TIPS ON STARTING A NEW BOUTIQUE - INTERVIEW WITH BATIK
When Katie (the owner and founder of Batik) reach out to our Studio, we were so excited to work with her to create a brand, packaging, and website for her new coastal-wear retail store in the heart of Chicago.
We quickly became close and even had the opportunity to be there for her grand opening in Chicago with her family and friends!
While we were up there, Katie was kind enough to share some of her journey with us and talk through the details of how she took Batik from an idea to her grand opening.
If you'd rather watch Katie's interview, simply click the video below.
Hey, guys! We are here with Katie from Batik.
It is a boutique here in Chicago, and we're going to be chatting all about starting up her business.
She literally launched two days ago, which is so wild, and we came out to be a part of the big launch party and get to see it all.
Do you want to share a little bit about what Batik is?
Definitely! Batik is a coastal and travel inspired boutique here in Chicago and we really specialize in small batch items and items that have a handmade touch to them, whether its hand-embroidered or a little sparkle accent.
How the Idea Started
When did the idea for Batik come to you?
I was thinking about what all of our items had in common, and all of them do have a handmade touch to them.
Batik is actually a style that originated in Indonesia, and it is a method of dyeing fabric.
And Batik kind of sounds like boutique as a word. I thought that was really cute. And then I told my fiancé about it, and he was like, that is so cool, because for a lot of resort wear, the actual fabric, the material that's used to make the garments, is made in Southeast Asia.
I felt like it also kind of paid homage to the artisans who make the fabrics that then become resort fashion that people wear when they travel. That's kind of how it all came together.
During the pandemic, I was spending a lot of time in Florida with my parents and discovering all of these amazing southern coastal brands and realizing that you couldn't find them in Chicago anywhere. And so, I really wanted to bring a lot of those brands to the city.
Okay, so the idea started then during COVID? During the pandemic?
So before you were working a corporate job, right?
I was working at UChicago, and I was doing event planning.
And I kind of wanted to do something even more creative than what I was doing, but I really enjoyed doing something people facing. And that's why I love the customer service aspect of this and actually getting to build those customer relationships.
But yeah, with this, I feel like I'm just really able to dig into my creative side. So that's been really fun.
So then that's like two years in the making, right?
From idea to everything that's around us. That's so crazy.
What was the first step that you took to make the idea start happening?
I started talking to the designers that I met at these trunk shows in Florida and just floated the idea to them and said, “if I opened the store in Chicago, would you be open to me carrying your line in my store? What do you think?”
A lot of them were super excited about it. They said they hadn't really entered the Midwest market before, and they were like, “we know so many snowbirds of people who come to Florida in the winter or travel to warmer temps to escape the Chicago winter. That sounds like a really great concept”. They'd love to be a part of it.
Once I started to hear from people that it was something that they were interested in, I felt like that really just got me more excited about making it happen.
Part of it was actually talking to the designers and the brands I wanted to carry. I had a list in my phone of brands that I've loved for years.
Part of it was knowing that there was interest. And then I feel the other side of it was doing informational interviews with other boutique owners or store managers and really learning from them about what has worked really well for them and just kind of getting advice from them on opening.
I feel their encouragement was really helpful because I didn't have very much retail experience or background, and so a lot of them were like, “yeah, neither did I, just had a passion for what I carry”, and encouraged me to do it.
That's so smart to even think, let me reach out and just open conversations and talk to people.
For someone else that's just starting out, they are faced with, “okay, do I do online first, do proof of concept and then see? Or, do I get a physical store where I know that there's a lot of traffic?”
What made you pick to do both simultaneously?
One is that creative side of me loved the website element to it and working with you to come up with the website design and how that customer experience was going to be, and the photo editing and everything, that was really fun for me. I feel like part of it was that side of the business I was excited about.
I think also during the pandemic, we really realized how vulnerable brick and mortar stores are because they weren't getting as much foot traffic as they were pre-pandemic. And so, when I started to think about the business, I was like, okay, having the two streams of income from both online and in-store is super important for longevity.
But also if we're open five days a week and we're closed Mondays and Tuesdays, then I know that we can still be making online sales during that time. So that was something, too, that was a consideration in doing both.
And there's already so much buzz when you're launching a business and launching the brick and mortar that all of our friends and family from across the US were so excited about being a part of it and so I wanted to reach as many people as possible.
I feel like with this, we're just reaching so many more customers by having the online presence as well, and they can still be a part of Batik and the experience.
In January, we actually found the space that we're in right now and it was a frozen yogurt shop. And when my dad actually came, he was like, “Katie, I feel like this one's great. It's really a wide lot and it's in a great location - have you considered it?”
And I said, “you're absolutely crazy. It's a frozen yogurt shop.” There was literally frozen yogurt equipment in the back. And I was thinking, I don't know if we can transform the space.
But then I realized that because it wasn't previously a space for a boutique, it gave me the opportunity to completely imagine what it could look like and custom design what the customer experience would look like, where the cash wrap is, how big the fitting rooms are, how many there are, how many different try-on areas there are; all of that.
And so that was really special.
