We don’t own a boutique, but we visit and work with hundreds each year … some very successful and others that are just hanging on. My wife Stephanie Boyles and I founded our leather & jewelry accessories company, Embrazio, around 10 years ago and we’re now carried by over 250 boutiques across the country.
We do all the traveling and sales calls ourselves and here’s what we’ve observed about recent industry trends and the ways the most successful boutiques are adapting and thriving in response.
If the Customer Is King, The Customer Relationship Is the Kingdom
Shoppers don’t go to boutiques to be served by the twenty something social media maven who looks up from her phone just long enough to say “welcome, let me know if you need something.” They’re also not looking for the nice semi-retired senior who’s trying to kill some time and make a few bucks but hasn’t even picked up a fashion magazine in years. They want to know you, your engaged and informed staff, and they want you to know them.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the middle of an appointment with an owner/buyer of a popular boutique when XYZ regular customer walks in and we go on hold. That’s exactly how it ought to be. When XYZ walks in, the owner/buyer turns and says something like “oh Sally, I’m so glad you’re here, a new blouse I’ve been secretly trying to find for you just came in and I’m dying to see if you like it.”
Boom, that customer feels special and sees immediately that they are the most important person in the store despite all of our products being laid out and our ordering process only partially completed. We love it when this happens because we know our products are going to move in that store. That personal touch is the most important common thread that runs through all of our most successful retail boutique partners.
The Kingdom Is Wherever the Customer Wants It to Be
Forget the debate over brick and mortar versus online versus over the phone versus whatever. It’s over. In today’s world customers have gotten beyond spoiled. They want to shop when and where they want to shop and wherever they want to shop has got to provide a great experience. That’s the expectation. This probably isn’t a surprise to many but here’s the secret … you can make it happen without spending a ton.
Given new off the shelf platforms and tools, a local expert can get your initial online store up and running in sync with your physical store in a matter of days and for less than $5,000 all in. You and/or your manager can easily learn how to change pictures and pricing, generate discounts and coupons, or run a special item sale. It’s important to also make sure everything you do online is mobile friendly since more than half of all online purchases in 2021 will be done via a smartphone according to Statista.
Don’t forget that phone call and email contact are also critical. It’s cheap and easy to get generic business cards so customers remember you and can quickly leave you a voice message or send you an email. Just make sure you’ve got a process set up whereby someone responds to them within 24 hours. That’s best in class!
It Really Does Take All of The Villagers
To keep our medieval metaphor going, the most successful boutiques we know are tightly integrated with their suppliers. Both retailer and supplier have a “we’re in this together mentality.” That means the supplier is doing everything they can to support the retailer while also running a healthy business themselves.
This goes beyond offering low/no minimums, easy exchanges/returns, and a steady stream of new product innovation. For example, when Covid hit, we immediately developed a quick and easy way for our boutique partners to start selling our entire line, whether they physically carried it our not, on their web site. This included using our pictures, descriptions, and pricing.
We also offered to drop ship directly to their customer while sending the billing to the boutique. In short, we anticipated many boutiques would need to move much more heavily online during the pandemic and we wanted to be part of the solution. To us, that’s all just part of an integrated relationship where we work together for success.
A Market of One
All of the above ties neatly together if you think in terms of “a market of one.” That means, the world is increasingly treating each customer as a unique market. Each customer has expectations the boutique they frequent will know them, treat them as special and important, and meet them with the experience they relish whether it be online, in the store, on the phone, or via an email or text exchange. That’s the goal and the ideal. The closer a boutique can come to reaching these expectations, the closer they’ll be to gaining and retaining the keys to the customer Kingdom!
Scott Schaefer and Stephanie Boyles are co-founders of Embrazio, a handmade leather accessories and jewelry manufacturer based in Boulder, CO. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.