Working Corporate Retail vs Small Boutique

by Alexa DePerro

When asked if I preferred working at a large, corporate owned retail store versus a small, sole-proprietor owned boutique, I genuinely never have an answer. Though they are both retail stores, they are two completely different learning experiences which I both love and further my interest and passion for the fashion industry.

  1. Customer Relationships

Developing relationships with customers is a lot easier at a smaller boutique than a corporate retail store. This is primarily due to the fact there are a lot less ‘browsers’ just visiting a small boutique than a nation-wide known store. This makes it more of a challenge (that I’m always up for!) to establish a well-known relationship with a returning customer at my corporate retail job.

2. Direct Impact

Because a small boutique is obviously much more scaled down in terms of volume, your impact on customers and the store’s overall success is a lot more personal. It is a lot easier to calculate your success and really feel the your personal impact on the business.

3. Take Aways

Though retail is retail, you learn so many different things in the different retail environments. Working a corporate retail store has taught me more managerial, inventory, merchandising and sales skills whereas working a small boutique has taught me the smaller in and outs of buying, branding and entrepreneurship. All are which important aspects to know and understand. Ever wonder why a boutique has to have a certain markup on their cost price? Work at one and you’ll realize that every little thing costs money: electricity, air/heat, employees, rent (especially in Rittenhouse), freight, travel expenses to trade shows and your own personal time.

Overall, working for both a large retail store and a small store has made me into a more well-rounded employee for both employers. I love being able to take skills I learned at one job and apply it to the other. Being able to experience two different retail settings has really broadened my knowledge of the industry and I definitely recommend it to everyone to work both at least once! It is truly eye opening.

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Dress For The Image Boutique, Philadelphia, PA


  1. Great article! I really enjoyed how you went to both ends of the spectrum and explained what it was like to work at both types of retail stores. I have worked at a small boutique and a chain retailer and I can agree they are both very different but I learned a great amount from both.

  2. I too have worked at both a large department store and quaint boutique! I’d have to agree with you on the fact that you learn so many different skills from each working environment. At a boutique I felt the pressure to meet the demands of the clientele because they were such devoted customers whom my manger knew so well, so keeping a good repertoire was vital. On the other hand, working at a department store like Lord & Taylor really helped me to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, such as the stress of meeting retail goals, how important it is to properly price, label and organize merchandise in the stock room, and how stressful working under a managed system can be! It taught me that management is everything, because as soon as I realized it was poorly managed while working at this store, I saw how it was personally effecting all of us employees, lowering our spirits and making the store a dull, dismal place with no cheerful vibe in sight!

  3. I too have worked both. The biggest negatives of each, I’ve witnessed, is the excessive amount of mandated self-auditing one has to perform in a national chain, so someone a thousand miles away can see that I’m doing my job. As a manager you will spend significantly less time on the sales floor than at a independent boutique. On the flip side, It can be very difficult to convince a small business owner to break old bad habits, or make changes.

    I think one can learn much from each environment. Working for a national chain, I learned how to better manage a sales team and optimize inventory, while in a small business I learned how to truly generate sales volume. Its easier to take your big-box skills and apply them to a boutique. Don’t even think about taking your small business skills and trying to apply them at a national chain, as most of your colleagues will be drinking the corporate Kool-aid.

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