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Retail Spotlight: Flaunt Boutique

Autumn (left) and Laura (right)

This week, FashionGo is in full swing of FashionGo Week, our first online trade show. The purpose of FashionGo Week is to serve as a resource for the industry to prepare for the F/W season as trade events were canceled due to the pandemic. Our goal is to bring the excitement of an in-person trade show into a digital experience focused on helping retailers with informed purchasing decisions using data driven insights. Many of our platform features differentiate FashionGo as an online marketplace for B2B fashion wholesale and serve a multifaceted purpose, aiming to provide a comprehensive view of trends and insights.

One integral aspect in gathering insights are understanding the realities retailers face in their experience, feedback, and individual stories. These key learnings from privileged peeks into each unique story that the retailers share with us are invaluable because they help us think through a solution in different perspectives. It reminds us that creating meaningful digital experiences depend on leveraging the wisdom of retailers combined with the right technology.

During the pandemic, we were able to leverage technology to bring about the solutions to solve our retailers needs. With many manufacturers having to pause their operations, and many retailers having to work remotely without the ability to travel, FashionGo became a hub and a valuable resource where retailers could continue to purchase stock merchandise, discover new vendors, insights to diversifying their buying strategies, and stay prepared for any uncertainties.

In an effort to better facilitate our platform solutions, we thought to lean on some wisdom and real experience from our community. As we reached out to numerous retailers and learned about each retailer, we thought to share this valuable learnings with the community as the whole community would benefit from it. Introducing Retail Spotlight on FashionGo blog, dedicated to sharing retail learnings from the community with the community. For our first spotlight, we welcome Flaunt Boutique.

Long before the industry was forced to work remotely, co-owners, Autumn and Laura of the online only Flaunt Boutique, have mastered working 7 hours apart to build, manage, and operate a successful boutique. We thought to share their interesting story based on a unique set up with the community to help shed light on imperative topics which may have crossed the minds of many retailers in relation to running a business.

FG: Tell us a little about your background and how you came about to start your boutique?

FB: Funny story, neither one of us have any sort of experience in the boutique or retail industry, other than our high-school jobs at Academy and Target. When Flaunt was “dreamt-up”, Autumn was in school for Physical Therapy (later getting her Doctorate) and I (Laura) was studying accounting (later getting my Masters). Neither one of us ever thought we’d be doing what we are doing, but isn’t that the funny part of life? Attending college 5 hours apart, we’d only met and hung out a handful of times when our boyfriends (now husbands) would hang out. One evening, we started talking about statement jewelry and how it’d be fun to start selling it. Social Selling was just beginning and we thought that would be a simple way to start, with very low overhead. Looking back, we were so fearless and faith-driven in the early stages of Flaunt. We never once worried about it not working out and just had fun with it.

FG: How did your boutique come to life?

FB: Lots and lots of hustle, which I think any entrepreneur can attest to. In the beginning, you just do whatever you need to do to make it happen (probably just as true now!). We used to just sit on our phones and follow people on Instagram non-stop, just to get our brand in front of potential customers. We would pack up our inventory and head to sororities to do “pop-up” shows. We’d do the Christmas markets in our hometown, even if that meant only selling a handful of items. We tried to be as creative as possible, to get our name known and create the brand we have today.

FG: Can you tell us a bit about your boutique, customer base, style, etc.?

FB: In 2012, we started Flaunt as a Social Selling Boutique with 100% of our sales coming from Facebook and Instagram. As we’ve evolved over the last 8 years, we’ve added a webstore, as well as iOS and Android Apps. Our style is focused around comfort and what we call “conservative trendy”, showing casual dressing women how to easily pull off current trends. Our styles are easy “throw-on-and-go” and ideal for the everyday woman, whether that’s a stay at home mom or a working woman.

FG: When you were just starting out, what were some of the challenges you faced as a young boutique?

FB: In the beginning, a lot of our struggles were just figuring out how “normal businesses do things”. From the right business registrations, filing sales tax or bookkeeping. It seemed as if we were always Googling and just trying to figure it out for ourselves. Although expensive, we’d suggest delegating this early, so it’s done the right way.

FG: How is the business managed between the two of you?

FB: Towards the beginning, we both did everything from invoicing, photos, shipping etc. Slowly as we have grown, our positions have shifted into our own specialties. What some may not know about Flaunt, is that Autumn and I (Laura) are located 7 hours apart. Autumn performs all of her tasks remotely. Along with many things, she manages our customer service team, the marketing/social media and the scheduling of new products. I am at the warehouse, so I oversee our team, as well as the accounting and modeling/try ons. We are so blessed to have an amazing team of women who make everything come together from customer service to packaging, unboxing new inventory, photos, etc.

