Published in Maternity Boutique / Baby Shop Magazine
In these economic times, we are all looking for new and different ways to get more customers in our doors and create more sales. Expectant and new moms are always looking for more information about how to take care of themselves and their baby, so one wonderful way to survive and thrive is to turn your boutique into a support and educational center as well.
Many boutiques would love to have educational opportunities for their customers, but the owners aren't quite sure how to go about starting the classes or events. You might not be sure that it's really a good idea or worth the effort. Or you might not know what kind of classes or workshops would be good to offer. Or maybe you're wondering who do you get to teach or lead the group, and also where are you going to hold the classes.
Adding educational opportunities to your boutique will...
-Get your store to be seen as “the expert”. People like to shop with businesses that they know and trust. By providing providing high quality information and support, your boutique can gain that trust and thus repeat business!
-Bring more foot traffic through your doors! Advertising for a class or workshop will bring in new moms who might not have come in just for your merchandise. A support group might get some previous customers to come back to your store – and it will keep them coming back! A group that meets weekly at your store means that you'll have customers coming in and walking past your product displays every week!
-Increase your sales – both directly and indirectly! By charging fees for your classes, you can get more money from your existing customers as well as from those customers who might bargain shop for material goods, but be willing to pay for information and support . And whether or not you charge for that education, more customers coming in will likely equal more product sales. Also during your classes, the teachers or presenters can make recommendations for specific brands and items that you carry.
-Increase profits! Educational opportunities can have a lower cost of goods sold than your products. In the beginning when classes are smaller, sometimes the class tuition will barely pay for the teacher, but after the classes get going and get full, a lot of that tuition money will go straight to your bottom line!
-Differentiate your boutique from the big box stores and the online competition. Most likely, if they went looking, your customers could find the products that you sell somewhere else for cheaper. However, they can't get the face-to-face, personalized education and support at a large chain or from a website. Having classes & workshops really makes your boutique special and can become part of your USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
-Allow you to help your moms even more! While increasing profits is definitely a good thing, many of us got into this business because we really care about moms and babies. By having workshops and support groups at your boutique in addition to providing the products that expectant and new moms need, you will be making so much more of a difference in your customers' lives and the lives of their babies!
There are many different ways that you can educate and support your customers. You might want to start with just one of these options, and perhaps eventually offer many more as your clientele starts to see you as the place to go for education and support.
-Ongoing Classes: These activity-based classes are held every week at the same time. Customers can pay on a drop-in basis, or sign up for a series. Possibilities include: Prenatal Yoga, Prenatal Pilates, Mommy&Baby Yoga, Mommy Bootcamp, Baby Music, Toddler Art, Toddler Dance
-Support Groups: These groups could either be run as drop-ins or as sessions of a specific length (such as 6 weeks). Possibilities include: Pregnancy Support, Breastfeeding Support, General New Mom Support grouped based on baby age, Working Mom Support (on the weekend or in the evenings), Second Time Mom Support, New Parents (Couples) Support, New Dad Support
-Workshops: These informational workshops could be held once a month or however often you can fill a class. Possibilities include: Childbirth Education (Birthing From Within, Bradley Method, Hypnobirthing, One-Day Intensive, etc), How to Breastfeed, Newborn Care, Infant CPR & First Aid, Attachment Parenting, Infant Sleep Issues, Cloth Diapering, Babywearing
-You! Many owners start by just looking into their own areas of expertise. Maybe you got into this business because you're a doula or a lactation consultant or a nurse. Even if you don't have any specific credentials related to pregnancy or babies, you probably have a lot of life experience that you could share with expectant or new moms. What are you passionate about? What made you get into this business? If you can't think of anything that you could teach, ask your employees, family, or friends – they'll probably come up with lots of ideas! This is an easy first step to try out adding education into your boutique's mix.
-Instructors you hire. If you want to offer classes outside of your expertise, or you don't want to commit yourself to teaching a class every week because you know that you'll have boutique business to deal with, you can find outside instructors to teach for you. You would often pay them a set rate for teaching the class or workshop. And while they would be responsible for preparing for & teaching the class, you and the boutique would be responsible for advertising the classes and enrolling students. This approach gives you more control over getting the customers' information (to add to your database), as well as allows you to make more money if you're able to fill the classes.
-Outside businesses you rent space to. You could also partner up with other related local businesses to promote both of your products and services. Businesses such as Cord Blood Banking, Fertility Doctors, Family Lawyers, etc, could hold a workshop at your boutique – they get more visibility with your clientele, and you get payment for the use of your space and/or mailing list. You could also do partnerships with ongoing classes in this format, such as having a local stroller fitness group start their walks at your boutique. By having the other business handle almost all of the logistics (advertising, enrollment, possible payment), it can cut down on headaches for you, but it also means that you don't have as much control.
You're probably thinking, well these educational opportunities all sound great, but where the heck am I going to fit all these moms?
-Classroom Space. Obviously the best solution would be to have a big enough, empty room that you can hold the classes in. If you're just starting out, you can look for a retail space that can be sectioned off into boutique area and classroom area (ideally where customers have to walk through the boutique and past your merchandise to get to the classroom), but for those of us with pre-existing boutiques, it's not as easy. Perhaps you can clear out a storage room and use it for classes – or if there's an empty store next to yours, maybe work with your landlord to see if you can use the space sometimes (and if your classes take off, maybe expansion would be a good idea!)
-Clear off the Retail Floor. If you don't have an extra room to use, sometimes you can clear off enough of your retail floor to fit in chairs or yoga mats or whatever you need for the class. If you are able to put your fixtures on wheels, you can move them more easily. Also you could offer classes only before or after the store is open – thus changing between an educational space and a boutique as the need arises.
-Outside the Store. If you don't have enough space inside, look outside! Is there enough sidewalk space out front or perhaps enough parking lot space in back to have a group of moms? Obvious this wouldn't work for a day-long birthing intensive, but for an hour workshop about introducing solid foods, setting up some chairs and blankets outside could be perfect! You'll want to check with your landlord about any restrictions, but if you hold your event at a time when it won't impede any traffic outside your store, hopefully your landlord will be in favor of attracting more customers!
-Off-Site. If you just can't figure out how to hold the classes at your boutique, you still can offer sponsored educational opportunities at another location. You could rent a room at a local hotel or business center, or possibly even use someone's house. The downside of this approach is that you're not bringing the customers to your boutique and they won't see your products – but you'll still be helping & supporting your clientele as well as getting your name out as an educational expert.
While there are definitely lots of options to consider in starting educational opportunities at your boutique, the best option is just to pick one class or workshop and do it! Don't get held up thinking and deciding – just pick one and go for it! The sooner you start, the sooner you'll have more business!
Editorial provided by Teresa Gonczy, owner of A Mother's Haven in Encino, CA. A Mother's Haven is a maternity & baby boutique and educational center that supports moms from preconception through preschool with classes, workshops, and groups. Learn more about the store at www.shopthehaven.com Teresa also consults with small store owners to help them create the business of their dreams. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how you can love owning your store!