How to Get Inventory for an Online Boutique

How to Get Inventory for an Online Boutique

Where to buy clothing wholesaleOperating an internet-based clothing boutique serves as a valuable complement to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments.

This approach broadens your audience, reaching potential customers residing beyond the vicinity of your physical stores and granting shoppers greater flexibility in their purchasing options.

Nonetheless, if your intention is not to produce your own merchandise, it becomes imperative to procure your boutique inventory from wholesalers and various creators, whether through online channels or traditional avenues.

This comprehensive guide will elucidate the step-by-step process of acquiring inventory for your virtual boutique, ensuring a seamless integration of diverse and appealing products into your collection.

Here’s a look at the specifics of what we’ll cover:

  • Where to buy clothing wholesale
  • How to vet suppliers
  • How to store and organize your inventory
  • How to set prices
  • How to sync inventory across channels

How to get inventory for an online boutique: Where to buy clothing wholesale

Embarking on the journey of establishing an online boutique involves several crucial steps, and among the foremost priorities is procuring inventory. Once your clothing store business plan is meticulously crafted, the next pivotal step is to explore various avenues for obtaining the products that will define your boutique’s identity.

Here are six primary routes you can navigate to secure inventory for your online boutique:

  • Attending trade shows
  • Working with online wholesale suppliers
  • Working directly with manufacturers
  • Visiting offline wholesalers
  • Using wholesale directories
  • Reselling used goods

1. Wholesale boutique clothing trade shows

Exploring a trade show presents a fantastic opportunity to enrich your online boutique’s inventory. These exhibitions serve as platforms where suppliers unveil their latest offerings, providing a glimpse into the cutting-edge lines and designs shaping the apparel retail industry. While some trade shows extend their invitation to the public, many necessitate representation by a company official.

Pros: Engaging with wholesalers at trade shows accelerates the product-to-market timeline compared to manufacturing your own goods. The firsthand experience of assessing product quality allows for confident decision-making. Additionally, face-to-face interactions with supplier representatives foster the development of indispensable relationships crucial for sustained wholesale transactions.

Cons: Despite the global occurrence of various trade shows throughout the year, each event has a limited timeframe. This constraint poses a challenge if your immediate need for inventory coincides with a lack of nearby trade shows, requiring you to bear travel costs out of pocket.

It’s essential to note that most trade shows mandate proof of your status as a fashion buyer. Be prepared to furnish a business card or disclose your job title and business name during the registration process.

For those seeking premier trade shows in the realm of wholesale boutique clothing, consider the following:

  1. ASD Market Week: A colossal semi-annual event in Las Vegas connecting retailers with a myriad of global brands, spanning various sectors, including apparel.
  2. COTERIE: This show in New York City and online links top brands in women’s fashion, encompassing apparel, accessories, and footwear. COTERIE also hosts an annual show dedicated to swimwear and resort wear in Miami.
  3. Designers & Agents: Showcasing a carefully curated selection of 300 designers each season in New York and Los Angeles.
  4. MAGIC: A specialized wholesale trade show showcasing the latest trends in contemporary clothing for both women and men. Multiple events are held throughout the year in different locations across the United States.
  5. NY NOW: Hosted in New York biannually, this event combines educational panels with opportunities for wholesale connections.
  6. Pure London: A biannual London-based fashion trade show featuring brands in womenswear, menswear, and kidswear.

2. Wholesale clothing websites

If attending a trade show isn’t feasible, another avenue for procuring inventory for your online boutique lies in the realm of wholesale boutique clothing websites. These e-commerce platforms specialize in bulk sales tailored to businesses, typically featuring higher minimum order quantities than those suitable for individual consumers.

Buying inventory online introduces an element of uncertainty compared to the firsthand experience of trade shows, as the quality of items remains unknown until they are received. To mitigate potential disappointment, it’s advisable to inquire if wholesalers offer samples.

Pros: Online wholesale marketplaces boast an extensive range, catering to diverse preferences. The convenience of purchasing inventory online eliminates the need for travel, allowing you to acquire stock for your online boutique whenever the need arises. Similar to in-person trade shows, online wholesale clothing stores often provide a quicker and potentially more cost-effective alternative to manufacturing your own products.

