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Categories: Choice Dilemma

The Differences Between A Boutique and A Retail Store

The next article provided by Paige Avenue boutique

It’s the question of the year, and we’re revealing our secrets – what are the differences between our boutique, other boutiques, and retail stores? 

I’ve been debating for a long time if I should share some of these secrets with you lovely customers, but after posting on Instagram about what you’d like to see Paige Avenue improve on, I realized there was a need for transparency and consumer education on how boutiques operate compared to a regular retail store. And I hope in so doing, that you will have a better buying experience and understand the reasoning behind why boutiques do what they do. 

So, I’ll simply break this article down by questions I typically receive – if there’s anything else you’d like me to answer, please comment below and I’d be happy to add to it if possible. 

How do boutiques purchase their clothing? 

Understanding manufacturing vs wholesale vs retail is crucial to understanding this point. 

Manufacturing: Is the process of designing and creating your own clothing line which requires you to produce 100-1000s of each size in each style. Most chain retail stores manufacture their own lines. Manufacturing is a hefty expense that most small boutiques can’t afford to do right off the bat – but is something Paige Avenue is working to do this year! 

Wholesale: Buying wholesale actually means you are paying a middle man. When you buy wholesale, you are required to carry a business license to purchase goods at lower than retail cost. These companies have manufactured their own clothing lines, but don’t have the money or exposure to push their designs into large retail stores or are solely wholesale distributors and do not have their own store. Which means boutiques are paying a retail price from these manufacturers, if that makes sense. 

Retail: Buying retail means you are covering the cost to manufacture, wholesale, and then resale that item. When you purchase something at retail price, you’re essentially paying for a chain of command for that item to reach your front door. 

Ok, now that you understand those terms, let’s talk about the actual buying process. 

In order for a boutique to buy wholesale, they are required to: have a business license and buy items in bulk. 

What does buying in bulk look like? 

Buying in bulk means stores are required to purchase a minimum amount of usually 2 Small, 2 Medium, and 2 Large. However, if boutiques are purchasing from larger distributors, they are required to purchase for each season – with so many styles and quantities per season. A good example would be companies like Seychelles, Free People, or Rollas Jeans. 

Why don’t boutiques always carry XS-XXL?

I know this is an issue for so many of you, and rightfully so. 

When you manufacture, you get to choose the run of clothing (i.e, S-L, XS-L, S-XL, or L-XXL and so on) The more sizes you add, the more expensive it becomes. Because most wholesale companies we purchase from are small, they can only afford (or choose) to manufacture at standard sizing (S-L) and therefore leaves boutiques without the option to buy a higher variety in sizing. Or, if companies do manufacture at plus sizes, they don’t make it in the style of clothing we are building our brand on. 

If you haven’t noticed though, we are branching out and finding more companies who manufacture ins XS-L, and S-XL. We hope to continue to find more to add to our collection, and when we manufacture our own designs we plan to have more variety in sizing as well. 

Why don’t boutiques have a size guide, or why does their clothing vary so much in size?

I understand this is a major pain point for so many of you. And I’m right there with you. Unfortunately, because we purchase from so many different companies, they all manufacture with a different standard size. And none of which, provide size guides. 

This leaves us with constantly trying to determine sizing for each item. In an effort to help our customers, we list the model height (and will be adding a specific measurements page for each model) as well as the typical size for each variant. I.e., Small = 32″ bust and so on. However, there’s room for improvement from us, and this year we will be adding exact measurements of each garment in each size to better help you with this problem. 

We also plan on finding different body types to give you a better perspective on the fit of each item, and hope to implement videos of each item on the individual product page. 

If you ever have a question about the fit of specific item, there is a “contact us” link on each product page that will pop up, and you can fill out. We will do our best to respond asap so as to move your shopping experience along smoothly. 

Why do boutiques run out of sizes so quickly? And why don’t they always restock? 

Even after being in this business for over a year, it’s still a tricky game of predicting what you’re consumers will like. Every initial purchase is a risk. So, often times we will purchase a smaller amount upfront on items we’re unsure of to lower the possibility that we may be stuck with a chunk of clothing we can’t get rid of. 

Sometimes items we aren’t predicting to sell well, will explode, and when we go to restock that item, the wholesale company has already sold out as well, and won’t be manufacturing that design again (or they want to, but can’t because all the fabric is literally gone). 

Other times, items will sell out in just certain sizes. And like I mentioned earlier, we can’t just go back and buy more of the size we know we will sell- we have to buy it as a set. Let’s say we have an item that sells well in SMALLS but not MEDIUM or LARGE. Well, even if we wanted to restock it’s not financially smart to buy more smalls because then we will be left with an overabundance of mediums and larges that we can’t get rid of and therefore won’t profit off that style. I hope that makes sense. 

In summation, there has to be a high enough demand in all sizes for a company to reinvest in that product. Otherwise, responding to only 2 or 3 pleas for a restock will dramatically lower the likelihood of a business surviving. 

With that being said, we really do try our best to make our customers happy and restock when we can. It’s not always so cut and dry, but our goal is ensure customer satisfaction at all times when at all possible. 

So why can’t I (the consumer) buy directly from a manufacturer? 

Buying directly from a manufacturer for one article of clothing simply can’t work. There has to be a middle man, someone who is willing to take the big risk to purchase large quantities at one time, to ensure that the manufacturing company doesn’t go out of business. Plus, the cost for a manufacturing company to handle individual orders at a high volume would be overwhelming. Distributing down a line allows for seamless integration, and longer lasting companies. Yes, it would be nice to pay a manufacturing price, but so doing would eventually run everyone out of business.

What’s the difference between a retail store and a boutique? 

Now that you have a little bit better understanding of the buying process, I can better explain how these two differ. 

