JB: So, you're constantly tweaking to reflect your growing understanding of the business, no? Let's take something really basic like pricing. I'd like to understand the process. How do you decide how much to charge for an item? For example, let's take the Pack 'n Play that brought me to you in the first place.
JB: It is constant tweaking around here. Sometimes, the things that our customers want changed are things that I can change, like offering a higher percentage back if you choose store credit instead of cash. But there are things that are detrimental to the business that I cannot change if I plan to maintain here. I do get questioned on pricing frequently and the general business practice of mark ups. It is true that I am the middle man here. I do indeed make my living from buying and then marking up merchandise, as does every single retail unit in the world. In order to exist, I can't buy high and sell low, at least not sustainably.
As it stands now, I am comparably priced to Salvation Army, Savers, and other thrift stores, even though I do not run on donations. This former statement is only true when you compare apples to apples. If you compare a child's Hanna Andersson dress here to a child's Hanna Andersson dress at Salvation Army in the same condition, you will find a similar price, usually within 20%. I try to make the process as fair as possible for both selling and buying. A flat percentage is paid based on the price that we will sell it for and that percentage is 30% for clothing, 35% for toys, and 40% for consigned gear (10% higher if you choose store credit), which is higher than most and doesn't fluctuate, so sellers never have to wonder why they are receiving more or less than the last time for a similar item. For the consigned gear like the pack 'n play that started this conversation, the prices are generally 30-50% of the new price and are based on make, model, age, and condition. Occasionally, there are items that are still new in the original packaging, those will be priced a bit higher. By the same token, items that are a bit too faded or used but are still very functional and popular can be priced a bit lower.
JB: What comes in and goes out the fastest? Anything specifically that really brings the customers in? I'm wondering if shopping habits have changed from those long ago days when my kids were small.
AC: Toys are the fastest movers of all the categories, followed by books, and then gear. Clothing is the slowest to move but when we have a good season, the clothes go in bundles. There are a lot of online swaps and sales as well as craigslist and ebay that make it easy to buy and sell clothes and gear especially. Just in the last two years, we have seen a shift in the category that is most shopped for here. It was clothes until last year! Within the toy category the most coveted items are Legos, American Girl, Littlest Pet Shop, and Thomas the Train.
JB: Speaking of online shopping, can a small business successfully compete with so many competitors, real and virtual?
AC: I do still think that the face to face contact is beneficial in so many ways. Sometimes people just stop in here to chat or let their children play in our toy area. A second opinion or advice either from me or another shopper is needed occasionally. Just today, we were discussing pre-schools in the area. I love the School For Little Children and another mom was professing her love of Cherry Preschool. So much gets lost in translation in online shopping, when there is not any emotion able to be conveyed in a text format. The short answer, I suppose, is yes, a small business can compete with online retailers as long as it has something special to offer.
JB: Good! Personally, I'm all for the old face to face. There simply is no substitute for it. What else would you like to share with us before we wrap this up?
AC: Oh, I suppose I have some breaking news to share as well. Since we started this interview, my husband and I have made the bittersweet decision to sell the business and move to Wisconsin. We own another business as well and our family and that business will benefit greatly from the move. I seriously considered moving the entire store to Wisconsin as well and reopening but this is the last children's only resale store in Evanston and it was born here. I truly believe that it is a neighborhood store and Evanston needs it.
This place has become a community point place where people stop to chat, laugh, cry, play, and just BE. I want Hand Me Downs to stay local and live on, I imagined it being purchased and run by a group of moms with their children. We don't have a buyer yet but we have only had it for sale for a week as of September 9th.
JB: Talk about breaking news! All the best to you and your husband, and to Hand Me Downs in its next iteration. It was such a pleasure talking with you.
AC: Joan, I want to thank you for your interest in our shop. This has been so much fun!
JB: Delighted to hear it, Anne. Thanks for letting me know.