Don’t get me wrong, “boutique” as a noun is fine. It’s “boutique” as an adjective that grates. From hotels to hedge funds, it seems that everything is “boutique” these days. (Everything, that is, except boutiques, which, as I’ve noted before, have all become “concept shops”.)
But let’s face it, “boutique” is just a euphemism for “small”. And wherever there’s a euphemism there’s invariably a nefarious desire to pull the wool over the eyes of some hapless customer.
And what’s wrong with small anyway? A small recruiting firm may be run by a woman who works in her dressing gown all day, but she’ll probably care enough to get to know what you’re looking for.
A boutique recruiting firm is more likely to be run by a bunch of spiky-haired spivs who use your name too much when they’re pestering you with job offers that aren’t there.
And a small investment bank may not too big to fail, but it’s also less likely to have dabbled in the very tulip-backed securities that got Northern Rock into trouble.
But when the word “boutique” precedes the phrase “investment bank” I can’t help assuming that the firm was set up by the smart guys in the room who got out of the Crock before the whole thing fell apart – bonuses in tact, of course.
I can’t help feeling that the increasing popularity of this particular euphemism is somehow related to the lax credit conditions of the last decade.
So drunk have we become on luxury goods and services – all put on the plastic – that we’re not content simply to get our taxes done by a competent bean-counter. We want a boutique accountant who’ll make us feel special – no doubt with his “bespoke and customised service”.
But in these new days of belt tightening, I suspect customers will look to the smaller firms for their needs. And they won’t want to pay for the dubious advantage of going to a poncily named provider.
So if you’re newly freelance (as many people seem to be these days . . . ho hum), don’t give into the temptation to brand yourself as “boutique”.