Part of it was finding the right space, that was the first step also, because foot traffic is so important for a brick and mortar.
Knowing that in this neighborhood everyone likes to shop local and they're supportive of small business.
That was really the first step I took, was finding the perfect space.
Branding, Photo, Website, and Retail Opening
So big step from January to now, September.
Nine months to buy, build, and then in between, do brand, photo, website, everything.
Yes! And I reached out to you for branding because I love Alice and Wonder and I loved All She Wrote. And I was like, okay, perfect. I absolutely have to reach out to Kristen because those are two super successful boutiques in Chicago that I admire.
Then I reached out to you, and then I also found the design build firm that helped build up the space.
I met with a few different ones, and they actually had done mostly residential projects. And what I loved about that was that I didn't want the space to feel so stale and commercial. I wanted it to feel homey and welcoming. And I thought bringing their style to the space would work really well.
I feel like that fits so perfectly with your brand, where there is this homey feel to it and kind of like, I don't know, antique or vintage. Very handmade is the right word.
Yeah. These chairs are vintage, but then we have new floors, so it's kind of like the mix of the old and new, which I feel gives it that warmth and the inviting feel.
So far through the whole process, what has been your favorite part or the most exciting part?
I think the best part of it has been meeting so many amazing women, from working with you and your small business to also working with the design build firm. And they're local in Chicago, it's a husband and wife team.
And then a lot of the designers are women and moms who've decided to start their own line.
So just meeting so many other people and knowing that my small business is also supporting other small businesses has been the coolest aspect of it.
I feel like the synergy is just amazing.
Challenges to Starting a Retail Boutique
Okay, so now what has been the most difficult?
Just, like, hard that you didn't really want to be going through?
I think that the hardest part has been not taking things personally when I'm having a down day.
Whether it was waiting for the inspection with the city of Chicago, which we had no control over when that was going to happen, and then being able to move forward with the renovation of the space.
So, things that are outside of my control and just letting go of that.
But then also, whenever it's slower or we get negative feedback on something - not taking that personally because I'm so invested in this business and I'm carefully selecting every single item that we're carrying and carefully hiring the people that I have and making sure that they're as passionate about the brand.
Yeah! I mean, I totally get it 100% - being a designer and designing things and then presenting to somebody that's like, “oh, can we speak?”
It's just business, and we can't take it personally. And it sometimes is harder than you would like.
Yeah - When you put your heart and soul in something and you believe in it, then it can be hard to take the feedback.
But at the same time, I feel like that has been really helpful, where people are like, “maybe it'd be great if you could carry more of this size, or if you could carry more of this style”.
It's like, okay - I do need that feedback because it’s going to make our business better.
Working with a Designer vs DIY
What made you choose to work with a designer instead of saying – “Hey, I'm starting out, I'm putting a lot of money into the physical space, I'm just going to DIY my brand or my website and put money into the store”?
I feel your brand is so important because that's really how people come to understand your business and your mission, your values, and what you're about.
I'm so glad I started working with you from the very beginning because I remember even in April when I decided that I was thinking about the awning and the exterior and I was like, now I have my brand color, and that can inform that decision.
Then five months later when the awning arrived, it was perfect.
Same with the backsplash over here and everything. So, I feel it's so important to start with branding for a business because that's going to guide every single decision. Even the hang tags that are on our clothes now were part of a design that you came up with.
That's why I think from the very beginning having that decision, I felt comfortable moving forward with all these other details because I know what my colors are and the feel of the space too.
Yeah, exactly, the overall feeling.
And then that way it's so consistent because I think I've seen others that have started and done it where they DIYed in the beginning and then they end up going a few months down the road and they end up feeling really lost. Everything ends up being disjointed because it was made through individual decisions versus based on this one core piece of a brand or feeling.
I agree, but obviously I agree as a designer, but I'm always curious to know because I do think that there is room for a route in business where if you don't have the money to begin with, that shouldn't stop you from going the DIY route.
And I feel like you can totally do that too, but the consistency is key.
For us, from the hang tag to the awning, to the shopping bag, to our Instagram, everything just feels cohesive.
Building a Team
Yeah, especially when it's physical like this.
How has it been building a team?
Going from, okay, this is me and my idea, to now I need to get people that are on board with this dream and vision and have the business become an extension of me.
I feel like it actually happened really serendipitously because a couple of my friends had reached out with an interest in being a part of the business in some way.
I'm really grateful that I have this amazing community around me of people who are really supportive.
But I had no idea that they were going to be even interested in being as involved with the business as working together, so that was a really fun surprise.
One of my friends, for example, she at some point wants to launch her own business. She asked if she could come for the three months before opening and see the behind the scenes of getting a business started. And I was like, “yeah, absolutely!”
We've grown so close throughout the process of working together. That was just a fun surprise that that ended up working out.
She's actually going to stay on as our Operations and Inventory Manager and continue to do that remotely!
I feel like some people say it can be hard to work with friends, but in my experience, when you do work with someone who you've known before, there's an extra level of care there because they also already care about you as a person and therefore the projects that you’re working on as an extension of you.
And in this case, Batik is an extension of me.