Cons: The online procurement of inventory comes with inherent uncertainties. Without careful curation by wholesalers or marketplaces, the quality of items remains uncertain until received. Vigilance is crucial, as there are fraudulent sites to avoid. To address this, explore whether wholesalers offer samples. Like trade shows, establishing yourself as a fashion buyer may be a prerequisite for accessing wholesale inventory and pricing.

Explore these reputable wholesale boutique clothing websites to kickstart your sourcing journey:

  1. NuOrder by Lightspeed: A wholesale buying platform with both free and paid plans, NuOrder facilitates purchases from curated brands across various categories, including womenswear, menswear, kidswear, home goods, accessories, and beauty products.
  2. LA Showroom: An online wholesaler offering a diverse range encompassing womenswear, menswear, kidswear, footwear, beauty products, and accessories.
  3. FashionGo: A well-established site providing a comprehensive selection ranging from kidswear and fragrances to women’s fashions.
  4. Magnolia Fashion Wholesale: Based in Miami, this wholesaler specializes in contemporary womenswear and offers shipping to 80 countries.
  5. LuxiSoCool: LuxiSoCool offers wholesale fashion packs curated by their in-house stylists, providing a selection of coordinated styles tailored to your chosen demographic.

3. Work with manufacturers

Diverging from the conventional approach of working solely with wholesalers—or complementing it—direct collaboration with manufacturers presents an alternative route to secure inventory for your online boutique. This involves either procuring pre-made goods directly from manufacturers, thereby eliminating the wholesaler intermediary, or opting for custom inventory tailored specifically for your boutique.

Pros: Bypassing the wholesaler middleman can yield cost savings in inventory acquisitions. Opting for custom merchandise from manufacturers ensures a distinctive stock that sets your online boutique apart from others.

Cons: While this approach offers advantages, challenges may arise. Working directly with manufacturers can be intricate; they primarily specialize in creating products, not selling them. Consequently, not all manufacturers may be open to selling directly to retailers or may lack a streamlined ordering process. For those manufacturers engaged in wholesale, encountering relationship barriers akin to regular wholesaling is a possibility. If you opt for custom products, it’s imperative to factor in design and sample costs into your budget.

If you come across products you admire on other online platforms, scrutinize the product description for the manufacturer or brand name. Subsequently, conduct research on the brand, and if feasible, reach out directly to inquire about wholesale pricing possibilities. This proactive approach allows you to establish direct connections and explore potential collaborations with manufacturers, enhancing the uniqueness of your boutique’s inventory.

4. Offline wholesale clothing vendors

Traditional offline wholesalers provide a consistent and accessible option for sourcing inventory, much like trade shows, but with the added advantage of being open throughout the year.

These establishments operate similarly to trade shows, allowing you to personally assess the quality of products and establish valuable face-to-face connections. For UK-based businesses, proximity to these markets can be highly beneficial in ensuring a steady and reliable supply of inventory for your online boutique.

Pros: Benefiting from the advantages of trade shows, offline wholesalers in the UK offer the convenience of year-round access. This perpetual availability allows you to schedule visits according to your business needs, seamlessly integrating into your operational timeline.

Cons: If you’re not situated in a major market area with year-round wholesale options, you may still incur travel costs to attend. Additionally, it’s crucial to note that not all suppliers exhibit throughout the year at fixed markets, requiring careful planning.

Explore some of the prominent offline wholesale vendor markets in the UK that cater to a diverse range of products:

  1. London Fashion Week Showrooms: As a hub for the fashion industry, London Fashion Week Showrooms provide a platform for discovering new collections and establishing connections with suppliers.
  2. Pure London: This well-established fashion trade show in the heart of London showcases a wide array of womenswear, menswear, and kidswear brands, offering opportunities for wholesale connections.
  3. The Harrogate Bridal Show: Focused on bridal and occasionwear, this show in Harrogate is a key event for those seeking wholesale options in the wedding and formalwear niche.
  4. Spring Fair Birmingham: One of the largest UK trade shows, Spring Fair Birmingham covers a broad spectrum of products, including fashion and accessories, making it a comprehensive resource for online boutique owners.
  5. Moda Birmingham: Specializing in fashion, footwear, and accessories, Moda Birmingham is a prominent trade event that attracts both UK and international suppliers.

