Whilst the mainstream clothes sector is dominated by large players, there are ample opportunities for entrepreneurs to fill a popular niche and establish brand loyalty from regular customers.
Why start a clothes shop?
The clothing industry is a multi-billion pound market made up of a huge number of products catering to all demographics. It does not stagnate often, with seasonal variation and new trends pushing consumers to update their wardrobes. Retail juggernauts tend to dominate mainstream markets, leaving niche clothing and accessories markets less saturated. These opportunities are where entrepreneurs often make money, catering to expanding niches that big players tend to ignore.
What skills will I need?
Dedication is essential as it can be an uphill struggle to get established; niche establishments generally have to reach out to their target demographic in order to raise awareness. This can take a lot of patience to establish goodwill. A flair for customer service is also important; you’ll struggle to win customers through low prices or special offers without the purchasing power of bigger chains, making building personal relationships essential to success. Practical retail business skills are also essential, such as stock-taking, creating visually-stunning displays and dealing with finances.
Retail experience in a clothes shop will be immensely useful when running your own establishment. Try to find a senior-level position to gain experience of handling staff rotas, negotiating with suppliers and getting your head round financial issues. In terms of formal qualifications, some institutions offer professional diplomas in retail management and related fields. These can be useful when paired with practical experience.
Starting a clothing shop can be expensive, even a small independent niche outlet. The monthly cost of your premises will be a major expense; you need to find a middle ground between cost-effectiveness and location, particularly if you’re likely to rely on through-traffic to build a customer base. You’ll also need to factor in refurbishment costs, initial marketing, purchase of stock (difficult at first because suppliers may be unwilling to extend credit lines), office supplies and security measures such as CCTV. Budget around £55,000 to get your shop off the ground.
Insurance and compliance
You’ll need several insurance policies; buildings and contents insurance will cover your premises and stock, whilst public liability insurance will protect you in the event of damage to third parties. If you take on staff, you’ll need employer’s liability insurance. You may also wish to take out cover for any cash left on site, and for business interruption insurance which will pay out if unforeseen circumstances cause a temporary loss of business revenue. There health and safety concerns when selling products and letting customers on a third party premises, as well as legislation to comply with such as the Equality Act 2010 and Sale of Goods Act 1979. Consult a reputable lawyer, or alternatively the British Retail Consortium (BRC) for more information.
Your first step
If you don’t feel you have sufficient experience, get paid and unpaid positions in a variety of clothing shops – both mainstream and independent. Consider a qualification although take into consideration the cost and the likely benefits. Once you’re ready to start setting up your business, market research is fundamental; you need to identify the potential of your niche and whether your target demographic are likely to buy from you. Read our guide to market research for more information.