Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hi everyone, my name is Gia, and I am the owner of Boutique Rye. We are a women’s clothing and accessories boutique that is all online!
We have anywhere from clothes that are appropriate for work or clothes that will make you turn heads on a night out on the town. I try and buy clothes with many different styles in mind. I'd like to think that we are a one-stop shop for a diverse group of women!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My backstory has absolutely nothing to do with what I am doing now, but that is what makes us so unique. I went to college for education and became an elementary school teacher. I taught 4th grade for three years. However, I knew that was not meant to be my “forever” job.
Something I have always enjoyed was shopping. I mean what girl doesn’t have this as a hobby?! I had always thought it would be amazing to have my own boutique and get to wear new clothes almost every day.
I started thinking about this crazy idea when I got pregnant with my son, Riley. I knew I didn’t want to teach forever and this was my way out! During the summer I quit teaching, I got a job at a local boutique just working part-time, and it was here where the wheels starting turning for this idea. I saw how much I loved going into work every day and how much I enjoyed helping others pick out outfits for different occasions.
I wanted to find something I loved but also allowed me to stay home at the same time. While I was working at this local boutique, I realized that there was a lot of sitting around during the day when other people were out working. Therefore, an online business seemed like the best route for a few reasons:
We didn’t have the extra funds sitting around to pay sign a year or two-year lease at a brick & mortar location.
I realized the opportunity to reach a wider audience online compared to the audience of this small local boutique. For us, it seemed like hitting two birds with one stone.
And finally (maybe the most important of all), running it as an online-only business would allow me to stay at home with Riley!
I remember telling my husband about a month into working at this local boutique, “I think I could really do this!” Lucky for me, my husband was very supportive and told me to just do it.
Around January 2017, I started doing a lot of research on Google about starting your own boutique. I also had a friend that had a similar online boutique and gave me some great advice. After researching for a few months, I decided to move forward with actually getting started.
Describe the process of creating the business and launching it.
In April of 2017 I started reaching out to my state’s Department of Revenue. I wanted to make sure I had all my ducks in a row as much as I possibly could with the amount of knowledge I had at the time (which was not much).
My husband and I decided to keep everything on the down low. We wanted to make sure this was a real thing before announcing it to the world! The quote we seem to keep reciting was “Underpromise and Overdeliver”! I think this sort of philosophy really has become important in our business.
What took the longest was deciding on a name and our logo; I wanted it to be meaningful, and I cared so much about what people thought.
Looking back, my advice would be to quit thinking about other people. This is my business, and all that matters is if I am happy the name and logo.
A popular national brick & mortar women’s boutique that many may have heard of is called Francesca’s… How original, right? So we came up with Boutique Rye named after our son, Riley. We put "boutique" in front to be a little different.
Now came the logo… Oh man, was this a task. We hired a graphic designer that we went to high school with, and went back and forth with him for about a month and a half. I wanted something that really described my style which is kind of “boho chic” and decided on a dreamcatcher. The dreamcatcher is also what our son’s nursery was decorated in, so it truly felt like a family business.
Next, was the licensing process. Which I will say is very tedious. It is not so much hard as it is time-consuming. I would get frustrated daily because of a new form that was due to become an LLC. I eventually realized that asking questions was going to get me far. I called the DOR (stands for...) daily and thoroughly kept contact with my state’s regulations. I didn’t want to miss anything! The only obstacle we really ran into was getting people to understand that we were an ONLINE ONLY company. You would think in this day and age that would be a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times I got the question “Well where is your business located” Ummm in my home?! Queue the weird looks.
Listen to your customers! I have been able to really connect with my customers through live sales, and I also keep communication very open between us.
Once we got the licensing papers and everything in line with the state and the IRS we began buying our clothes! I already knew some vendors that I liked just from shopping at different boutiques for years. I loved picking out new vendors and clothes as well. It felt like I was on a major shopping spree.
We also bought two different types of packaging, tissue paper to wrap the clothes in, hang tags with our logo on them, and thank you notes that would go in each package. Like I said we wanted to make sure we had absolutely everything before our launch.
These extras aren’t reinventing the wheel by any means, but I always felt a little special anytime I bought something online and got a thank you card or something more besides what I ordered.
Our official launch happened the day after my birthday, July 26, 2017. This is when we told everyone! I decided to get the word out by going “live” on Facebook. When you have a personal profile, Facebook will allow you to record yourself in real time, and they allow any of your friends to click on the video and watch if they want. I would consider myself pretty outgoing, so I thought this would be the easiest way everyone would get a notification and see the announcement quickly. I told everyone our background story and that we would have our first live sale that next night, which was a Thursday. Little did we know Thursdays would be “our day”!
Live sales were something that I wanted to do, and it was different than other online boutiques I had seen. Basically, I would go “live” on our boutique’s Facebook page with our new inventory and show each item, give a little description on it, how it fits, price, sizing, etc. It really feels like I am everyone’s own personal shopper, which is amazing!
With online business sometimes it is hard to connect with your customers and I never wanted that to be a problem. I wanted my customers to feel like I was in their living room picking out clothes for them specifically. I think this is something we have been doing well!
Our first live sale was pretty successful. Most of our first customers were my friends or acquaintances from school. We decided to start right away and do a giveaway if they shared the live sale video. We gave away a $100 gift card raffle as an incentive to anyone that shared the video. This would prove to be by far our best strategy to grow the boutique without spending a dime on traditional advertising.
Since you launched, how have you attracted new customers and grown the business?