5. Wholesaler directories

In the dynamic realm of fashion retail, trade literature often takes the form of regular publications, showcasing catalogs and directories of wholesalers. Traditionally presented in printed magazines, the contemporary trend sees many of these resources transitioning to online platforms, providing flexibility in updating schedules ranging from weekly and monthly to quarterly or yearly.

Pros: Perusing these catalogs offers the convenience of doing so at your own pace, within the comfort of your home or office. Packed with vetted suppliers, these resources become trusted reservoirs for building your online boutique inventory.

Cons: While the benefits are evident, gaining access to these catalogs and directories often requires a subscription fee. Despite the wealth of information, direct ordering is typically not facilitated. Hence, there’s still a need for you to invest effort in cultivating relationships with the wholesalers you discover through these publications.

If you’re keen to explore trade catalogs and directories, consider these reputable platforms:

  1. Worldwide Brands: An online directory featuring wholesalers collaborating with ecommerce retailers. Although there is a one-time sign-up fee, this investment grants you lifetime access to their regularly updated, vetted suppliers.
  2. Wholesale Central: A free directory connecting you with trusted suppliers, providing convenient links to their sites for seamless purchasing.

6. Fashion resale

While wholesalers remain a prevalent avenue for stocking online boutiques, there’s a burgeoning alternative gaining momentum: fashion resale, encompassing thrifting and vintage offerings. Integrating this unique approach into your clothing store could open up distinctive opportunities.

Pros: Embracing fashion resale introduces the allure of a wholly unique inventory, appealing to a dedicated subset of customers seeking one-of-a-kind pieces with character.

Cons: However, navigating the world of fashion resale comes with its challenges. Sourcing high-quality clothing for resale can be more intricate than working with wholesalers, often requiring extensive networking at yard sales and estate sales. Establishing connections now involves individuals rather than companies.

Handling donations for online boutique inventory adds another layer of complexity compared to brick-and-mortar thrift stores. Questions arise: Who covers shipping costs? What’s the protocol for clothing that doesn’t align with your selling goals?

Despite these challenges, the potential rewards of offering a curated collection of thrifted or vintage items can be significant, providing your online boutique with a distinctive edge in a market increasingly valuing sustainability and unique finds. As you explore this avenue, devising clear policies for donation logistics and unsuitable items will be key to maintaining a seamless and sustainable operation.

How to vet wholesale suppliers

Navigating the process of investing in inventory with a new supplier can be daunting, but implementing a few key measures can help ensure that you are collaborating with trustworthy wholesalers and manufacturers.

For more in-depth insights, explore our comprehensive guide on how to buy wholesale.

Get References: Initiate a dialogue with the supplier by requesting references. If the supplier is unwilling to provide references, it could be a potential red flag, suggesting a lack of satisfied retailers in their history. Once armed with reference contact information, communicate independently with them. Inquire about their duration of collaboration with the supplier, the supplier’s time frames, and any challenges they may have encountered. This direct feedback offers valuable insights.

Compile Your Contacts: While establishing a relationship with a potential wholesale supplier, ensure you have specific contact information for an individual within the organisation, not just a generic email address. Determine whether you will have a dedicated sales representative and what kind of contacts will be available once a contract is signed. A dedicated representative is crucial to avoiding oversight, ensuring your requests are handled promptly. Assess their communication style and responsiveness, as these factors can significantly impact the working relationship. Prompt and organised responses indicate a potentially fruitful partnership.

Look at Real Samples: While photos and references provide a glimpse, hands-on experience is essential. Before committing to bulk inventory orders for your online boutique, obtain real samples. If feasible, consider visiting the supplier’s warehouse to observe the organization of inventory and assess product quality. If an on-site visit isn’t possible, request samples to be sent to you. While this may involve shipping costs, it’s a worthwhile investment. Seek details on how inventory is stored before shipment, and request photos of the warehouse to ensure transparency in the process. This tactile approach allows for a more accurate assessment of the products you’ll be incorporating into your inventory.

