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How to Expand Your Clothing Boutique Online

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 2:57am | by Jessica Watts

Modcloth. Forever 21. H&M. How do these large clothing retailers do it and still maintain a sense of that small-time "boutique" clothing retailer? Part of their secret is in their marketing. These once small clothing retailers learned how to branch out, punch above their weight, and eventually attain super-stardom in their niche. Here's how you can do the same without losing your identity.

Start An Ecommerce Website Online

You don't have to be the Walmart of clothing retailers. In all likelihood, there's a part of you that likes being "small." Of all of the online business ideas that are out there, taking a boutique shop and making it a household name without becoming a large commercial retailer is one of the trickiest to pull off.

What you need to do, if you set up an e-commerce website, is to maintain your charm while expanding out and making the entire world your "neighborhood." Consider the small clothing retailer, "UntuckIt." This male-focused clothing company started out with a modest marketing campaign. It grew to serve a large, under-served market of men who just wanted to wear their button down shirts untucked, but didn't want to look like an idiot doing so. Now, they're famous (in certain circles).

It seems like too simple a concept. But the company has been an amazing success. They aren't Macy's, and they never will be. They're a small, niche, clothing retailer. There's no reason you can't model your own company after this idea. Stay small, but grow.

Promote Your Business Online

Promoting your business onlineisn't as hard as it sounds. There are basically three ways to do it. First, you can send out press releases. Second, you can use a pay-per-click platform. Third, you can buy media advertising.

A press releaseis the cheapest and sometimes the most effective option. The trick with press releases is that you have to have something newsworthy to say. You can't just advertise that you're online. Big deal. Lots of people are online. What makes you unique. Like, UntuckIt, you have to have a unique selling proposition. You have to fill a void in the marketplace.

Take online cloud storage company Bitcasa. It's a startup that originally promised unlimited cloud storage for free, then for about $10 per month once they were out of Beta. The company made its splash, however, using press releases and a clever demonstration on TechCrunch.

A press release won't cover bad products or services, though, so be prepared to answer tough questions. If you use Eric Ward's URLwire, you'll be put in front of real librarians, content curators, and journalists - just the types of people who can make your small business huge.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has been around almost forever (at least, in the online world). While there are many different platforms to choose from, Google remains the king. Basically, a pay-per-click platform is an ad platform that works sort of like online classified ads. You put up an ad. When people search for keywords relevant to your company and offering, your ad shows up. When people click on the ad, you're charged a fee and the visitor gets forwarded to your website.

PPC isn't the easiest thing in the world to master, though, and if you're not at all good at writing copy, you might be better off hiring a firm like Wordstream or Jumpfly to manage it for you. has an excellent self case-studythough if you're determined to go the DIY route. Basically, he details how he made $1,000 in profit in one week using PPC. Testing both Facebook and Google, Glen really figured out what it takes to succeed here, and it's not what you'd think. He also discloses how to use Ad Beat to reverse engineer your competitor's online strategy. It's a neat tool that will really make the difference between success and failure on these platforms.

Media buys are a bit more expensive than the previous two marketing methods, but they can pay off if you have the money to invest and a solid business and marketing plan. Basically, you pay either per-click (i.e. per banner click) or per 1,000 impressions (i.e. CPM).

Media buys can be a crap shoot, honestly. It's not something you want to start out doing. Rather, this is where you end up when you're already successful, bringing in a lot of money, making profit, and you can't figure out where to spend more ad dollars. If you have a wickedly successful ad that just pulls no matter where you put it, you can get super-cheap advertising using this method. But, for testing purposes, it's practically useless.

Serve A Broader Market By Shipping

If you want to expand your business nationally, you need to ship nationally. Set up shipping options on your website so that people can order from you regardless of where they live. Most companies do that these days, and it's pretty easy to set up. You'll have to establish a system for shipping merchandise across the country, but this isn't an insurmountable problem.

Incidentally, this is how went from being essentially a garage-sale-flea-market business to being one of the largest online retailers ever. When Patrick Byrne first started out, the surplus goods vendor he bought into was bankrupt. Originally called D2: Discount Direct, the company tapped into a not-so-sexy industry: flea markets.

Byrne saw the potential there though and figured out the key to making shipping cheap. First, he used something called "jobbers." In shipping, there are sometimes missed deliveries for retail orders (orders going to a retail store). In many cases, these missed deliveries become orphaned products because the retail location either places another order elsewhere or cancels the order.

This creates an "overstock" situation - instant profits for a company like Overstock. Solving the shipping problem was easy. Byrne decided to base the shipping price right into the product. He learned this was a good idea from focus groups. Women especially get sticker shock when they see shipping costs that are higher than expected - leading to shopping cart abandonment.

Byrne figured "why not just say the real total up front?"

These are the kinds of shipping decisions and innovations you have to come up with - or, just follow in the greatness of leaders like Byrne. You may not be able to use "jobbers" like Overstock, but you can use drop-shippers like Amazon. Simplify the experience for your customers, relieve shipping sticker shock, and you'll make more sales while serving a broader market.

Jack Bishop believes in small businesses. His passion stems from having grown up in a family business. He enjoys finding innovative ways to help business strengthen their success in the marketplace and his articles mainly appear on business related blogs. 

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