Ok, now your page might look like this:


Or it might look like this:

Or it might be completely different from either of these. The point is, now you have that in front of you, you can start thinking about yourself!

Taking the elderly people example; you might not have the qualifications to be a pharmacist or to help with budgeting, nor the slightest interest in train sets, but you are a master-knitter. The choice would be obvious, wouldn’t it?

It may not be so obvious in your own circumstances, in which case turn your notebook to page 2, & write down your answers to question four on the top.

Then answer these questions below

  • Which ones are easier for you to supply?
  • Which ones are more likely for you to be able to make a profit from?

Hopefully by this point your ‘Who, what & which to supply’ has been answered, & now you need to consider the How’s (turn the notebook over another page): How much capital to invest in inventory & How much room you have to store stock.

Got those answers? Good. You have a space & money budget.

Now for another Very Big How, How do you plan to source suppliers? We suggest you haunt related trade shows for a while, & sign up to mailing lists from prospective suppliers there to keep in the know. Wholesalers directories are another great resource. Be extremely judgemental carry with you a checklist of standards.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  1. Location, & transport costs that may arise.
  2. Price of goods – how do they compare?
  3. Minimum order values & credit limits
  4. Convenience – how many of the things you need do they stock?
  5. Lead times on orders – seasonal freshness is a must
  6. Samples? Do they provide samples, if not, why not?
  7. Customer service – do you actually like them?
  8. Are they innovative? Fashions are always changing – will they keep up?

Your relationship with suppliers is every bit as important as your relationship with customers. A tip: treat them well they will probably return the favour!
When you have settled on brands suppliers, these are things that are unlikely to change often, so get them right now to save yourself the stress of rethinking a few months down the track

Once upon a time there was a village of 300 people.  A young man in that village wanted to run a niche business. He researched a bit& found on average 20% of people in his country went fishing or boating, yet no-one in his village owned a boat.
 So the man (wisely?) studied for years became a boat-builder. He sharpened his skills until he truly believed he could make the world’s best fishing boat.

He found empty land in his village where he set up his boat business, he built a couple of matchless & beautiful boats, he fitted out the warehouse, he hired a couple of staff to man the phones, because there would be calls – at least 60 people in his village would be needing a boat (if his calculations were right).

then he had his grand opening day…. And no one came.

I may not have mentioned a crucial factor; his village was in the middle of the desert.

He was trying to sell where no one will buy.

The moral of the story is: Your shop’s location will make or break your success. Carefully consider all the details, but remember that there is only 1 rule when it comes to the location of your boutique:

“Be where you will sell.”
Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, it’s true that you can’t judge a shop by its suburb. But you will pass over the book with the boring cover, shoppers won’t visit a boat shop in the desert. Think about who you are aiming for, where they go. Think about their needs wants, their budgets habits.

Some details you should consider to figure out the perfect location are outlined below:

  • Parking. People won’t come if they can’t get there. Be as convenient as you can. The same goes for public transport options.
  • People.  Will they walk or drive down that street? Are there good cafes nearby? Everyone knows that shopping and coffee go hand in hand…
  • Price. Is the rent reasonable for what’s on offer? High traffic or high end areas are normally higher rent, but it may be worth it in the long run.
  • Position. Is it on the street, a mall, or tucked away down an arcade? All these factors contribute to the quantity of customers coming through your doors…
  • Potential. Trends change over time. 20 years ago no-one would have predicted that Oxford Street, Bulimba would become the shopping hub it has. Is your suburb on the rise? It’s a gamble that may ultimately be worth taking.

Research your area’s demographics. Councils can be helpful with information about suburbs on the rise, average age-groups distribution of people throughout the city. Take the time to think, your added revenue will reward you.

Oh, if down the track you are losing money through lack of sales, or if your customer based has moved….. don’t be afraid to pack your bags and move too (to the beach if necessary)!

Now, visualize your shop in operation. Picture customers walking through your door. What do they see?

