Traditionally, boutiques are those retail stores that cater to upscale clientele looking for unique and individualized clothing and accessories. While they’ve mostly been associated with the fashion industry in the past, these days, the concept is being applied with success to all kinds of businesses. Rather than generalizing their products and services to fit the widest possible range of customers, and emphasizing qualities like low price and big selection, boutique companies focus on a narrow section of customers who can afford the higher prices that come with a more thoughtful and customized offering from experts and specialists in that area.
Now we’ve got boutique hotels, boutique law firms, boutique car manufacturers, even boutique home improvement and hardware stores. You name any kind of business, and it can be formulated into a boutique to serve customers who have the ability and desire to spend more for distinctive and high-quality goods and services.
As the French name indicates, boutiques got their start in the 1920s with Parisian fashion designers who opened small shops alongside their maisons de couture, their clothing, and accessory production houses. At this time, the fashions were sold at lower prices than at normal retail establishments, kind of like a small-scale version of how factory outlet stores sell at lower prices today. By the 1950s, however, the boutiques in Paris were well-established and demanding higher prices to match their unique and highly-desired selections.
It wasn’t long after this, in the post-WWII era of baby boomers, that boutiques took off in other places like London and New York. The economic hardships from the war were over, and the time for penny-pinching and dollar-stretching were over. It was the “Swinging Sixties,” and the movers and shakers were looking for fashions to fit their new freedom and increased purchasing power, not to mention styles that expressed their departure from the conformity of their parents’ generation.
These stores drew customers inside from the sidewalk using unique and exciting window displays, which points out an important aspect of applying boutique principles to any business today. The advertising and marketing strategy needs to be tailored to fit the desired clientele. A boutique business has no need to take out ads in the local discount flyers, for example. On the other hand, a boutique business should focus word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), because this class of customers would like to think that they’ve discovered something special through their social connections — say, at a cocktail party, a business luncheon or the country club. The internet and social media offer an interesting twist on the boutique approach and an opportunity to drive that word-of-mouth marketing strategy.
But when it comes down to the essentials of boutique business, the real emphasis needs to be on customer service and quality that can only come with a personal touch. “As a boutique firm, we are able to ensure that each client receives personal attention, sophisticated representation, and value from our services,” says Matthew D. Landau, partner with the Landau Law Group. So if you want your business to justify boutique prices, give your customers boutique value.