Let's talk inventory.
Finding wholesale inventory vendors is hard. Unless you know where to look or you have had someone tell you where to go. It's like an online underground void. I searched high and low for days and days to figure out where to get inventory from.
Learning how to buy inventory is hard. Do I just buy random things? Do I buy what I like? What the heck do I buy?
Managing inventory is so hard. I made so many mistakes with managing inventory. I want to help you not make all of the same mistakes that I did.
We have been in business for 3 years now. At this point, I have 2 vendors that I order from on a consistent basis. My best advise on this topic is go to market.
There are apparel markets across the country, where vendors set up and show you their best selling styles. This is important because you can see, feel, and try on the clothing. Doing this will help to determine whether or not your target customer would purchase it. I ordered some crazy stuff in the beginning simply by not having seen it in person. This doesn't mean you can never order supplemental inventory online from time to time. But it is so important to find the vendors that carry the style of clothing that your customer wants and needs.
With your first initial launch I would recommend buying pieces that will set you a part. I'm not saying carry some over-the-top rainbow furry vest (unless that's your target client). When you first launch have pieces that tell a story about who you are, what is your style, what do you want to be known for. That way you're not selling all the same things as the hundred other boutiques within a 10 mile radius of you. Save the basics for when you have a mature inventory collection.
Once you find some vendors that you like and their styles are proven to sell in your shop, begin to build a relationship with them. This way trust is being built, you won't have to worry about something not looking like it does online. I have a vendor that texts me photos of pieces because she knows my target client, their style and what works for my store. This is the kind of shop/vendor relationship you should strive for, not just blindly ordering from different vendors whenever you need inventory. You're busy enough doing a million different important things, have the vendors work for you. Have them pick out items, send you photos and you give them a thumbs up or thumbs down. Theoretically this should free up so much of your time and energy and make life so much easier.
If you have already started your boutique, are you just ordering all over the place with completley different styles? Or have you honed in on a few vendors that always work with your target customer?
Managing inventory is the thorn in my side, don't let it be yours. If you're familiar with First Harvest, you know we were online for a year, and then the following year we opened 3 pop up stores and 4 retail store locations. I thought I was managing our inventory well, but hindsight is 20/20, and it was actually a mess. We opened up 3 stores within 4 months. Ordering inventory was the most important thing, but I didn't treat it like the most important thing. If you need to order a bulk amount of inventory for a new store for instance or a pop up show that your'e doing, do the math. I am not a math wiz, and most of the time I avoid the numbers. If you don't know your numbers, you don't know you're business. I wish I had learned this before we opened our stores, because I would have been studying the numbers from previous months sales ect. How much have other people done in that same space? What sales can you honestly expect? Then work backwards.
Make sure you have a good combination of staple pieces to basic pieces. Don't make your pieces compete against each other. If you are ordering an awesome staple piece, and it comes in two colors, decide on your favorite one. If you can't decide which one is your favorite and so you get both, how do you expect your customers to decide. Make the decision easy for your customers.
Inventory is one of the trickiest parts of owning a boutique or really any business, in my opinion. You must always be on top of the trends, but stay in your lane.
Don't let this image fool you, Matt enjoys going to market and helping me pick out all of the styles for our awesome customers!
Owner and Founder, First Harvest & Milk + Honey Collection
This is only the second of the 5 blog series covering how to start your own boutique. Be sure to subscribe to our email at the top of this page to read next weeks blog!