It’™s what’™s inside that counts

 Your customer will make decisions based on what they can see. He will make decisions based on the atmosphere of your shop. He will make decisions on an emotional level. He may not even know he’™s making them, but be assured, they will be made. Consider these facts:

  • The more time you spend in a store, the more you buy; 30-40 minutes = average $72.00, but 3 hours or more = average $200.1
  • Not only are customers affected by the environment, employees are as well. Their productivity and enthusiasm for the job increases in a good environment.2
  • With the advent of internet shopping, the in-store experience is one opportunity for bricks-and-mortar stores to get a foothold3

What you need depends on where you are

  Fit out your store reactively. Be guided by your surroundings. Nestled between similar shops in a mall, you must keep up with the Jones’™s, at least. Ask yourself, is standing out from competitors, or respecting my budget more important? If you need to stand out, choose fittings that are attention grabbing or quirky. If budget is restrictive, reduce the amount of fixtures needed, rather than reducing their quality. The minimalist aesthetic is an added bonus! In a stand-alone shop consider the overall atmosphere of your location. Are you in a high-end street? Your fittings will need to be sophisticated, if somewhat understated. (hint: Classy glass is your friend here!). Conversely if you are at the budget end of town, you won’t be spending much, but your customers won’™t have the same expectations. A note about market stalls: Invest in quality racks. The people visiting you aren’t likely to treat your racks with respect. They’™ll be moved, tugged  on, banged into and possibly sat on. 

What you need depends on what you sell

  Are the things you’ll be selling  put, hung, or stood? ‘Put’™ things need shelves:

  • Shoes
  • Folded clothes
  • Ornaments
  • Books
  • Toys
  • Electronic Equipment
  • Anything else that can be put

Hang clothing, obviously, and accessories like belts and scarves. Manchester and anything  fabric could be hung. If you are selling furniture, or bulky items, you’™ll need minimal fittings in your store. A few shelves scattered around with eye-level signage on them are worthwhile to add interest for customers.

Permanent vs. Temporary

  Decide if you need permanent or temporary fixtures. ‘Oh I am going to be here for ages’  isn’™t a good enough argument for permanent fixtures. ‘˜They make the shop feel more reliable  and  trustworthy’™ or ‘˜they make the shop feel higher class’™  are. If these are biggies for you, by all means go for what’s permanent. Remember though, you can’™t easily change it round if you decide you don’™t like it after all. Temporary fittings, on the other hand, are easily changed. If you move location down the track you can take them with you. If you need a store floor with flexibility you can move these around. The best temporary fittings can even be adapted for trade shows and events. They don’t look quite as elegant though, and can cheapen the feel of a high-end shop.

If at first you don’™t succeed,

 Remember that you can change it. Don’™t lose money because your fixtures are inhibiting sales. But still, make your initial decision carefully. If you need advice call Apex Display


 ( 30+ years advising people on their Shopfit options means we’™re quite experienced!)

Without wanting to depress you, more than 50% of retailers fail within  4 years. You have probably heard this kind of statistic before. Don’t let it hover over you like a black cloud of gloom, view it as a challenge. Ask yourself “Can I be better than average? How?”

Retail businesses usually fail because of a lack of customers.

You need the customers to walk in the door, purchase a product and walk out satisfied. Ideally, you also need them to get excited about your shop, tell all their friends, and return over and over again.


This is directly related to your in-store experience.

Any Retailing 101 course will shove those 2 little words in front of you “Customer Service”. What the majority of these courses don’t tell you is that Customer Service is a whole lot more than “Have A Nice Day” or a birthday card. Its more than a warm welcome and yes, even more than using your customers name. Don’t get me wrong, all those are great ideas, but most customer service lectures don’t take you back to basics.

  • Cleanliness
  • Utilities
  • Tidiness
  • Conveniences

If you’re planning on being a sole owner and having a small staff base, you won’t actually have the time to dust and vacuum as often as you should. If your shop is on a main road, like ours, this is a lot more often than you want to know! Do you want to be cleaning toilets instead of serving customers? No? You may discover that a professional cleaning service is a lot more economical than it may first seem.

Your customers will be, by definition, quick to judge

If they want to try on a top and discover spilt soft drink from the last visitor all over the floor, they won’t care that you have had a ridiculously busy day and just haven’t had a chance to check the change rooms. More than likely they won’t come back. Make checking the change rooms a priority, as that is likely to be where customers spend a lot of time.

If you have a carpark, regularly check it throughout the day, every day. Check there’s no litter and that any signs you have are still standing & visible. Check there’s no loiterers that are likely to put people off coming in.


Customer Service comes right down to making it easy for your customer to shop.

Make sure there’s always carry baskets or trolleys available, that consumables like tissues are readily available, that lights are replaced if they blow, and torn carpet is replaced.