How to store and organize your inventory

After securing your inventory, streamlining your organizational processes is crucial to facilitate efficient sales and minimize unnecessary administrative tasks. Here are some pointers to help you effectively organize, store, and ship your inventory, ensuring a smoother operation and keeping your customers satisfied.

1. Categorize and Label: Organize your inventory into clear categories based on product types, sizes, or any relevant criteria. Label each item with specific details to easily identify and locate products when needed. This categorization will enhance inventory management and reduce the time spent searching for items.

2. Implement a Systematic Storage Method: Establish a systematic storage method that optimizes space and accessibility. Consider shelving, racks, or bins to keep items visible and easily retrievable. This not only facilitates efficient inventory management but also speeds up the packing process when fulfilling orders.

3. Utilize Inventory Management Software: Invest in inventory management software to streamline tracking, restocking, and order fulfillment. These tools can automate various processes, providing real-time insights into stock levels, sales trends, and order status. This technology helps reduce manual errors and enhances overall efficiency.

4. Set Up a Dedicated Shipping Area: Designate a specific area for packing and shipping orders. This helps create an organized workflow, reducing the chances of mistakes and delays. Keep packing materials, shipping labels, and other essentials within reach to expedite the shipping process.

5. Prioritize First-In, First-Out (FIFO): Adopt the FIFO principle to manage inventory effectively. This means selling the oldest stock first to prevent items from becoming obsolete or reaching their expiration date. Regularly assess stock levels and rotate products accordingly to maintain freshness and relevance.

6. Implement a Quality Control System: Before shipping products to customers, implement a robust quality control system. Check each item for defects, accuracy, and completeness to avoid sending out incorrect or damaged goods. This proactive approach helps maintain customer satisfaction and reduces returns.

7. Offer Multiple Shipping Options: Provide customers with various shipping options to cater to their preferences. Clearly communicate delivery times, costs, and tracking information. Offering flexibility in shipping ensures a positive customer experience, leading to increased satisfaction and potential repeat business.

By implementing these organizational strategies, you can create a more efficient and customer-centric approach to inventory management, ultimately enhancing your online boutique’s success.

How to set prices for your online boutique

In the realm of pricing strategies for an online boutique, various approaches can be employed to determine the most effective and profitable way to set prices.

1. Keystone Markup: The keystone markup strategy involves a straightforward approach of doubling the wholesale price, a common practice within the industry. While simple, it may not be the most comprehensive as it doesn’t account for various costs such as labor, shipping, marketing, software, and discounts, potentially limiting the overall profit margin.

2. Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): Opting for the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) involves selling items at the price recommended by the manufacturer. Some manufacturers enforce a mandatory MSRP, which may not align with your specific costs. Others offer the MSRP as a suggested figure, aiming to maintain consistency among retailers. However, this approach may not consider the unique expenses associated with your business operations.

3. Absorption Pricing Method: The absorption pricing method takes a more comprehensive approach. It involves aggregating all costs incurred in running your business, encompassing labor, marketing, software, and inventory costs. This total cost is then divided by the number of units purchased, and your desired profit margin is added. This method provides a more holistic view, factoring in both variable and fixed costs to ensure a balanced and profitable pricing structure.

Choosing the most suitable pricing strategy depends on your business model, target market, and the competitive landscape. The absorption pricing method, with its focus on covering all expenses and ensuring a desired profit, offers a nuanced approach that can be tailored to the specific needs of your online boutique.

How to sync your online inventory with other sales channels

Efficient inventory management for your online boutique necessitates seamless integration with other sales channels, such as brick-and-mortar stores or social selling platforms. Maintaining separate inventory systems can lead to disconnection issues, consuming time and potentially resulting in wasteful practices. Moreover, it puts you at risk of mismatched sales numbers and the peril of double-selling items.

Sync Your Systems (or Use One Unified Platform):

1. Use an Omnichannel Platform: Consider employing an omnichannel platform where a single provider caters to both your POS system and ecommerce platform. An example is Shopify. These systems are designed to work harmoniously, enabling you to manage inventory, customer data, and operations from one unified platform.