FG: What are some pros and cons of co-owning a boutique? Do you have any advice for those who are looking to launch or have launched a boutique with a partner?

FB: Some of the biggest benefits to co-owning a boutique is you’re able to have someone to talk through decisions, celebrate wins, and seek encouragement from when you’re feeling unmotivated. Being a business owner can be lonely, having success in your business can be lonely, and being at the top is lonely. So, it’s nice to have someone to just “do life” with so-to-speak. My (Laura) advice for anyone looking to start a boutique with a partner would be to not do it with your best friend. Like we mentioned above, we had only met a few times when we started Flaunt, but we just clicked. We always joke, that we are more like family, than best friends. We love each other through the good, the bad and the ugly. We honestly don’t have a choice, we are kind of stuck together! We are honest with each other, without getting our feelings hurt. From our strengths and weaknesses, we balance one another out. It can be a dangerous decision to pick a business partner as a “Best Friend” or one that you just “have fun with.” So, just be wise and make sure that you both bring valuable traits to the table.

FG: What does a typical day look like for both of you?

FB: Each morning I (Laura) wake up early and I always go to Camp Gladiator (bootcamp) or go for a run. I find that working out always makes me more focused and productive during the day. From there, I head to the warehouse and just try and get stuff done. Every day is so different, but my weeks are the exact same, if that even makes sense. I am a very structured person, so I like to know that every Monday, I need to complete XYZ, every Tuesday I do XYZ, etc. I always like to track my task and how much time they take to see if it’s something that is worth my time, that I can delegate, etc.

Since I (Autumn) work remotely from home, my routine can vary depending on the day or season. Typically, I wake up and complete my early morning product postings and any urgent customer service matters. I then block out periods of the day for specific tasks for that day; anything from product planning, reaching out to my customer service team, marketing or monitoring social media. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to break up my day and/or change my environment in order to decrease distractions. I always joke with my husband that I’m on “Flaunt Call,” for any major technical issues, customer service and social media monitoring 24/7!

FG: What are some key things you learned about managing a business with a remote partner?

FB: Communication is key. In the last 8 years, we’ve probably only gone 2 days in a row without talking to each other (during our honeymoons and childbirth, ha!). We are constantly talking about logistics, dreaming with each other, encouraging each other, etc. But it can’t always be business and we try to be intentional about checking in on each other’s personal lives. Being remote partners is challenging, but it is also all we’ve ever known and it just works for us.

FG: What are some improvements you made to grow your business?

FB: Each year, we strive to grow Flaunt in a variety of ways. We’ve found the most pivotal aspect to growing our business is delegation. For about the first 3 years, we were doing everything on our own until we took the leap to hire our first employee to package for us. I (Laura) remember having her come to my house to package. I’d lay out the inventory with the packaging slip on top for her to package up. She was amazing, but eventually went on to college. Hiring our first few employees, having to fire an employee for the first time, and learning how to delegate is challenging. But, we only have 24 hours a day, so to get more done, you have to delegate. I always hold on to the quote that someone once told me, “If someone can do it at 60% of the speed you can do it, you should delegate that task”. I don’t know how accurate that is, but time is money, so you have to delegate at some point!

FG: How and when have you experienced growth?

FB: Thank the Lord, every year we have experienced growth. Some years our growth has outperformed our set goals, but there have always been dominating factors involved (like adding our iOS/Android Apps). We think it’s imperative to set realistic goals, whether that be daily/weekly/monthly. Nothing is a sure thing in this business. Some months can be down, whereas other months can completely outperform. It’s always good to reevaluate your data in order to determine areas of weakness and strength. Sometimes you need a “kick it into gear” talk to continue to grow!

FG: As you scaled, how did your roles evolve or change?

FB: As we have scaled, we have delegated tasks to utilize our strengths more efficiently to grow the business. Over the years, we’ve hired a Warehouse Manager and Customer Service Manager; whereas we previously held those roles. If you ever get to a point where you aren’t finishing everything you need to do in a given day, for an extended period of time, it’s time to delegate. There have been so many instances that we have felt so pressed for time and that’s when we know to delegate SOMETHING.

FG: What are some of your strategies to drive sales (i.e. discounting strategy, customer management, promotions, inventory management)?

FB: In regards to a discounting strategy, we have “formulas” that we have on our end. Typically the item’s age and amount of times the item has been posted, will determine its discount. We have specific dates throughout the year that we always schedule consistent sales; end of season, special holiday, etc. Due to our social selling platform, we never like to “sit” on inventory for too long! We consistently want to bring our customers the latest styles and create an urgency to purchase. That’s how we’ve always been. It’s posted, it’s sold out, we move on. There is a fine line between creating that urgency and ensuring customers are able to get the items they want. It can be frustrating for a customer to shop the webstore or app because everything is always sold out. We are slowly trying to shift our mentality to add higher quantities of a style, so we can cross sell it on those additional platforms. It’s a hard balance, but it has long term benefits.

