Resale clothing store offers bargains, cash
A steady stream of women have been walking into a new Central Park store with armloads of clothing—and walking out with cash.
Clothes Mentor, a resale shop located between DSW and the Navy Federal Credit Union, has been buying new and gently used women’s clothes and accessories since February in preparation for its grand opening on May 9.
That’s when it will begin both buying items bearing such labels as Ann Taylor Loft and White House|Black Market, and selling them for a fraction of their original cost.
Joe and Lily Ngo, who own the local franchise, say their target customer is a professional woman with a college education. They plan to home in on what she wants as they get a feel for what sells best in the Fredericksburg area.
Already, neat rows of shoes fill shelves on top of racks and racks of clothing. Handbags by such designers as Coach and Vera Bradley hang from hooks on the wall, and a wide selection of boots, belts, scarves and jewelry rounds out the inventory.
Employee Evangelus Vantrowski, who has worked with models during Fashion Week in New York City, has created displays of complete outfits, which help to give the store the look and feel of a traditional retail boutique.
“When the [company’s] owners came up with the concept, they wanted to make it look like a trendy place for women to shop,” Joe Ngo said. “That was their vision.”
Clothes Mentor works like this. Customers can bring in freshly laundered clothing in good condition, including maternity clothes, in sizes 0 to 24 up to an hour before closing each day. The staff will check each item’s age by looking to see if there’s a date stamped inside or by the style of the label. With few exceptions, the store won’t accept anything that was manufactured more than two years ago.
The staff occasionally has to explain that just because a customer bought something two years ago doesn’t mean that was when it was made, Lily Ngo said. Some stores offer deep discount because they sell items left over from the previous year.
“Women’s fashions change so often,” Joe Ngo said. “We try to be as fresh and current as possible.”
For high-dollar items such as Louis Vuitton bags, proof of authenticity are required, the Ngos said. It’s illegal for them to sell knockoffs.
On Friday, sales clerk Rachael Awan checked a dressy black suit for piling under the arms, and then flipped the jacket over to look for possible stains. Since it still looked brand new, she punched information into the Clothes Mentor database, and then printed out a ticket with the price the store would pay for it. Tickets for unacceptable items always list the reason for the rejection, she said.
If Clothes Mentor’s business model sounds familiar, that’s because the franchise’s founders, Lynn and Dennis Blum, also started two similar companies with franchises in Central Park—Once Upon a Child, which deals in children’s clothes, toys and equipment; and Plato’s Closet, which buys and resells teen fashions.
Lynn Blum, who’s been dubbed the Queen of Resale, was inspired to found Once Upon a Child in 1985 after her sons’ closets became full of outgrown clothes that were still in good shape.
Seven years later, she sold her concept for $800,000 to Grow Biz International, which also owned Play It Again Sports. Blum and her husband went on to launch five other resale concepts, including Clothes Mentor.
Currently, there are 85 Clothes Mentor locations in 24 states, including four others in Virginia.
The Ngos, who live in Richmond, also own the Once Upon A Child store in Central Park. They bought that franchise in 2010 after Lily Ngo complained about the high price of children’s clothes to a customer at her nail salon. The customer recommended shopping at the Once Upon A Child in Richmond.
The Ngos decided to also buy the franchise for a Clothes Mentor after talking to other owners at a Once Upon A Child conference last year. Even though they are separate franchises, a number of franchisees own both, they said.
“We felt there was a need,” Joe Ngo said. “We have Once Upon A Child, and there’s a Plato’s Closet [in Central Park]. Clothes Mentor was the next logical step.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407