2. Integrate with a Supported Platform: Alternatively, you can opt to integrate with a supported partner, utilizing separate providers for your POS and ecommerce platforms. Although different companies develop these systems, they offer integration capabilities, ensuring communication between them. However, be mindful that certain features might not perfectly align, requiring some effort to synchronize elements like loyalty programs.

3. Have a Connection Built for You: In cases where no existing integration exists between your chosen POS and ecommerce platforms, you can explore the option of having a custom connection built. While this approach is possible, it tends to be both expensive and time-consuming. Consequently, it’s usually more advisable to seek alternative solutions that offer more straightforward integration options.

By synchronizing your systems or adopting a unified platform, you enhance operational efficiency, reduce the risk of errors, and provide a seamless experience for both you and your customers. The choice of integration method depends on your specific business needs, resources, and the level of compatibility required between your POS and ecommerce systems.

Streamline Your Ordering Process:

With a connected system in place, you gain the ability to place orders for both your online boutique and in-store inventory simultaneously. Utilizing a platform like Lightspeed, you can enhance the precision of your order placements by leveraging features such as reorder points and the recommended reorder report. This functionality utilizes sales data to calculate optimal stock levels, ensuring you order the right quantities for items that are in demand.

Efficient Employee Training:

By consolidating your online and brick-and-mortar inventory management, your employees can seamlessly adapt to a more integrated approach to packing and shipping.

1. Sales Monitoring: Train your staff on the frequency of checking for sales updates. Ensure they are well-versed in interpreting sales data and using the insights to make informed decisions regarding inventory levels.

2. Stock Rotation Practices: Implement clear practices for taking stock off the sales floor or out of the warehouse. This includes strategies for managing inventory turnover, ensuring that products are consistently refreshed to align with demand.

3. Online Order Packaging: Provide comprehensive training on packaging procedures for online orders. This involves educating your employees on how to pack items securely, ensuring they reach customers in optimal condition.

4. Shipping Procedures: Instruct your staff on the logistics of arranging shipping for online orders. This encompasses understanding shipping carriers, labeling requirements, and adherence to established timelines.

By incorporating these training elements, your employees can seamlessly navigate the interconnected inventory management system, contributing to a more efficient and coordinated operation. This integrated approach ensures that your online and in-store experiences are harmonized, providing a smoother journey for both your team and your customers.

Wrapping up: How to get inventory for an online boutique

Embarking on the journey of creating an online boutique is a thrilling opportunity to delve into retail entrepreneurship with minimal overhead costs. As you’ve gained insights into procuring inventory for your online boutique, here’s a comprehensive checklist to consolidate the key steps:

1. Source Inventory:

  • Attend trade shows
  • Utilize online wholesale sites
  • Collaborate directly with manufacturers
  • Explore offline wholesale markets
  • Browse wholesale directories
  • Consider fashion resale

2. Vet Suppliers:

  • Request and contact references
  • Determine if a dedicated sales representative will be assigned
  • Assess the communication style and responsiveness of the sales representative
  • Visit the supplier’s warehouse and review samples

3. Store and Organize Inventory:

  • Leverage ecommerce software for inventory organization
  • Establish a systematic approach for inventory storage
  • Procure shipping supplies and integrate a fulfillment software with your ecommerce platform for streamlined order shipping

4. Set Prices:

  • Consider the Keystone method (doubling the wholesale price)
  • Explore the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
  • Implement the Absorption pricing method, factoring in all costs and desired profit margin

5. Elevate Your Online Boutique:

  • Explore ecommerce platforms like Shopify to enhance your online boutique’s capabilities and take it to the next level.

This checklist serves as a comprehensive guide, encapsulating the essential steps from sourcing inventory to optimizing your online boutique’s operational efficiency. By following these steps, you are well-equipped to navigate the exciting venture of running a successful online retail business.

Business Marketing Specialist at PDQ Funding | + posts

Jarred Musson is a versatile writer with a diverse educational background and a passion for all things business. Holding a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Marketing and a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in Multimedia Journalism from Manchester Metropolitan University, Jarred possesses a unique blend of expertise that allows him to dissect and communicate complex business topics with clarity and precision.