By Gerry Mattingly, Evolve
I’ve been a shopper and always loved clothes … lots of them.
After many years and spending untold thousands of dollars, standing in line at Bloomingdales to pay full price, I decided to switch from being a certified public accountant and spend 80 hours per week building my own business instead of someone else’s.
I quickly found a glaring hole in a billion-dollar industry that – even in this economy – is growing exponentially: Consignment/resale.
Thanks to Margaret’s Consignments and others, the women’s consignment business went upscale about 10 years ago, with men’s really making the transition now.
It was only after I started to look for opportunities that I discovered consignment/resale and that men’s clothing and accessories makes up barely 5 percent of this thriving industry.
Yes, my brothers the ladies figured this out and built an empire while I was standing in the checkout line at Bloomingdales!
So, I opened up Evolve on Frankfort Avenue, a couple of blocks from Margaret’s.
One of the craziest things about what I do is, consignment shops in 2011 are about a galaxy away from their origins in the old thrift shop/second hand stores.
Instead of worn out throwaways, our chic shops are likely to have some of the most expensive apparel brands from Italy and France – brands typically bought in New York or Chicago, then consigned in Louisville.
And get this – when it comes to men’s clothing and accessories, most of this stuff isn’t even available in Louisville’s retail stores. And you’re going to get it for an average of 75 percent of its retail cost. Which is why consignment is thriving.
But it wasn’t till I opened my own men’s consignment shop, that I began to see just how crazy cool this business really is.
Arguably the choices for men looking for designer and upscale clothing are limited compared to women. (Sometimes it seems a lot of women buy apparel they either never wear, or wear once.) But it’s out there, and on any given day clothing and accessories only available in fashion capitals such as New York, Paris and Milan will arrive at my store – and each garment has a story.
Last winter, I priced at $999 a $5,000 cashmere Brioni car coat brought in by a local executive who wears his clothing for one season.
Brioni’s quality is renown in fashion capitals, but not so much in Louisville. and a high-end piece at pennies on the dollar is a deal only if someone knows what is.
So I lowered the price to $695 and to be candid, I was worried winter was going to end before someone realized what they were getting. Because to be honest, not everyone who walks in knows Brioni or would dream of paying $1,000 or a coat.
Just as I was getting a little frustrated, in walks a guy who’s in town from San Francisco for a wedding. The guy takes one look at the coat and says, ‘I’ll take it” without even commenting on the price.
You know what: He was probably thinking, “What a schmuck, giving away this coat!”
Now, that’s a crazy business! Another crazy, mysterious element of my business is that so many people are able to buy such expensive clothes and accessories, never use them, then just decide to get rid of them.
Of course, the idea in any kind of retail is to sell, sell, sell.
But the truth is, there’s something kind of rewarding about being surrounded by beautiful objects every day.
As I write this post, I’m looking across the room at a piece of Tanner Krolle custom made British luggage that retailed for about $6,000.
Who’ll buy it? No idea.
At any given time, I have $1,000-plus Cesare Paciotti shoes. I just sold a pair of Tod’s driving mocs. (And yes, sometimes I’m my own best customer … just bought an irresistible pair of Paul Smith driving moccasins from myself.)
A walk through my shop can be like opening one of those Esquire magazine Black Books, the quarterly men’s fashion guides, and climbing in.
I’ve had $5,000 Kiton jackets. I have a Loro Piana all-weather, fur-lined coat a client bought in Milan on a whim for $1,200.
I’ve had Hermes, Zegna, Canali, Bally, Issey Miyake and exotic custom brands even I’ve never heard of!
Admittedly these are the items that make shopping upscale resale/consignment stores a destination and just a fun thing to do.
But, again let me level with you: Just as in conventional mall retail, it’s the high-quality but affordable utility wear – the Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Rockn Republic or LaCoste – that fills the store with customers and rings the register.
The good thing about conventional retail is, your suppliers are always there. If there’s anything that keeps high-end consignment store owners up at it night, it’s wondering where that next fabulous item is going to come from.
And maybe that’s the craziest part of all: Somehow, it all works out and the beautiful things just keep coming!