For example:

  • Cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Smart, Scion
  • Retail: Cartier, farmers’ markets, shoe repair, dry-cleaning and copy shops, Etsy
  • Apparel: Bottega Veneta, DSquared2, Savile Row, your local thrift store
  • Liquor: Single malt Scotch, Two-Buck Chuck

You get the idea. The study guide takeaways are as follows:

  • Boutiques can be high-end or low-end; what’s distinctive about them is that they actually are distinctive and everyone knows it, including, most importantly, clients and potential clients;
  • And boutiques—this is non-negotiable, folks—have to stick to their knitting or risk promptly and irreconcilably alienating their customers and confusing everyone else.

I promised to talk about mortality among boutiques.

It’s high.

The moment of truth usually comes when the baton needs to be passed from first to second generation management and leadership. It has felled many great and noteworthy firms in the past (you can supply your own list here) and many more less visible ones.

What goes wrong?

To some extent, it’s not boutiques’ fault. To be more precise, it’s not a failing of the Boutique Business Model; it’s a failing of execution and tactics. Boutiques, as we noted, are typically founded by visionaries who are charismatic and electric personalities. They can be a hard act to follow (which is understandable) but they can also subtly or overtly impugn, demean, and undermine anyone who might rise up behind them to assume the mantle (which is inexcusable).

Where does this leave us?

If you’re at a boutique, or thinking about going to a boutique, or tempted to start a boutique, ask yourself what Generation Next might look like. At least if you’re young, out of self-interest, or if you’re older, out of a sense of stewardship. Be prepared to be excited. Be prepared to relentlessly say No to the wrong things. Celebrate the rare luxury that clients and prospects will know automatically what you’re good at. Excel at that thing. Avoid distractions. Stay true to your mission.

And pray for Generation Next.

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