A great deal of these things will not need to be something you, the owner, need to be hands-on about. A junior staff assistant will be just as good at doing the presentation checks every couple of hours, and the in-between-cleaning dusting. Your customer won’t care who does it, so long as its done. The way they show their gratitude is by coming back.

No longer can a new business think “Should I have a website?”. it’s an avenue you must go down, as so many people are going to the internet before, during and after they shop.  

There are 2 ways of looking at an online store when you’re a bricks and mortar start up:


Option One – Your website is an informational  resource.

This is the best option for someone on a tight budget to begin with. It will provide information for customers and advice. It may simply  include a business overview, contact details and a map – just something to secure your domain, and down the track you can extend this further. If this is the sort of website you envisage for the time being you could easily and inexpensively outsource the entirety of your web management.  


Option Two – Your website is a marketing channel.

This is going to aid and increase your sales. Why would you invest in something if you can’t get a good return? A website that is a marketing channel will go out and promote your business. It will cement relationships between you and your customers and attract new customers. It will sell your products and maybe even become more popular than your physical store. Unfortunately at its inception it will also drink up a lot of time, effort and possibly money. Consider  employing someone full time to maintain it; or subcontracting out various aspects such as SEO and web advertising.


Around 90% of Australians research online. They won’t find you if you aren’t there!

Starting a business is a complicated and challenging adventure, and you may feel like you aren’t able to take on a new website as well. The benefits you will discover are that your customers will be able to spread the word online quicker than you can, and that your website will always be integrated in their minds with your shop. It is much easier to promote your company holistically now, rather than your shop now and your website two or three years down the track.

Practically speaking, if you aren’t tech savvy and the whole idea scares you, go to the experts. Web designers and marketers are professionals who know what they are doing and will do it while you’re keeping shop.

The internet is an enormous mirror to our lives, and if your shop exists here, it also needs to exist there. Put the time and effort into the creation of your shop in both worlds now, and it will pay you dividends down the track as the offline and online worlds become more and more connected.

How to host an opening event.

When you’re ready to start trading, hold off opening it for a couple of weeks and make your first marketing campaign the grand opening.You’re excited, bubbling with great ideas, and enthusiastic. You have the opportunity to pass that onto the community your store is in. You have the opportunity to introduce yourself and what you offer, gain a loyal following, and garner free advertising and publicity.

But first you must plan it. Here’s a checklist of things you might cover in your plan (obviously, not everything is necessary in every instance):

  • Begin with the budget. This varies depending on your store’s size and the amount of people you invite. But your budget should incorporate any of the items below you choose to include.
  • Invites – how you will invite people? Will you do a letterbox drop, public posters, internet-based advertising, newspaper or magazine advertising, direct invites to a select group?
  • Location and times. Publicize these. Consider having extended opening so 9-5 workers can drop in. If there are a few mini-events during the day, write a timeline and consider a printed program.
  • Decorations. Posters, balloons, streamers, floral arrangements, confetti, a ribbon to cut. Don’t be afraid to go a little bit over the top. It’s an exciting event, after all!
  • Staff. Can you do this on your own? Extra hands will undoubtedly come in ‘handy’ during the day – consider temporary staff (maybe even your mum), to free your time up for networking with attendees.
  • Activities. Are you going to have competitions, coupons, draws, music or other reasons for people to stay in the store for a bit longer?


If you have a limited budget, limited time or your business model doesn’t really suit an opening party like the above, consider these alternatives.

  • Don’t have the space for crowds? Rather than having a public event, invite influential members of the community – entrepreneurs, journalists and bloggers, business and community leaders. You will have a better opportunity to make connections with influencers this way, and you may end up saving money. Make sure you have samples of your products to give attendees, so they can review and influence effectively
  • Virtual Celebration: Another great option for those tight on space, particularly online or home businesses. You will need to publicize prior to this event, but a virtual celebration has no geographic limitations. Either celebrate on your own website, by providing engaging and interactive information that encourages visitors to bookmark your page, or set up a specific event mini-website solely for the purpose. Offer a special grand opening prices and host online giveaways.
  • Contact professional event organisers if it all sounds to complex. They know the industry, know suppliers and have experience.

And there you have it. Your new shop, I mean, with a great customer base and a positive eye to the future.

This concludes our start-up series. Here’s to your future, and we look forward to a great supply relationship with you. Please call us any time for advice or help. We’d love to hear from you!

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