How to Start a Clothing Store

Target Market

Whether you decide to specialize in high-end fashion or sporty casual merchandise, never lose sight of what sets you apart from Target, Sears and all the other apparel chain stores. You may not be able to mark down a pair of jeans to $9.99, but what you do have going for you is the old adage: "You get what you pay for."

"Department stores all look alike because merchandisers like Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica are all fighting for the same brand space," says Fred Derring, whose company helps retailers across the country market their stores. "And when everything begins to look alike, consumers can become disenchanted. In addition, people just don't have as much time to shop today, and when they do, they want to go into a store and be serviced properly. Forget service with a smile. If you can even find someone to help you in most department stores, you're lucky.

"Small stores are more focused on the community," Derring adds. "They know their customers better, they give terrific service, and they generally have a more interesting collection of clothes on their store floors that will add to making customers feel special. These are the kinds of features customers are looking for in a smaller, independent store."

Women
Let's start with the hardest first. If you're going to open a women's apparel store, you already know that the tastes of the "fickle" female customer are hard to stereotype. Every expert we spoke with agreed that the very first thing a prospective women's apparel retailer must do is decide where the "market-vendor" gaps are. In other words, which customers in the store's trading area will you serve, and what apparel can you provide (and at what price) that can't be found easily elsewhere? Once you've determined this, you can buy accordingly.

"'What do I have that will entice a woman into my store?' That's the big question the women's apparel store owner needs to ask," says D.L.S. Outfitters' Kira Danus. Yes, we know that's easier said than done, and it really depends on where you're going to open your store, as Danus notes. "There's a huge difference in consumer mentality across the country, and I'd advise a store owner in Duluth much differently from one in Los Angeles."

Men
The typical male customer is between 18 and 40 years of age, with a smaller percentage in their fifties. (We didn't even bother listing a female customer's age because, frankly, women of all ages like to shop.) The male consumer is often single and usually has money to spend--but typically still has to be brought in kicking and screaming by his girlfriend or wife to spend it on clothes. His job may not require a coat and tie, but unless he's working in the Silicon Valley with hipster entrepreneurial types, he still wants to look good.

As we've said, if given the choice, most men would rather throw a bridal shower than shop for a new sportcoat. The only good thing about the casual dress trend, however, is that because of the trend, men seem more willing to be dragged into a clothing store.

Children
Cashing in on the baby boomers' baby boomlet of the 1980s and 1990s, the children's apparel market is estimated to account for $20 billion to $22 billion in sales every year and is considered among the fastest-growing segments of the overall retail market.

Even though little girls have been known to throw temper tantrums when they're forced to wear gingham jumpers to preschool, you're not really targeting kids here. You're aiming more for their parents--at least the parents of children up to age 10, those who still make the executive decision when it comes to their children's clothes.

Obviously, the more financially stable parents are, the more they'll be willing to spend on boutique clothing for their children--if they're into clothes themselves, that is. Just because parents have money doesn't mean they're spending it on Calvin Klein and Jessica McClintock for tots. They may well be shopping at Target and socking the rest away for a college education at an expensive Ivy League school.

It all goes back to doing your homework. If you're in an old-money, Mercedes or Volvo station wagon-driving area, you can bet those parents may not necessarily be shopping at Target or Sears, but they may be shopping the Gap sales. If you're in a more flashy nouveau riche area where mothers are driving Jaguars and wearing diamond tennis bracelets, or even one where the women spend $100 on their own designer jeans, that's a market for children's fashionable boutique clothing.

Stat Fact
The bulk of children's clothing sales--up to 60 percent--comes from those cute matching outfits, like matching top-and-bottom coordinates. When it comes to colors, seasonal trends like animal prints come and go, but the consistent top sellers are still--no surprise here--light blue, pink and green.

Start Your Own Clothing Store and More, 3E

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