First off, retail stores are usually manufacturing their own designs overseas. They pay a low price, for (typically) lower quality clothing items and because they have a large consumer base, they can sell thousands of the same item – which means they can sell it at a much lower price. A good example of retail stores who do this are: Old Navy, H&M, etc. For those certain retail stores, they sell quantity over quality. 

A Boutique, however, is not directly buying overseas at a manufacturing price, nor are they selling to thousands – which is why you won’t see a boutique selling at low prices like those mentioned above. Most also focus on selling quality over quantity. It’s also why boutiques carry such unique items. They’re buying from wholesalers who aren’t in large retail stores that have unique designs only being sold to a (compared to) small number of stores. 

So, in short, asking a boutique to sell clothing at a price equivalent to large retail stores, is asking that boutique to essentially go out of business – most boutiques cost on clothing is more than an average retailed shirt at H&M. It’s anywhere from $10-$30 per item. 

Why do boutiques carry the same items? 

This is a great question! The answer: Because many are all buying from the same wholesaler platform who sell the same designs.

Note: the Wholesale platform is HUGE and there are endless designs to choose from. Buying wholesale takes hours and hours and hours of searching to find great items. 

Another reason: they’ve seen other shops sell the same item successfully, they see the potential money they can make, so they jump on board. 

Or maybe, they’ve seen the item somewhere else, genuinely like the style, and want to sell it in their shop. 

Paige Avenue however, has learned that many of those wholesalers on that platform have too high of prices, poor quality, and overused designs. So, we’ve done extensive research and spent countless hours finding other ways to purchase clothing from designers outside of that platform that have higher quality and better designs to stay truly unique. 

I won’t give away that secret, because all the other boutiques reading this right now will follow suit 😉 

But know that I am purposefully aware of my competitors, what they’re selling, and unless I really really love that item, I choose to stay away from it in order to provide my customers with a truly unique buying experience. Not all are like that, and it’s ok. It’s simply how I choose to run my business – and one of the many reasons why I will be manufacturing my own clothing line soon. I’m all about not following the crowd. 😉

So then why do boutiques have different pricing on the same items? 

Because many of those wholesale companies on that platform are small just like we are, they don’t require an MSRP. (Aka: Require you sell your item at a set retail price, and if you don’t, you cannot sell that line. FREE PEOPLE, TOMS, etc…those are all companies who require a set price). So, boutiques are free to determine their price. 

Now, here’s what you have to understand. Each boutique has different costs, and a different consumer audience. They know what they need to sell an item at to make their money back and become profitable. 

Some shops choose to sell quantity, over uniqueness or quality, which is why they can sell items at a lower price. They’re selling more than another store. And some, to be honest, are just playing the price game to get initial buyers, and are losing a lot of money. It’s basically their marketing plan. 

Other boutiques may buy a large quantity of few select styles and sell at a much higher price – so they don’t have to spend money on frequent new arrivals, photoshoots, etc…

I tend to buy items that require MSRP’s, which is a big reason why I can’t price certain items lower, or put them on sale. The companies I buy from will ban me as a buyer if I don’t follow their rules. And I respect that. It makes the game fair for every shop who’s purchasing that item, and creates store loyalty instead of price loyalty. 

What is the quality like at boutiques compared to a retail store? 

In my opinion, the definition of a boutique is: high quality, unique items you can’t find at a chain retail store. If you’re looking for a boutique with bargain prices, you’ll most likely end up buying poorer quality items (unless it’s an end of season blowout sale). 

There are 2 types of boutiques:

1. Those that sell at great prices with poor quality

2. Those that sell at reasonably expected boutique prices with great quality

So how does that happen exactly? 

Many of those wholesale sites boutiques buy from don’t inform on the fabric type, or quality of a garment. We’re shopping online, just like you are. Only we’re spending thousands of dollars at a time on items we’ve never seen and can’t return. Yes, you read that right. Many wholesale companies won’t allow you to return items unless they are defective, or if they do allow it, they make you pay return shipping and charge a 20-30% RESTOCKING FEE! 

So, when we decide to purchase from a new company, we’re risking a lot. Sometimes, that new wholesaler has high quality items, and other times, we pay a premium price for something that isn’t worth it’s determined value. 

When that happens, there’s 1 of 3 things a company can do – send it back, and lose money, sell the item anyway for a standard price, or try to sell it for essentially cost because it’s still a cute item, just lower quality. 

Here’s what I tend to do: More times than not, I send it back and opt to lose money. I’d rather not lose integrity with consumers, than keep my money. Sometimes, however, I can’t return the item, and elect to sell it at a very low markup. And afterwards, choose to never buy from that company again. 

Overall, Paige Avenue focuses on selling quality at reasonable prices. If you’ve purchased from us before you may have even noticed price tags from the original company marked far higher than what we’re selling it for. Occasionally, in an effort to reach a wider audience with varying budgets, we strive to offer items with a price tag to match the level of quality. 

Why do certain boutiques carry designer lines and others don’t? 

This is a question I get often because if you haven’t noticed, we don’t carry Free People or Alex and Ani. The reason being is because high end designers will not sell to *ONLINE ONLY* boutiques. They require that you have a physical location to sell their line. 

I believe it’s this way to keep their brand a desired brand and to alleviate MSRP issues. 

I’m not sure what our plans are for a physical location, but we will continue to find designer lines in other ways… some of our favorite styles from our favorite designers we purchase from are below: 


To conclude this lengthy article, which I can’t believe you’ve made it this far (I can’t believe I did either)…the differences between a boutique and a retail store are many. 

When you buy from a boutique, in return you receive: excellent customer care, faster shipping, better quality items, and a handpicked style just for you.