And so, I feel like they have really gone the extra mile because there was also that friendship.
It's kind of interesting how I found that it's actually made us grow closer.
And same with my Social Media Manager as well and Head of Digital. She was a friend first and now we're working together. And I feel it's actually made us closer as friends and just grown to appreciate each other and our skill sets in a new way.
I think it’s super important to, in general, just find people who have different skill sets than you that complement you. But I would say don't shy away from someone who you know if they're interested in working with you, be open to it because you never know what could happen from that.
I feel like we get the advice so often of like, “don't work with family or friends. You don't want to mix business and personal.”
And it's like, it doesn't have to be like that.
If you have a great relationship, it can get even better, even deeper. I love that that they just reached out and they're “can I be a part of this”, that's so good!
In my experience, it's been really positive that we did know each other first and that we already have this level of mutual respect for each other and it's just really grown from there.
I would say be open to it if you have a friend or family member who wants to join your small business because they can bring their skills to bear on your project.
One thing that is really important if you are working with family or friends is setting boundaries around what is friend time and what is work time.
That's been something that has worked so, so well for us. We'll say, “okay, I'm in work mode right now so I'm sorry if my tone sounds like I'm in total work mode because that's just where my mindset is right now”.
And then being able to be like, “okay, we've now left the store or we're no longer working on this project, and we're going to go get frozen yogurt and have friend time”.
Being able to set those boundaries around your time and what you're working on is really important if you work with family or friends.
Yeah, that's such good advice!
My husband is the Studio Manager and my brother is the Web Developer and Designer.
So, we have to do very similar things like – “we're on right now or we're off”. And now I'm just complaining to you, but it's not as a boss, it's just as a friend now.
Launch Day and Response
How has the response been so far?
I know launch day was amazing!
We're going to have a full episode dedicated to the launch day so that everyone can see behind the scenes of stuff.
But how has the response been so far?
It's been super, super positive! I'm really grateful.
One of the reasons I picked Southport is because people are so fiercely loyal to shopping within the neighborhood, to shopping local and supporting the small businesses here.
I've had so many people who come in who are like, oh, we saw the window coverings that you designed, and we followed on Instagram, and we're just so excited to see you open and we've been looking forward to coming in.
I feel like that means so much when locals come in and they'll say, “this is something that the neighborhood needed, we've been looking for a store like this to open”.
I feel like that's the biggest compliment because it just means so much to hear that from someone in the neighborhood because we want to be a part of this community. I feel like that's been the best part.
That's fantastic that you got that response that people have even been following from that point to still come in! Oh, I'm so happy to hear that!
The Future of Batik
What's the future of Batik look like?
Do you have any other plans in the coming years, or even like five years down the line?
Well, I think in the immediate, I'd love to bring my event planning experience to bear on the store and hosting popup events and community partnerships.
We actually already have trunk shows lined up for the rest of the year.
In October we're going to do a candle pop-up with a local candle business, and part of her proceeds go towards preventing animal cruelty. We really like the mission of that.
In November we're doing a collaboration with jewelry designer Dana Rebecca.
We've also got fun gift ideas for the holidays.
And then in December, we're going to have someone who makes greeting cards, but she will also do calligraphy for “To / From” notes that you can tie onto a gift.
Very excited about having these kind of regular pop-up events as well, so our customers get to experience something new in addition to coming in the store and also hopefully support those businesses as well.
That's immediate and down the line, I think really kind of seeing the direction the store wants to go in.
Do we want to continue to do a combination of resort wear and vacation wear in combination with seasonal, or are people really looking for one or the other?
I think that's something that I'm interested in. As well as - do we want to continue to do both home decor and fashion, or are people more excited about one or the other?
I think that information gathering right now is going to be super helpful to inform the direction we go in.
Oh, my gosh! I didn't even know that you have, pop-ups scheduled, so cool!
I can't wait to see it all on Instagram. The fact that you're already on it and you have everything scheduled is so good!
Advice for New Business Owners
So final, final question.
What advice do you have for another fellow business owner that's just starting out?
I would say find people in your industry to do those informational interviews with.
I think that that's just so important to learn from those who've been really successful in whatever area you're going into.
I would say start building those relationships.
Like the store manager at All She Wrote – Katie. She's been so fantastic.
Even the other day, I had a Shopify situation I had a question about and I just texted her because we'd already built that relationship and she was able to kind of troubleshoot with me.
I feel like having those mentors who are in the area that you're in, or those go to people is just so helpful.
That was the same advice that Jennifer from All She Wrote gave.
Have connection, networking, and people. And more than networking, networking has an icky connotation sometimes, but building genuine relationships with people.
I can't wait to see everything else that happens in your store and I'm so stoked that I got to come and see it all!
Katie's dedication to curating a truly unique shopping experience has brought a refreshing coastal boutique to the heart of Chicago.
The magic of this boutique lies not only in its carefully selected coastal-inspired clothing but also in the warm and welcoming atmosphere it exudes.
We're so happy she chose our team to work with her on her brand and website and we'd love to hear from you too if you want to work together!
Reach out to talk to us here.