How to Start a Clothing Store

Operations

There's never a dull moment in the apparel business. When you're going to have time to read the trades and watch TV is anyone's guess--though not ours--because you'll practically live at your store, especially in the beginning.

"No one day seems to be exactly the same," says Meridian, Mississippi, store owner Robert L., who adds that he can't ever remember a dull moment in his apparel store. "Day to day, you'll be wearing many different hats, whether you're managing people, receiving merchandise or creating displays. One minute you're on the phone with a customer, and the next minute you're talking to a radio station about your advertising. Then you might have your nose in the books wondering why your expenses were so high last month."

Your Policy Position
One of the things that will help balance your daily juggling act will be to establish your store's operating policies, or the rules under which you decide to run your business. It's not until you actually start your own apparel store that you'll realize how many decisions you'll be making on a daily basis, and for that reason, you want to make sure you have a plan. Believe us; a plan will eliminate making last-minute reactionary decisions that could result in some costly mistakes, like maybe losing a valued employee. We suggest sitting down, writing up your store's operating policies and supplying copies to your employees. You may also wish to post some of these policies, such as those involving cash and credit card acceptance, for your customers to read.

A seemingly endless number of these "policy" questions will arise when you enter the apparel business, among them issues surrounding pricing, consignment, purchasing unsolicited products, credit, cash layaway, returns, special orders, damage, children in the store, credit cards, gift wrapping, gift registry and hours of operation.

We put hours of operation last for emphasis, because when your doors are open will be a big factor in your success. Most apparel stores that don't conform to a mall's shopping hours stay open a minimum of six days per week, usually Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Frequently, stores will stay open until 9 p.m. or later on certain, or even several, days of the week, typically Thursday and Friday. Flexible hours allow for lunchtime and evening shopping, and in this business, flexibility is your friend.

Choosing a Location

In choosing a community in which to open your store, you'll want to consider a number of location "whether" factors (this will serve as a review of our marketing chapter), including whether the community has a large enough population, whether its economy is stable enough for you to make money and whether the area's demographic characteristics are compatible with your target market.

Almost all apparel store lessors, or landlords, require a square foot rental from their lessees, usually paid on a monthly basis. Apparel store rent can run as low as $8 per square foot in certain parts of the country, and close to $40 per square foot in big malls or shopping centers in high-traffic areas or in higher-rent metropolitan areas, like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. Landlords also sometimes ask for a percentage of the tenant's monthly gross sales--above a certain specified amount--on top of the minimum monthly rental.

In addition to paying flat rents and sales percentages, apparel store owners who decide to locate in a shopping center or mall may be asked to pay what's known as an add-on charge. This per-square-foot charge or small percentage of a store's gross sales covers advertising and promotion costs for the shopping area and upkeep of the common areas surrounding the businesses (parking, sidewalk, walkways, sitting areas, patios, restrooms).

Do all the following before you choose a location for your apparel store:

  1. Look at several locations before choosing your store site.
  2. Check into any local ordinances and zoning regulations that apply.
  3. Determine your store's parking needs.
  4. Decide whether the site is worth the rent.
  5. Define the selling point of your store's location.
  6. Determine whether the location is an area of potential growth.
  7. Define your store's space needs.

Hiring Employees

Your store needs will vary according to your store hours and customer traffic, but a good rule of thumb is one full-time and one part-time person for a 1,000-square-foot store.

When hiring sales staff, sales ability and personality come first. With both of those traits upfront, you can always train your salespeople to track inventory and handle apparel. Hopefully, with that combination, your salespeople will also be able to deal with the everyday apparel pressures of customer personalities and demands that require a thoughtful combination of tact, persuasiveness and a sense of humor. You also want a person who is mature and honest, one who will not only help you move merchandise out the door but also one you trust to handle your cash and to keep careful and complete records.

"You obviously have to be particular about who you hire," says apparel entrepreneur Robert L., "because ultimately it's customer service that separates us from the mall stores."

Start Your Own Clothing Store and More, 3E

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