Rags To Riches

Stocking Up

The number-one challenge facing start-up consignment shops is finding enough good-quality merchandise. "You've got to learn how to say `No, thank you' to consignors," Nesbitt advises. "There's an enormous temptation to take things that aren't quite what you want just so you can fill the shop. That's the worst thing you can do."

Nesbitt found potential consignors were hesitant to give her their clothing before the store had opened. "But once the store was open, clothing came in droves," she says. Until the shop was adequately stocked, Nesbitt used Styrofoam boards covered with sheets to block off the back and make the shop appear fuller. As her inventory grew, the false wall was gradually moved back and eventually eliminated.

Only a tiny portion of Nesbitt's inventory comes from sources other than the general public. A few garments are samples consigned by clothing sales representatives. Other items come from a local men's store.

Jones and her partners take a different approach. Bon Ton sold items from individuals at first but now buys about half its inventory from manufacturers' close-outs.

Ingenuity and caution are essential in finding the right merchandise. "Be creative," says Jobes at the National Retail Federation. "Look to your friends. Look to garage sales. Look for natural fibers, wools, cottons, linens and silks. Those seem to sell better. Don't buy styles that are outdated; those aren't going to sell."

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rags To Riches.

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