I've always dreamed of owning a boutique furnishings shop.
In it, I'd sell all of the beautiful items I offer my design clients, except on a much larger scale!
I'd SHOP for it! DECORATE it! And OPEN its doors to the public, each and every day for the rest of my life!
It would sell old, crusty architectural pieces, like doors, brackets and columns.
Interesting and unusual lighting would be everywhere.
Gorgeous pillows . . . custom upholstery . . . fabulous accessories.
They'd accent every area of the store and, eventually (hopefully!), my customers' homes.
Mmmmm . . . Delicious!
But there's got to be more involved in running a store than these sweet dreams are leading me to believe, right?
As much as I'd like to imagine that each workday would consist of me sitting regally at my antique desk as my little Bichon and I greet enthusiastic customers who are pouring in to buy and pay homage to my glorious boutique, I'd surely be kidding myself if I truly thought that's how my new life in retail would be . . . Ya think?!
Of course, I love to dream. But I do not enjoy wasting my dream-time on unrealistic goals. Soooooo, because I'm in obvious need of a reality check, I've decided to ask three of my fabulous friends, each of whom run their own stores (which are as equally fabulous as they are), to provide us with three pieces of advice we all must consider before opening our own shops.
The first wise woman of retail who will shed light on the truths of turning a pretty profit with our beautiful boutiques is Carolyn Bradford. She's owned her own shop for twelve years and, before that, was a successful interior decorator. So listen closely, alright? The advice she's going to give is what dreams are made of!
Take it away, Carolyn ;-)
Over the years I've had plenty of time to think about all of the reasons I love having a shop and, of course, feel grateful that I put a lot of thought into how my store would operate before I opened it.
When I first opened the doors to my shop, my husband's businesses were doing really well, so the stresses of turning a profit didn't concern me as much as they may today. I sort of road the roller coaster with him and, because he's so sweet, never allowed me to hold back.
As I look back upon those early days, I wish I would have been a much more controlled and careful buyer. However, despite any mistakes I made, I still fondly remember how much fun it was to go to antique shows, stay in great hotels, each at nice restaurants, etc. With all that excitement coming your way on a regular basis, it's no wonder why I was so persistent about making sure my shop became a success. I didn't want my roller coaster ride to ever end!
One of the reasons I opened my store was because, as an interior decorator, working with clients and their home's issues became very tiring. I thought I'd never be able to get away from the stresses that came my way every day.
Each night, I'd lay awake fretting over fabrics, paint colors, and my concern over how even my husband seemed to have a negative attitude about it all. That's when I decided I'd rather be in a position where I'd sell things to people and be done with them! (I know I'm not exactly explaining my situation with very flattering thoughts, but you get my drift!)
Now just because I got out of the service side of the design business and entered the retail end of it doesn't mean I no longer had an obligation to believe in what I sell, care about what I sell, and back up what I sell. Sure, I had a new job description, but many of the same struggles I previously had remained.
So, with that said, here are my top three things to consider before opening your own shop:
Be a smart shopper
When buying items to sell, don't get in over your head. Don't always feel like you have to occupy every empty space in your store with knick knacks and such. You need to love every purchase you make so much that if/when you are still stuck with it several years down the road, you'll love it enough to find a place for it in your own home.
YOU are your store's brand
Always be available to your customers and show excitement and great knowledge about what you offer; because, no matter how many employees you have, as the owner of your store, you're the person customers are going to feel most comfortable dealing with. You're the one who's responsible for setting the tone for the entire store, so you have to "market" everything within it so that it all looks and feels as special as it really is.
For instance: If a customer is interested in an antique piece, they're going to want to know its history, and you're going to need to be knowledgeable enough about it to be able to confidently sell it to them. The same principle applies to other items, like antique furniture, where the customer who is going to spend a lot of money on a piece will want to feel good about their purchase.
Follow your own path
Be aware of trends and the latest styles, but don't ever compromise your shop's integrity just to be like everyone else! There are a ton of Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware lookalikes out there, so stick to your guns and only sell what you truly love!
By remembering why you wanted to open your own store in the first place, you won't get lured in to all the fads you think all of your customers will like. At the end of the day, they will remember you for your timeless quality, not for that one time when you had that industrial piece of lighting, just like So-and-so. They will seek you out because they know you believe in your stuff and take the time that's necessary to invest in quality pieces.
Thank you, Carolyn!
I want to send a huge THANK YOU to Carolyn for sharing her story and advice with all of us here. And, now that we all know the owner, we should all make a mental note to stop by her great shop the next time we're traveling through Alabama. I know I will ;-)
Q&A | Do you have a question to ask Carolyn? If so, ask away in the comments below!
Don't you just LOVE hearing from business owners who are as passionate about their work as Carolyn is? Their energy is so contagious! That's why I'm so excited that we still have two more shop owners who are going to drop by in the coming days to share even more advice with us.