Retail lessons from Boutique 1861 owner Castle Ho

4 minute read

In the crowded world of retail, growing your business requires not only strategic thinking, but also a unique blend of innovation, resilience and heart. Nobody knows that better than Castle Ho, owner of Boutique 1861. Here are the biggest lessons she’s learned while overcoming obstacles and growing her Montreal-based boutiques:

Castle Ho, the owner of Boutique 1861, smiles and sits in her store.

Listen to your customers – they keep you relevant

When I worked in the store every day, what helped me most was that moment when people walked out of the fitting room. Those comments were the best feedback. People are at their most honest right then – what do they like, what don’t they like, what do they wish the garment had. Those comments were as direct and as honest feedback as I could get.

I still try and spend as much time as I can in the stores, listening to customers, seeing what they are buying, answering their questions. But I also get feedback from my team. I want them to let me know when customers are looking for something specific and cannot find it. We welcome anyone’s feedback. We read online reviews and keep an eye on social media.

We find every way we can to gather the most information we can. That is what keeps the business relevant.

Find out how Boutique 1861 creates a seamless experience for shoppers in-store and online.

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Don’t be afraid to change as your customers change

Our brand has grown up with our clientele. As time has gone by, I have watched customers go from students visiting our Sainte-Catherine’s store, to going on their first job interview, to their first job, then they start thinking about getting married and settling into a home. We started to think we needed to help them dress and prepare for their next chapter. In helping them do so, they have helped us find our next chapter as well.

Don’t be surprised by surprises

Be ready for surprises – because they’re part of the journey.

The changeroom at Boutique 1861 features a large mirror, pink curtain changing stalls and a rack of dresses.

Love the work

It’s important to have passion for what you do, follow your heart when you know what’s right, but also be open to critics, be open to feedback. You’re going to have to wake up each day and do the work. So be passionate about it.

Some things take a lot more work than you think – a lot more

When we launched the website, we totally thought that managing ecommerce would be something we could do at the end of the day, something on the side. We quickly realized that wasn’t true. It takes so much work and focus to run ecommerce well.

You keep getting better at it

With time, you’re going to get better at it. Never stop learning, never stop trying. I didn’t have a background in business when I started, and so going from 1 little store I ran by myself 7 days a week to a team of 80 was scary to handle at first. We have HR, accounting, on and on. I didn’t have any background in that. I still wake up and realize the pressure on me. Staying on top of it all, it is nerve-racking, but it is OK if you keep learning and surround yourself with good people.

Risks are fine – smart risks are better

Don’t be afraid to take risks – just make sure they are calculated risks. I didn’t just go crazy and take a big risk without working a bit in the industry and understanding what I was getting into. Even though opening the business was still a big risk, I knew a bit about what was needed.

Shelves at Boutique 1861 filled with pottery and straw sun hats.

It’s OK to be medium

There’s a beauty to being a small-to-medium-sized business. I know my inventory. I can move quicker on what is working and what isn’t working. I know what is needed by customers. I know my customers. They are what it is all about.

Don’t be afraid of “no”

Sometimes it’s OK to say no. We have been approached many times about franchising, either across the country or in other parts of the world. But we believe in what we are doing. We are giving a lot of our heart and soul to this. A franchise is something different. It is not what we want.

There are enough franchises out there. We never wanted to be a cookie-cutter company. We believe every customer who walks through the door is important. Every customer who goes to the website is important. Less can be more – and we want to continue that.

By doing so, we can bring something different to the market. We have enough generic. We need more things that are different.

It’s the little things

There will be so many big issues that swirl around. But don’t ever forget that it’s all about the little details for your customers.

Business is a team sport

Through it all, we have been so lucky to have worked with so many amazing people. When we faced challenges or difficulties, everyone was ready to help, to work together. Being nice doesn’t cost anything and I feel like everyone at work understands this value. We treat each other like family and our customers like dear friends. That’s what keeps us going.

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Jason Winders
Jason Winders is a Sr. Content Strategist and Writer with The&Partnership. Jason Winders is an experienced writer and editor working within advertising/marketing, sports, postsecondary education, and community newspapers in both Canada and the United States. Currently, he is a Sr. Strategist and Writer for The&Partnership.Read more by Jason Winders