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How to Start a Clothing Store

Opening an apparel store is serious business. For some of you, it may mean giving up the safety of your corporate job with its steady income, paid holidays, vacations and the opportunity for advancement. All this, and guaranteed 12- to 14-hour days.

Here is a handy set of questions that will help you determine whether fashion is indeed your forte.

1. Is this a business in which you have experience?
Maybe you’ve taken those merchandising classes; maybe you’ve watched your father, mother or grandparents run a business; maybe you spent a summer selling makeup over the counter at Macy’s. In any case, your experience and business sense are as important as your interest in clothes.

2. Can you live with the inherent risk in the apparel business?
This isn’t meant to scare you; we’re only trying to present a balanced picture. If you’re serious about opening an apparel store, you need to know that, like the restaurant business, the apparel business is risky. You may pour your life savings into a business that goes bust within a year.

3. Do you believe strongly in the apparel industry?
On a serious note, you really need to think about why you’ve decided to open an apparel store vs. a homeopathic pharmacy or an organic grocery store. Whatever your particular fashion passion, it has to be enough to carry you through the yearly holiday rushes as well as the slow summer lulls. It’s like marriage: When times get tough, you need to remember why you took those vows in the first place.

4. Do you have a competitive advantage?
In a word, this is called “marketing.” For now, hear this collective quote culled from every apparel entrepreneur interviewed for this business guide: “Today the competition isn’t two doors down the block; it’s at the local mall. People can get everything we sell at their local mall, so we have to set ourselves apart other ways. Pay attention to the demographics in your area, to the location and available foot traffic, to television and movies and what people are wearing on the street.”

Choose a good location for your store.

Properties that are not downtown in large areas or on main street in small towns may be less desirable. In addition, ideally the surrounding businesses should somehow be related to what you are trying to sell. For example, if your store is surrounded by auto parts and warehouse companies, the odds of selling high fashion clothes are going to be low.

Network with several fashion designers and wholesalers.

Never put all of your eggs in one basket. Find several different clothing lines that will appeal to your local demographic and make sure that the sources are reliable. You can also network with local fashion designers who may not have yet made it big.


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