My guest today is Anne Coyne, proprietor of Hand Me Downs, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. Welcome to OpEdNews, Anne.
JB: Could that possibly be the same Hand Me Downs I used to shop at, 20 and even 30 years ago?
AC: Hello, Joan! Yes, this is the same store that first opened in 1979 on Broadway and Central St. We are the fourth owners now, and the store has moved to Dempster and Chicago Ave. but the store has remained largely unchanged. My mother used to shop with the original owners when my sister and I were small.
JB: So, clearly someone identified a need and that hasn't gone away, despite the passage of time, several changes in ownership and a new location. Tell us about your store, Anne. What's going on in there that everyone wants a piece of?
AC: There is so much going on in here! There are great brands of clothing at a fraction of the new price but still in fantastic condition. We have Crewcuts, Gymboree, Hanna Andersson, Zara, Pumpkin Patch, Matilda Jane. I could go on and on. We are one of the last ones standing that will take on gear and equipment (because of the space needed and the liability of it) for resale and consignment. So, you can still find used pack 'n plays, infant swings, bassinets, highchairs, carriers, strollers and more - all in amazing condition. There are toys and puzzles that always have all the pieces for mostly under $10 as well as rocking horses, radio flyers, riding toys, geotrax, American Girl, Thomas the Train toys and so many more. Children use toys for such a short amount of time that it's almost like a toy rental here. People buy and then frequently resell the same items to us later. This is ultimate recycling. Think of how much packaging is NOT getting used and put in a landfill or ending up in our oceans!
JB: So true! And I love your enthusiasm. How I fondly remember Hanna Andersson: My son had a yellow floppy sunhat and some incredibly cute outfits including a long blue nightshirt with white stripes. I was a bit sad when he outgrew them and he didn't have any smaller sibs to pass it all on to.
What a lovely trip down memory lane, Anne. Thanks for that. How did you end up at Hand Me Downs? This isn't your first job out of college, I presume.
AC: You are correct; it is not. I actually finished my bachelor's degree after we purchased Hand Me Downs. My mother always tells me I never do anything the easy way. I have a food service background. I managed for Sodexo at Northwestern University and for Starbucks, most recently. I am currently still a barista 20 hours a week at Starbucks because their benefits are amazing and I love the company so much I couldn't leave it all the way. And there is free coffee, lots of coffee.
I was searching one day online, and I don't even remember what I was looking for, when a pop up window came up in the corner of my screen ( my firewall/virus protection was out of date...as usual) for local businesses for sale and one looked like Hand Me Downs. My older child is 8 now and we had been shopping there since he was born so we had a relationship with Monica, the previous owner, and Tanya, the totally amazing woman that worked for her. I emailed them and asked and she said it was indeed for sale. We pondered on it for a while and eventually decided to go for it. I honestly didn't research it enough before I jumped into it, but I couldn't imagine Evanston losing it!
JB: Great story! I assume this is your first time owning a business, correct? You intrigued me: What exactly do you wish you had known before "jumping into it"? What made you think you could translate your food service background to gently used clothing and equipment? How're they the same? How not?
AC: This is the first time owning a business! Really, the only skills that translated were the customer service skills. The rest was a fairly new skill set, and I don't like to barter, I discovered! I wish I had known more detailed financial data (I had a P&L [Profit & Loss report] from the prior year) but i ended up with almost double the inventory I needed for last year so I should have requested daily or weekly totals, more data on the overhead costs and such, as well as sales specific to category. Probably, I should have not signed a three-year lease up front, either! It's all a learning curve for me. It's getting easier but changing procedures at a long standing business is like running uphill in the dark; it's difficult and sometimes things hit you out of the blue.
The two industries are similar in the way that they are largely dependent on people skills and customer service. These two industries are more different than similar really; the hours are shorter but I take way more work home with me, and being dependent on customers for inventory is complicated. Having suppliers and vendors is so much simpler. Set pricing and quantities are always available. Recently, more and more online options are becoming available. That's making it much simpler to sell your own items or even just trade them and I am just now considering how to compete with that. I am thinking that maybe I need to join the online selling market and/or begin bringing in new merchandise. Our product mix is about 20% new at this time but I may need to increase it to around 40% at discounted prices.