FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When David Harris first opened his women’s clothing boutique in Fort Lauderdale, he didn’t realize that having two similar apparel stores in the same shopping plaza would only help his business grow.

In October, Harris opened Etiquette Boutique, a 1,100-square-foot women’s clothing store that offers a limited supply of exclusive designer dresses, tops, shoes and more.

His clothing boutique neighbors two others in the same shopping plaza: Hello Gorgeous, another women’s designer store, and the Prissy Hen, an upscale consignment shop for lightly used women’s apparel. Independently owned boutiques still compete with each other for business, but some store owners are coming together to strengthen the couture community.

“When a customer of mine buys an outfit and is looking for that last piece to complete it, if I don’t have it, I’m calling around to other stores to see if they do,” Harris said. “Not only does that make a lasting impression with the customer, but it’s just beneficial for all of us store owners in the area.”

On a monthly basis, Harris brings select designs to Ladies Night at Fort Lauderdale’s O Lounge, where he sells clothing to the lounge’s patrons. Women get to browse the racks and try on clothes in the lounge. Harris was invited to participate by another boutique owner, Stacy Goren.

“The point isn’t really about sharing business, but giving a different experience to the same kind of customers,” said Goren, who works as a VIP host at YOLO and Vibe nightclub but also opened Elektrik Boutique in August. Elektrik Boutique also sells women’s fashions, from casual designs to cocktail dresses.

“We offer an experience you’re not going to get in the big-box stores,” Goren said. “You’re not going to run into people with the same dress or top if you buy from a boutique.”

Boutique clothing stores usually cater to a more high-end customer because of the higher price tags associated with limited-edition designer lines. But some stores, like Etiquette Boutique, still offer prices comparable to those of department stores.

“If you have the money, you’re going to buy an $800 dress, but for the 95 percent of shoppers, that’s not an option,” Harris said. “So people go to big-box stores like Macy’s, where they think it’s a little more affordable. That isn’t totally true anymore.”

Molly Carey, owner of Lala Couture in Fort Lauderdale, showcases local designers in her store. Carey currently sells a line of swimwear by Ravish Sands, a line created by Jessie Becker in Fort Lauderdale, even though Becker sells her bathing suit designs from a storefront just around the corner on Fort Lauderdale beach.

“If I know the brand and the designer, I have no problem selling something locally in my store,” said Carey, who opened her boutique in Fort Lauderdale in October 2011. “But boutiques are very protective of their customers. I don’t want to send mine to another store if I don’t know for sure what it’s all about.”