Ask anyone around the world what the home of fashion is, and they’ll give you the same answer. Having practically invented and continually redefined modern style, France is a fashionista’s mecca. Setting up a retail clothing business in France is many people’s dream: not just for the beautiful clothing, but also the lifestyle and culture that surrounds any French endeavour.
While boutiques and small shops were once a purely local affair, this no longer has to be the case. The ease of creating an online storefront, as well as several websites dedicated to sourcing from local outlets, make it easy to sell both locally and on a global scale. Opening a clothes shop in France could be the perfect compromise between an idyllic country life and a thriving business.
Pick your products
You may have aspirations to sell Louis Vuitton or Chanel, but this will probably be beyond you at the outset. Instead, consider what your market is, what you like personally and what is viable. The initial core of your business is likely to be local, as you work on getting the word out online. Do a bit of research and find out what sells locally, and how you can cater to local demographics.
For instance, are you planning to sell French goods to French consumers, or is your ultimate goal to export a taste of France abroad? Are you intending to source from local labels and small businesses, or do you want to sell English boutique garments to the citizens of France? You may even want to look at getting second hand vintage clothes in and finding a market for these, adopting a staunchly retro theme.
Take these examples of innovative Parisian fashion startups, adopting unique angles including the merging of technology with fashion. Consider your audience, but also consider where your knowledge lies and what you’re comfortable selling. Your products and your brand identity should go hand in hand: if you aren’t happy with either, you will struggle to make it a success.
Choose your region
Again, an outlet in the winding side streets of Paris may be the aim, but even the tiniest shop space in the capital requires a whole heap of – pardon the pun - capital. The great news is that France is packed with thriving cities and smaller towns, depending on your preference and initial plans.
Price is obviously key, but also consider structural factors like transport links and local amenities. Broadband speeds will likely be crucial in expanding and maintaining your business, and these vary across the country, particularly in more rural areas. If you’re after a slice of city life, smaller cities such as Nantes, Rennes and Toulouse all have significant shopping sectors as well as yearly fashion weeks.
While an eCommerce fashion venture is pretty much location independent, locating an area with existing suppliers or labels will obviously set you in good stead. Lyon is a growing second city of fashion in France, and is the traditional home of the French textile industry. Becoming the local outlet where a craftsman or supplier road tests their goods might be a gamble on your end, but it could lead to a lasting and fruitful relationship.
Scope out the competition
Scouting out other local boutiques and clothing stores is a must. It’s useful just to see what they sell and how they arrange it. Organising items to encourage sales is a particularly fine art, and not as simple as you might think. But more importantly, you should look at what people are buying. Stand near the tills, skulk amongst the racks and shelves, and do some low key surveillance.
A boutique might house numerous pricey dresses and accessories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these are what people buy. They could be somewhat more decorative and aspirational, with the bulk of profits coming from more reasonably priced items. It’s also worth considering how long other shops might have been around. Their sales and popularity could owe something to reputation and trustworthiness, or a particularly knowledgeable owner and community member.
This is important regardless of the price bracket. Cheap clothes might be easy to obtain, but they’ll only sell if they have the appearance of being more expensive. Pricey clothes have a market, but it might be more limited than you would expect. Cachet and cost alone aren’t enough to sell an item. Whatever you end up stocking, you ideally need to know that it’s selling well somewhere else.
Establish as many links as you can
Contacts are key for any business, but it’s particularly crucial when you’re starting up in a new country. Learning French would be a good start, but in any case, make an effort to reach out to the local community. Ensure that your storefront fits with the rest of the local shops, and that renovations aren’t too sweeping or gaudy.
Source jobs locally, look to join trade groups and consider displaying your products at craft fairs or other local events. Even if your French is a bit rusty, make sure not to farm these duties out to an employee or business partner, too. Foreign parties setting up a business without attempting to integrate aren’t well received in any country.
The links you forge here could lead you to local labels, designers and other talent, helping to stock and man your store. And the community work will help bolster your clientele, as well as getting the word out on a local level. It’s great to aspire to doing good business online, but more than most countries, France still appreciates its local shops. Become part of the community, and you can give yourself a platform to move forwards, as well as improving your legitimacy and brand image.
If you need more information on how to open a branch or registering a new business in France or for issues relating to opening a bank account,accountancy in France or Immigration & Visas please contact us directly by calling 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or emailing us from our contact page and we’ll be happy to discuss your requirements.
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