What type of clothes shop?
If you believe that you have the enthusiasm, skills and personality to set up a clothes shop, you next need to think about what type of shop it will be. As already mentioned, most small independents tend to specialise.
"Niche market retailing is generally the only growth area in retail," explains Michael Goodmaker of the Institute of Business Advisers. And if you are wondering which area to specialise in, he suggests that the answer may be looking at you in the mirror.
"One way to work out a niche is that you may be a niche customer yourself. For example, imagine you are 6ft 7 and you find that you can't buy trousers in London that fit. You realise that there are other people with the same problem, and so there's the market that you can supply to."
To make your clothing store successful you will have to focus very strongly on who your customers are and what they want. Your target market could be any sector of society, for example teenagers, affluent women, or outdoor enthusiasts. Even if you specialise in just one type of clothing, such as suits or school uniforms, you should still be able to define your customers to a large extent.
Ideally, you will stock clothes that are not available anywhere else near you. In fact, you may have little choice, since many suppliers sign exclusivity agreements with the shops that they supply, under which they agree to not supply the same clothes to other shops in the immediate area.
So you may be restricted in the labels that you can stock. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have clothes that are both popular and exclusive to your shop, there will be a good chance of building up a loyal customer base.
Once you've worked out what type of shop you want to open, you'll need to find premises. "The first thing to do is find a site. This is critical," says Goodmaker. "And there's no point being off the prime locations - you can't get people to go around the corner for a clothes shop."
All the large clothes store chains occupy prominent positions on the high street to catch passing trade. In particular, locating en route to a superstore can massively increase the number of customers that enter your shop.
Naturally these are also the most expensive premises to rent. Conduct some market research to find out whether you would be able to locate just off the high street without harming your business. If so, this will save you a considerable amount in rent.
Consider locating near other small independent shops that stock similar but not identical fashion items to you. This could help attract customers since clothes shoppers like to browse several shops before buying.
Once you've found premises, you will need to think about how to promote your shop. Inside, you will need to ensure all the garments are clearly displayed and kept up-to-date. You will need to keep the shop fresh by moving all the new ranges to prominent positions, while an eye-catching window display and mannequins throughout the shop will be important in attracting trade.
Customers will expect to feel comfortable when they enter your shop - if they don't they won't even stop to browse let alone take the time to try on and buy clothes. So make sure the atmosphere that you create inside your shop is suited to your target market. Glitter balls and pop music may be essential in attracting teenage customers, but they will obviously look out of place in a formalwear shop.
You should also advertise to as much of the local area as possible. Make sure that your shop's details are in the Yellow Pages and advertise in local newspapers, especially when you get new stock or are putting on a sale.
A website can help promote your shop by showing customers what you sell and keeping them informed of new stock, sales and details such as opening times and phone numbers. Moreover, an online shop can contribute significantly to your turnover, especially if you sell items that don't need to be tried on, such as socks, ties or T-shirts for example.
Liz Urwin, who runs a ladies fashion boutique in Cheshire, says you could also try some more imaginative methods of promoting your shop. "Fashion shows seem to work quite well, especially if they are in aid of charity since people are keener to attend these"
Using the internet
If you love clothes but are concerned about the large investment needed to start up a clothes shop, there is a cheaper alternative that could be equally as profitable - selling clothes though the internet, mail order, at shows or through a website.
Having lived in the country all his life, Mike Dene knows that working outside requires a special type of clothing. But he also knows how difficult it can be to buy high quality outdoor clothing in high street shops.
This is what compelled Mike and his wife to set up Denewear, a company importing specialist outdoor clothing from all over the globe, including Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. It was a starting point from which Dene believes any budding entrepreneur can build a business.
"All small operators need to do is find a selection of funky products that aren't available in the high street. Finding this product is key to the future of your business."
With their collection of outdoor clothing, the couple started touring the many shows and exhibitions aimed at their market, such as country shows and fishing shows. At the same time, they built up a mail order business and later started developed thier website, www.denewear.co.uk.
"I now spend around six months doing the shows and six months marketing and doing the catalogues. We used to get 50% of turnover from the shows, but as the mail order has grown it's come down to 40%."
And after 18 years in the business, Dene is testimony to the fact that you don't need a shop to sell clothes. "A lot of people would be better off avoiding the shop and getting better known by doing the show and exhibition circuit. And if you're short of capital, I can't see any other way of doing it."