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Fashionable Gear on a Thrifty Budget
 

Chelsea Sloan, co-founder of Uptown Cheapskate, is making thrift shopping an upmarket experience.

Uptown Cheapskate founders Chelsea and Scott Sloan

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When Chelsea Sloan was young, her parents opened Kid to Kid, a chain of shops that resold gently used, outgrown children's clothing to thrifty parents. Now grown, Chelsea, along with her brother Scott, have started their own brand: Uptown Cheapskate, a franchise that sells overstock and used items intended to appeal to teenagers and twenty-somethings.

The chain is experiencing its own growth spurt: since opening the first Uptown Cheapskate store in 2009, the pair have added 24 more locations. Thirteen more stores are currently planned, and Chelsea says she expects the company to double the number of stores this year. Uptown Cheapskate franchisees earned an average of $119,000 last year, she adds.

The Sloans aim to make Uptown Cheapskate an upscale option in what they believe is a $2.8 billion industry: apparel resale. "Often in resale stores you have to look through a lot of bad stuff to find a few good things," says Chelsea. "We wanted to take the guesswork out of it." Local buyers hand pick items brought in by customers, and the franchises spend more on fixtures and in-store marketing materials than similar competitors, so that stores look more like high-end retailers than thrift shops. "We're trying to attract a people who don't normally shop resale."

The company is also tapping into a burgeoning trend in franchising--simple store concepts with low start-up costs. Today franchisees have a hard time finding money to staff and build more elaborate stores like restaurants, says Keith Hudson, president of Houston-based Charter Franchise Group, which advises new franchisees. "[With this model] you don't have to spend a lot--all you need is a couple ladies to split the hours in the store, and a little bit of good taste."

When it comes to style, the Sloans trust data over gut feelings. Chelsea developed software that allows franchisees to input data about a garment, such as its brand, cut, and styling, and uses that information to suggest optimal prices. To keep pace with trends, she travels twice a year to apparel buying shows, and then updates her franchisee buyers accordingly. "Fashion gives you enough advance warning that by the time the style gets there, we as buyers can already be buying those things," she says. They supplement their used inventory with new versions of the hottest-selling items, which they often buy from others' overstock and sell at a discount. As resellers, "we're the bottom feeders, but we don't have to look or feel like we're bottom feeders," Chelsea says.

The siblings manage many aspects of the store together. Scott, however, tends to focus on signing up franchisees and designing new stores; Chelsea manages day-to-day operations once the stores are up and running. If they get into trouble, their family is nearby to help out: Uptown Cheapskate shares offices with the Kid to Kid headquarters in Salt Lake City, and leases IT, marketing, and sales employees from their family's company too. Mom's office is literally next door. 

Fashionable Gear on a Thrifty Budget

Chelsea Sloan, co-founder of Uptown Cheapskate, is making thrift shopping an upmarket experience.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: May 28, 2013

BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. Magazine.
@burthelm




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