First time at upscale mall for toney 2nd-hand shop

Boston Herald's Business Today
By Donna Goodison
April 2, 2007

Second Time Around owner Jeff Casler is taking a risk that his contemporary designer consignment shop will find success amid the likes of Tiffany & Co., J. Crew, Anthropologie and other high-end retailers.

Profitability at his first mall-based store, which debuted at the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill last month, could present an entirely new avenue of expansion for his growing Boston-based company.

Is Casler worried that the toney mall’s upscale customers will turn up their noses at the store? No, that reaction has been the exception, not the norm, in Casler’s 17 years in the business, he said.

The store’s opening, which coincided with launches in Providence and Portland, Maine, brings the chain to 11 locations, with expected revenue of more than $5 million this year.

“I couldn’t have done it years ago, but now everybody knows our name,” Casler said of securing the mall space. “When I approached them . . . it was more of just a normal business conversation as opposed to the roadblocks I would have had 10 years ago.”

Second Time Around carries used women’s high-end clothing, shoes and accessories on consignment, and end-of-season excess inventories from high-end retailers. Items are priced a quarter to a third below original retail prices.

“The excess inventory part is similar to a very targeted T.J. Maxx or Filene’s Basement model, but we’re just laser-focused on the best designers that people want today,” Casler said. “We only buy inventories from stores that are popular and carry the right designers. We’re very conscious of the labels that we take in.”

For the consignment merchandise, Second Time Around accepts no pieces more than two years old. They also must be in season, in perfect condition and bear a designer or boutique label. The chain has more than 25,000 customers who consign their clothes and split the proceeds 50-50.

“It’s everything from Nanette Lepore to Chanel,” Casler said. “We can be very picky.”

The merchandise mix depends on the location. Eighty percent of the selection at the Wellesley store is on consignment. By contrast, 90 percent of merchandise at the 3,500-square-foot Atrium Mall store - which also carries maternity and children’s items - is from other retailers, although that will change with time.

“Because it was our first time going into a mall, I wanted to have terrific inventory and put our best foot forward,” Casler said.

Finds there on Friday included black Ferragamo mules for $128 and Juicy Couture tracksuit tops and bottoms for $52 each. Some items still have price tags from the stores that first carried them: a Tory Burch cotton tunic with sequin beading that previously retailed for $458 has a Second Time Around price of $148, and a short Lilly Pulitzer skirt originally priced at $125 is $62.

“There’s a percentage of people who won’t step into our store, and that’s fine, but they might have the potential to give us inventory to consign with us,” Casler said. “With a lot of people who shop at Tiffany and Pottery Barn, you would be surprised to see how excited they are to get value.”

Casler, 43, got into the consignment business by following in the footsteps of his mother, who opened the first Second Time Around in Newton in 1972. After going to school for accounting and working in that field for two years, he switched gears and opened his own Second Time Around in 1990 on Newbury Street, where he now has a pair of stores.

With low overhead, Second Time Around stores reach profitability very quickly compared to traditional retailers, he said.

The company’s growth has been helped by the popularity of eBay, where millions of consumers regularly buy and sell new and used merchandise, and a wide customer base that ranges from the 60-year-old in search of a St. John suit to the high school student looking for the hottest jeans.

“It’s getting younger and younger,” Casler said. “We have 13- and 14-year-old girls that come in our stores and know the brands and say, ‘I’ve got to get that.’ A lot of that might have to do with MTV, and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton wearing this and that. That’s contributed to their knowledge and their desire for this stuff.”

Casler’s future growth plans for Second Time Around hinge in part on the success of the mall store.

“At this juncture, I am continuing to be growth-oriented,” he said. “But I am also looking at all of my options, such as taking on a retail partner to help fuel the growth quicker and more professionally.”

Watch STA Video

Follow Me On Twitter