Customer Experience is a huge driving force to our brand. From the ease of shopping, to the ease of returning. One main thing that set’s Flaunt apart, is our return policy. It’s rare to find a refund and credit policy, along with free initial and return shipping. Laura and I took the areas we valued as consumers and found Flaunt customers shared the same sentiment.

FG: What is the biggest factor that made the biggest impact in terms of revenue/profits?

FB: I’m not sure there is any single factor that has impacted our revenue the most. Essentially, our consistency to remain current and trying our best to keep up with the times. It’s been hard in recent years because so much has changed in regards to customer acquisition, with FB and IG limiting your exposure. We just try to be flexible and creative, setting ourselves apart from everyone else. We aren’t married to anything, so if it isn’t working, we see how we can improve it!

FG: Covid-19 forced many changes in the industry, one of which to work from home. The world just began collaborating remote but you two have already been doing so for a long time. How has Covid-19 changed or not changed the way you guys conduct the business as a team apart from each other?

FB: Honestly, not much has changed around here. Other than safety precautions taken at the warehouse and try-ons videos shifting to at home, we are still pretty much running things like usual.

FG: What changes have you made due to Covid-19 and what was the most effective change?

FB: I would say that our biggest change has been Inventory Purchasing and Management.

In previous years, we worked with vendors 4–6 months in advance for the following season. It has always been fun to do this, but it’s a huge risk. Some vendors would foresee heavy trends, that may or may not hit that season. Obviously, because of Covid-19, we weren’t able to do that. So we shifted to purchasing inventory from 1 week, to 1 month turnarounds and it has been so beneficial for us. Our customers are very unique and for the first time in a while, we are able to really focus on what trends they are loving in the moment.

In regards to inventory management, especially this year, we value the incoming inventory management system we use. The system allows us to be on top of everything from budgets to which styles haven’t shipped,what categories we underordered and the ability to track all incoming inventory. It has helped us navigate through these uncertain times, in order to stay on top of volume and season adjustments.

FG: What is your goal for 2020 and how do you plan to achieve it in current times?

FB: For 2020, we have strong goals for overall growth. We are data driven, so we are constantly adjusting and making data-driven goals. To add to that, we really want to improve our website presence and reach a new customer base through that platform. Other than continual growth, we have a goal to continue delegating. Now more than ever, I (Laura) am feeling “crunched on my time”. I had a baby last December and don’t want to have to “bring work home.” I am constantly looking at my schedule of tasks and saying, “what can I delegate better.”

FG: What would you say is your biggest advantage and challenge running the business?

FB: Our biggest challenge is organic reach and engagement. We’re constantly having to evolve with the times. Especially so, when it comes to customer acquisition on social media. We are lucky to live in a time with so many advances and available resources, but that doesn’t come without everyday marketing challenges!

Our biggest advantage is the flexibility that being a business owner gives you. No doubt, we work hard regardless if we are in the office or on vacation. We don’t ever stop working, but we are also not restricted to just putting in hours from 8am-5pm. For that, we are so thankful!

FG: If you had the chance to go back in time, what would you do differently?

FB: Honestly, there’s not really anything we regret. Every situation that has been challenging for us, we’ve tried to take as an opportunity to grow and learn something new; but, maybe we should have given more thought on the location of the warehouse when we purchased it.

FG: Any advice you have for retailers who are on the fence about beginning a boutique with a partner?

FB: I (Laura) very much have the attitude of “if you want to do something, do it!”, just know that you can start out small. Hustle. Work hard. Get creative. Pave your own path and don’t just follow along with what someone tells you you should do. As far as having a partner, if you’re someone who likes to talk through decisions or crave feedback from someone, I’d suggest a partner. Pray and be wise with who you choose. God always seems to bring the right people in our path when we take a moment to focus on Him and what He has called us to do!

The conversation with Flaunt Boutique outlines the changing challenges and growth opportunities based on different stages of the business. The importance of adjusting strategies and operational solutions aligned to those changes is crucial. In the case of Flaunt Boutique, Autumn and Laura are partners who were hundreds of miles apart managing a business away from one another, depending on clear communication and virtual collaboration for successful operation. We thought Autumn and Laura’s experience would be helpful and timely to share with the community, especially for those who are considering starting a boutique in this current climate during the pandemic with a remote partner.

Thank you Autumn and Laura for sharing your unique boutique story with the FashionGo community. We look forward to your continued success!

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