The same trend that has businesses hunting for bargains also applies to consumers. They want to spend less but they don’t necessarily want to give up on quality. As a result clothing consignment shops such as Here We Go Again in Portland are doing more business than ever. Owner Chris Gauger saw an immediate rise in both buyers and sellers when the bottom fell out of the economy in September 2008, and her nine-employee, two-store business has grown steadily since, enabling a series of upgrades and investments.
“When the economy went down we started seeing people who never would have thought of consigning before,” she says. “People started asking themselves, ‘Do I really need three or four handbags?’”
With all the new merchandise flowing in from new sellers, Gauger was able to be extremely selective in her purchases. She estimates she turns away 80% of the clothes she gets offered, buying only the top brands in great condition. She is able to offer up-scale clothing for about half what it costs new, splitting the proceeds 50-50 with consigners. She estimates she writes about 500 checks to consigners per month. On a busy day her staff will bring in 50 to 100 new items selected from hundreds of offerings.
With sales picking up in both stores, Gauger moved to invest. She rebranded the business with a new logo, upgraded her in-store technology, improved her online presence by marketing through Twitter and Facebook and buying a space on the deal-of-the-day website Groupon, and organized a successful bus tour of the consignment stores of Portland on Super Bowl Sunday. She also managed to sprint through a low-budget, high-impact remodel at her store just off SW Macadam Boulevard without losing any store days.
First she did the painting herself with help from staff. Then she convinced her landlord to let her set up a short-term pop-up store in a nearby vacant space so she wouldn’t have to close for remodeling. She and her staff wheeled all the merchandise over into the temporary space in a single night and got the new space up and running for the next business day. While employees worked out of the temporary space, workers for the Portland-based contractor Interworks remodeled the store to improve the lighting and ambience. The project took a mere 12 days and cost less than $20,000. Gauger plans to remodel her store on Northeast Broadway next.
Gauger, a slim, energetic woman with a master’s degree in dance, was in a stressful position as the economy dropped off. She had just expanded into a second store, and recently had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now both stores are doing great and her cancer is in remission. She finished the 5K Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in Portland in less than 30 minutes.
The recession brought a whole new supply of customers that she has worked hard to win over, and the powerful national trend toward living simpler and greener plays into her industry nicely. “People want better stuff, and less of it,” she says. “We see that every day.”