pink and black polo boots A new philosophy on thrift shops
The store’s core customers are females ages 12 to 24. Secondary customers are females ages 25 to 45 and males ages 12 to 24. The product mix is 98 percent gently used, the rest is new.
“Teens get tired of their clothes,” said Topolski, of Thornbury, Delaware County.
The merchandise is popular brand names that range from the lower to higher end. The store stays current because it only takes merchandise that has been on the racks at the mall within the last two years, Topolski said.
The goal is to be a trendy and thrifty place for teens to shop for clothes, belts, bags, jewelry, shoes and lots and lots of jeans. A Ralph Lauren Polo shirt that would sell retail for $60 or $70 would be priced at $20 at Plato’s Closet, Topolski said.
The store works like this: People bring in their clothes and a buyer at the Plato’s Closet store looks the merchandise over to determine if it is in good shape. The buyer then puts the brand, condition, size and age of the garment in a software program provided by Plato’s Closet. The program determines how much money the store will give to the customer and how much the store will charge when the garment goes on its rack.
In general, the store pays 30 percent to 40 percent of what it will charge, she said.
In a down economy, it is no surprise a store becomes very popular very fast when it gives out cash.
Topolski’s location opened for buying merchandise Sept. 29. There was a line outside before the doors opened, Topolski said. In the beginning, the store got 75 to 100 people a day bringing in clothes.
While buying cloths was the only way to fill the racks, it did take a huge cash outlay from Topolski.
“I’d go to the bank every day,” Topolski said. “You have to do it to start the business.”
As of now, Topolski has a backlog of 200 boxes her buyers are sifting through. The backlog got so large, she said her husband rented a trailer to haul the clothes to a rented storage unit. Those customers are waiting for their cash, but once she is caught up, the store will be back to paying cash on the spot, she said.
The store opened for selling merchandise to the public Nov. 6. There was a line at the door that day, too, she said.
“I love the concept. It makes a lot of sense knowing how teenagers shop and how easily they get tired of their clothes,” said Topolski, 50.
And Topolski knows how teen agers shop. It was her teenage daughter that took her to a Plato’s Closet in Springfield that started Topolski thinking about buying a franchise.
She said she went on its Web site and saw it was looking for a franchisee in the Exton area, a location that fits the corporate demographic of a suburban retail center near a regional shopping mall with a solid teen draw.
Toposki bought her franchise from Winmark Corp., which also is a franchiser of such resellers as Play It Again Sports, Once Upon a Child and Music Go Round.
Winmark requres its Plato’s Closet franchisees have $48,000 to $95,000 in liquid assets plus $113,000 to $222,000 in assets that can be used for collateral.
Franchisees pay 5 percent of gross sales to Winmark, according to the company’s Web site.
Winmark, a Minnesota based company, traded on NASDAQ, has 800 small businesses in North America.
As sales slump at retailers reeling from downbeat consumer confidence, thrift stores are capitalizing on the public’s shift to frugality.
The National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores said in a survey that 72 percent of its members reported an average increase in sales of approximately 35 percent.
Good news for Winmark, as well. The company reported a 19 percent jump in profits this year.
The first Plato’s Closet store was opened in Columbus, Ohio, by founders Lynn and Dennis Blum who looked to their teenage son to help create the name for the business. At the time, the teen was doing a school project on Greek philosopher Plato.