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Economist launches a clothes-minded venture

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By Emile Hallez

 

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Economist Jim Gresham has patiently sat for the past two months, watching nervously as his new business venture operated against the basic tenets of his academic field.

Gresham’s new store, Clothes Mentor, the latest installment of a national chain of women’s resale boutiques, recently opened its doors, though the store has yet to make a profit. In fact, it’s been in the business of spending money, netting not even a penny in sales.

“We opened up April 17 … but we haven’t sold a single thing,” said Gresham, a longtime entrepreneur who has taught economics courses at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

“I’m an economist, so I think it’s wrong,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a strange business concept. (Customers) come in and say, ‘I really want to buy this.’ And we tell them, ‘No, you can’t.’ But that’s going to change on Saturday.”

And on June 12 Gresham could breathe a sigh of relief. The store began selling some of the thousands of articles it had spent almost eight weeks acquiring.

“We have people coming in and making lists,” said store manager Debbie O’Neil, a South Jeffco resident who formerly operated her own second-hand boutique. Customers have been hovering over highly coveted shoes, pants and tops, coming in occasionally to check on the items’ location, so that on opening day they were prepared to rush in and grab the coveted article.

“That’s called ‘excited to shop,’ ” she said.

Gresham did not embark on his journey through life expecting to peddle fashionable women’s clothing. After ducking out of a prior successful business venture, Gresham worked for a property-appraisal company that floundered along with the economy. Out of a job, he turned to a consultant, who gave him the unusual advice of opening a local Clothes Mentor store.

“I thought he was crazy when he said it. But then I started looking into it,” Gresham said. “(In) this business, you have a two-way relationship with your customer. You’re their customer, and they’re your customer. … It’s this mutual dependency.”

The symbiotic departure from a standard retail model intrigued him, he said. And while the South Jeffco area has nearby Plato’s Closet and Once Upon a Child resale stores, the upscale women’s niche is one he saw as unfilled.

“I just love that two-way concept. And I guess it’s a green business, too.”

So Gresham found a location near Wadsworth and Bowles, leased the space and went to work buying clothes. He quickly hired a staff of seven, most of whom offer him sound advice on clothing acquisition. In one instance, Gresham barely resisted buying a circa-1960s German vest at the levelheaded recommendation of an employee.

“It was some Tyrolean vest that you needed to wear with lederhosen,” he said. “They’re the ones who are always saying, ‘Jim, you don’t want to buy that.’ ”

And finding a fashion-deft and seasoned clothing reseller such as O’Neil was a matter of luck.

“He actually heard about me through my hairdresser,” O’Neil said of Gresham’s quest for an experienced store manager. “And he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

While the average sale price of an article of clothing is about $11, pinpointing fair rates can be a challenge.

“Pricing is tricky, because you want to price it high enough that it’s attractive to people to sell their used items. But it’s also got to be low enough to be attractive to people to come in and buy,” Gresham said. “You’re juggling all those elements, but that’s kind of exciting, actually, to make that work.”

Though the initial outlook for his new enterprise appears favorable, Gresham admits the prospect of an economist-turned-clothing-reseller is a bit out of the ordinary.

“My sister-in-law loves to kid me about it,” he said. “She says, ‘You now own more women’s clothes than anybody I know.’ ”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.

  box: Clothes Mentor 8601 W. Cross Drive Littleton 80123 720-922-3588

Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.