Growing organically is something we wanted to hold on to for as long as possible. However, this is probably the hardest way! The main thing that has helped us get 3,200 people in our Facebook Group is sharing our live sales.
So like I mentioned earlier, how it works is we usually give something away just for sharing the video on their timeline. Often, it is a free shirt or gift card. Honestly, it is worth the dollar amount that we may “lose” but we also learned that these giveaways can be considered tax write-offs, which is nice. So in about 7-months we’ve grown the group from literally 0 to 3,200 people, all organically through our existing customer sharing our videos and posts which has been really cool.
However, I should mention we dabbled in Facebook ads during Christmas/Black Friday and spent maybe $50 on an ad that ran for a few days. I don’t believe we got a single sale from this ad. This is something we want to get into at some point as our growth is starting to slow down.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice from similar entrepreneurs. You would be surprised at how many people are willing to share their insights!
Instagram has definitely been a task for us. Instagram is a whole different ballgame than Facebook, with the algorithms and new forms of their timeline, it has made it very hard to grow. When we first introduced our Instagram I spent about an hour each night going through and following people that fit inside our customer audience. I also commented on a ton of pictures. By doing that we would add about 100 extra followers every month. Still, it wasn’t growing as fast as our Facebook group. I believe that our primary source of income and growth is definitely Facebook and maybe that’s because I just don’t understand how to get traction on Instagram.
One of my goals for the next couple of months is to learn more about Instagram and find out what our “look” is. Right now our Instagram looks like helter-skelter, which makes sense because I haven’t quite decided on the “look” we are going for.
Something I do think that has grown our following on Instagram this past couple of months is doing more “Instastories” and treating that as a lifestyle blog. I make “Instastories” almost every day. I will talk about my day, funny things that come up, updates on the boutique, good sales I find while out shopping, etc. I think this really helps my customers get to know me on a more personal level too! After each live sale, I always make sure to mention to follow us on Instagram because some people still don’t know we have one.
Also, vendor events are a great way to get your product out to the public. I check local vendor event groups on Facebook and have done a couple in our area. Another great idea was to check with local churches or apartment complexes and set up my product a couple of weekends a month.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
Part of me wishes that we would have done a Facebook Business Page instead of a Group. We did the group thinking that it would just be more personal and easier for everyone to navigate, and at the time I don’t think you could go “live” on a business page.
But we’ve since found out that Facebook ads are really optimized for Business Pages and not Groups. Although you can still promote a group, you won’t reach nearly the audience with your money that a business page would. So again, this is something we’re still trying to hash out.
What have you learned that has been particularly helpful or advantageous?
Listen to your customers! I have been able to really connect with my customers through live sales, and I also keep communication very open between us. I tell them to reach out to me if they have any constructive criticism or ideas. You would be so surprised at the ideas they come up with to help YOUR business grow!
As a specific example, we first launched without a website. We just had the group page. Well when we eventually created our website (through Shopify ourselves), we were super excited to release it to everyone thinking they were just going to eat it up. We announced the website shortly after one of our live sales, and that night I think we had a few thousand people check out the site.
From those thousand people maybe 3 or 4 actually purchased something from the site. Why? If you could purchase something online by simply saying “sold” (after a customer’s first purchase we already had all of their billing info), why would you actively choose to reenter your CC info, billing address, etc.? Luckily we’ve had a ton more success on our website since the launch. This was mainly due to customers that can’t catch live sales and us promoting it a little more.
Most of all, I would say BE YOURSELF! That is one thing that no one can duplicate or take from you. I make sure to be transparent with our customers and keep them in the loop weekly! I do Monday night chats and tell them updates and info that I would want to know. I love having that close connection to my customers. They always know that I am going to be 100% real with them.
Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?
Short term goals would be to continue to grow organically every week through Facebook and Instagram. We’re really trying to grow our Instagram audience because our industry jives well with that crowd. Our plans for the future is to hire a couple college interns and have them help promote our social media accounts as well as model some of our clothes. I am tired of seeing my face all over the website! We’ve dabbled around with the idea of having a storefront, but I just don’t think it’s a route we want to go down at this point.
We also want to dig into Facebook Ads. Given that most of our business is done through Facebook, I think we could really benefit from promoting ourselves through paid advertising over that platform.
What tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify and love how easy it is! I can add our products quickly as well as keep track of inventory, customer information, mailing lists, etc. Shopify is such a fantastic platform, and we would be lost without it!
Facebook is our leading social media platform. We use it for posting daily and live sales and live chats with our customers. I am also trying to grow a following on Instagram. What is unique about our Instagram is I try and do Insta-stories daily and just talk about anything and everything!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for your business and why?
Definitely Reddit, AKA my husband! He has learned so much through the r/entrepreneur subreddit and has shared that info with me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice from similar entrepreneurs. You would be surprised at how many people are willing to share their insights!
Honestly, being an entrepreneur and working for yourself is priceless. I am able to make my own decisions for my business every day. I don’t have to answer to anybody! I am able to see my son every day and spend quality time with my family all while doing my passion. You cannot put a price tag on that.
If you have been thinking of starting your own business, do it! The only person holding you back is yourself. Every single day I wake up and can’t wait to start working on things for the boutique. When I was teaching, you literally had to drag me out of bed. The saying is true, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.boutiquerye.com
- Facebook Group: Boutique Rye
- Instagram: @boutiquerye
- YouTube: Boutique Rye
- Gia Paddock, Founder of Boutique Rye
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!
- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story