More than 25 years ago, Myrna Skoller held a tag sale in her Roslyn Harbor, N.Y., home before she and her family moved to Manhattan. As she watched bargain hunters snatch up pairs of her husband's old shoes, a brilliant business idea suddenly came to her: a store that sold used, better-quality clothing.
Several years later, in 1990, Skoller finally decided to pursue the idea. When she gave up her job as a legal assistant to start collecting inventory for her consignment shop, she never would have guessed that her small, secondhand clothing shop would become a resale empire known as the "Miracle on 81st Street."
Skoller's new book, "Miracle on 81st Street: Designer Resale – A Girl's Dream" (AuthorHouse) follows Designer Resale from its humble beginnings to the six-store consignment operation that it is today, documenting all of its triumphs and challenges along the way.
The most incredible part of Skoller's story is that she started with virtually nothing — no startup money, no retail location, no real market; just three used dresses and an indomitable drive to succeed. She spent the summer of 1990 purchasing good-quality clothing from tag sales and auctions out-of-pocket and stockpiling inventory in her Upper East Side apartment. By the fall, she had leased and renovated a 350-square-foot retail space on East 81st Street, and was ready to open the first Designer Resale location.
Skoller quickly realized that consignment has an advantage over traditional retail because there is no cost of goods. Consignors bring an item to a store like Designer Resale. If it sells, the consignor receives 50 percent of the selling price; if not, they can take it back. With no risk of profit lost on unsold products, Skoller began accepting consignments and added them to her growing collection of merchandise.
As with many small businesses, the first year of Designer Resale was a slow one. The store remained "asleep" for months as consignments, but not customers, steadily poured in. With an overflow of product and no buyers, Skoller's storage space and profit margin were quickly dwindling. Before the first year was up, two adjacent spaces became available at the same time, and the building's landlord asked her if she wanted to add one of them to her existing store.
"At the time, I couldn't justify renting even one additional store; however, I opted to take both. It was a bold move, but something told me it was a good opportunity. So I took the gamble, and it paid off," Skoller told BusinessNewsDaily.
New Yorkers soon began to realize that Designer Resale was a treasure trove of excellent-quality clothing and accessories, and the business took off. As she expanded her retail space and had to spend more time away from the store for business and family matters, Skoller hired managers to handle some of the day-to-day duties.
Her book details her experiences with troublesome employees, and she admits, in retrospect, that some of her hiring decisions weren't the best. Skoller, as many new employers do, learned the hard way about trust and respect in professional relationships.
"If an employee stops showing you and your store the courtesy that's deserved, it is a telltale sign that something has gone wrong and should not be ignored," she said. "More often than not, they are doing something that is not acceptable and justifying their behavior by showing contempt," Skoller said. "I used to allow unacceptable behavior to continue far too long by not recognizing important signs early on."
Designer Resale has become so highly acclaimed that it often draws in famous faces as both customers and consignors. To have celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Elie Tahari shop in your New York City store is certainly exciting, but Skoller has had the thrill of selling items that once belonged to recognized public figures. She won't say who, though: Instead of advertising the identities of her famous consignors to profit from it, Skoller takes the honorable path and respects their privacy.
Increased consumer recognition of consignment and resale operations, along with technological advances, has made running Designer Resale easier than ever for Skoller. Although she lives in Florida, she is able to instantly view and price consignments for her New York stores via camera. She also noted in her book that search engines have made her store extremely easy to find on the Web because her fairly common store name is a popular search term. But it's not just new customers who frequent Designer Resale; Skoller attributes the success of her business to the trust she has established and maintained with her longtime, loyal clients.
So what advice does Skoller have for aspiring consignment-shop owners? If you're planning to open a retail location, gather your inventory first.
"Obtaining inventory can be done through tag sales, yard sales, auctions, estate liquidations, thrift shops and, of course, friends who are willing to help out by offering their clothing items for consignment," Skoller said.
Moreover, "If you have visions of expanding, it is best to get the largest affordable space with plenty of storage," she added.