For those who might be a little skeptical of buying second-hand, Michele Farrell and her employees have created a slogan about the resale business: “Once you go resale, you’ll never go back to retail.”
Farrell, a West Windsor businesswoman and mom, has brought Plato’s Closet, a national resale chain to Nassau Park, located across Route 1 from Quakerbridge Mall. Open since May 15, Plato’s Closet buys and sells used clothing for teens and young adults, helping shoppers and sellers stretch their summer dollar.
Unlike other store openings, Farrell’s store opened with empty racks. For the first eight weeks, the store was open for customers to sell their clothes. The first customer Farrell had was a girl who walked in with a pair of shorts. Farrell recalls they offered her “something like $50.” Once the racks were full, there was a second grand opening for customer purchases. The store has been both buying and selling ever since.
For Farrell, Plato’s Closet strikes close to the heart. She recalls fashion being very important to her as a youth. However, she was unable to wear the popular fashions and trends like some of her peers due to financial reasons. “I was one of those kids that wore Plain Pockets from J.C. Penney when everyone else was wearing name brands,” she says.
Farrell hopes her store will help teens and young adults who may be in a similar financial situation stay current with quickly evolving trends. “It does matter. You want to dress trendy and be in style,” she says.
Farrell chose to open their store in West Windsor because of the large number of students from both public and private schools in the area that her store could attract. “The location seemed right,” she says.
Even though Winmark Corporation, the franchise operator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, provides Farrell with trend updates, she believes it helps to have individuals on-site familiar with fashion. She depends on her employees, many of them local high school students, to help her stay current with new trends.
Farrell says the taboo of buying resale has finally dissipated and that shopping second-hand has moved into the mainstream. Many of the clothes are sold with their price tags still attached. “Sometimes people come in to the store and think all of the clothes are new,” she says.
Managing her own store is not without challenges. “It is unique to be a female business owner. You learn to get bolder,” Farrell says. Some people have come into her store and immediately looked for her husband. “Because you are a woman, some people might discount you,” she says. But Farrell is not letting people’s prejudices get in her way.
Instead, she is helping teens and young adults get some business experience of their own. “We try to educate every seller who comes into our store. We help teach them to become one of our [regular] vendors,” she says. Farrell’s employees help guide sellers to make their next selling venture more profitable. Sometimes this means teaching sellers to be more selective about what they bring in.
Farrell grew up in Edison and attended Rutgers University. After living briefly in Manhattan, Farrell and her family relocated to West Windsor in 1996. She was drawn to the area by its suburban character and blue ribbon school district. Prior to opening the store, Farrell was a substitute teacher in local school districts and a stay-at-home mom. She also previously owned a small retail venture, the Happy Crab t-shirt company. In her free time, she enjoys boating with her family and volunteers as a Girl Scout troop leader.
Farrell lives with her husband, Bob, and their three kids. Their older daughter, Isabelle, will attend the University of Maryland this fall while their younger daughter, Annie, will be a high school sophomore at West Windsor South. Both girls are currently employed at Plato’s Closet. Her son, Bobby Farrell, is a rising eighth grader at Grover Middle School.
Farrell’s husband owns We Buy Gold in nearby Mercer Mall. Some of the rings that he buys back are sold at Plato’s Closet. Michele Farrell has nicknamed them “rescued rings”— if they’re not bought at her store, they’ll eventually be melted down. His store also temporarily serves as additional off-site storage for her merchandise.
Plato’s Closet has a loyalty program for the frequent shopper that Farrell hopes back-to-school shoppers will take advantage of in the coming weeks. With every purchase or sale of $10 worth of merchandise, the store stamps a customer appreciation card. Once the card is filled with stamps, the customer is eligible for 20 percent off their next store purchase.
The success of resale in the current economy is part of the reason Farrell decided to open a Plato’s Closet. In 2014, Plato’s Closet ranked number one on Forbe’s Magazine’s Best and Worst in Franchising with a predicted growth rate of 10 percent and a continuity of 98 percent. According to Farrell, “The economy is screaming for it!”
Plato’s Closet Princeton, 660 Nassau Park Boulevard. 609-285-2937. Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. www.platosclosetprinceton.com