April 2007

WHEN A USED HANDBAG IS SELLING FOR $998 and flies off the shelf in less than 24 hours, something’s up. And when things like that happen every day in 11 stores around New England, “something” is one of the most successful consignment stores in the area: Second lime Around.

The $998 bag in question is a Chloe Paddington bag that typically retails for $2,000. And while it’s “used,” it may as well be brand new: a consignor got it as a gift and didn’t want it. Besides, more important than the discount and the origin of the bag, says Second Time Around owner Jeffrey Casler, is the fact that the bag is hard to find. It’s the kind of gem you turn up if you’re a consignment store regular, particularly at Second Time Around.

Dotty Casler opened Second Time Around in Newton Highlands 35 years ago. The single-store operation continued for 20 years, until Jeff, Dotty’s son, took the reins. Since then, he has expanded the business from one store to 11 across New England.

Upscale consignment stores like Second Time Around focus on buying used designer goods from sellers (called consignors) and selling them in their stores for a significant discount off retail— at Second Time Around the discount is typically 50 to 75 percent. The consignor receives a portion of the proceeds from the sale.

Consignors are often regulars, relying on Second Time Around for a seasonal closet-cleaning. “I know they’ll give [what doesn’t sell] to charity, and that kind of makes me feel good,” says Bonnie Berger, a Boston political activist and regular at the Newbury Street location.

It’s thrift-store shopping for the upper-class, and not something that was always widely accepted. In fact, when Dotty began her business 35 years ago because she had some items of her own to sell, she didn’t receive the warm greeting that new Second Time Around stores receive from shoppers today. ‘Her high-class friends didn’t want to come in,” says Jeff, who helped out at the store when he was younger. The trend eventually caught on, however, and the Newton Highlands Store still thrives, with Dotty still running it.

Berger likes to tell of a friend who had a brand new cashmere coat that got stolen from a bar. She walked into Second Time Around the next day and there was a similar coat—selling for just $100. She shops the store for everything from finds like that to unique designer pieces that popup and are just fun to take a look at.

Don’t get the wrong idea. While the items are used, run-of-the-mill discount shoppers who frequent T.J. Maxx or Marshalls won’t find the bargain basement prices they’re used to at Second Time Around. Designer clothes often run thousands of dollars, and 50 percent of thousands of dollars is, well, still thousands of dollars. “Our clientele mixes fashion with value,” says Jeff. He concedes that not every shopper will know who Chloe Paddington is, but says it doesn’t matter— the goods are of high quality and are being sold at huge discounts. Second Time Around trades on their quality and they keep a very close eye on it. “The rules are strict,” says Jeff. Items have to be less than two years old and in perfect condition. They’re only in the store for 90 days before the consignor gets a call to pick them up, so they must be in-season. That’s right: Second Time Around has lined up enough consignors who are willing to get rid of practically new, mint-condition clothes at a fraction of the price they paid to fill up 11 stores.

One reason for Second Time Around’s popularity with consignors is their technologically advanced consignment system. Jeff, an accounting major in college, implemented the computerized system during the lnternet boom.” As other consignment companies shuttered because of the ease and popularity of online transactions, Second Time Around continued to expand. “I went the opposite of the way everyone was going,” says Jeff. “I wasn’t worried about selling my stuff online or on eBay. Instead, I took care of the consignor, which provides us with great product from a steady source.”

The software allows consignors to check the status of their items online and to monitor the balance in their consignment account. (They are not paid until the item sells.) A version for customers allows them to earn referral points to an online account and to create a wish list on the website. Tying the customers and consignors into an account online makes them loyal to Second Time Around.

Berger never cashes her checks, preferring to keep her account open. “I always seem to have enough in the bank’ that if I see something great I can get it,” she says. “It never feels like I’m spending any money.”

But it’s not just the technology that brings customers through the door. Jeff compares Second Time Around’s merchandise turnover to the old T.J. Maxx slogan: A new store every time you shop! “Our inventory changes every hour,” says Jeff, noting that consignment appointments take place all day long. Regular customers come in every day or once a week to shop—otherwise goodies like the Chloe Paddington bag will be snatched out from under them.

Second Time Around has also helped mainstream consignment; one of the best examples is perhaps the March 200? opening of their 3,500 square foot store in the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill, which is the first to accept high-end children’s clothing. On the same day they opened two more locations in Providence and Portland, Maine, bringing the grand total to 11 stores in three states.

“The Atrium opening is a reflection upon society in my eyes,” says Jeff. ‘Twenty or 30 years ago, people didn’t want to go into my mother’s store and today we’re opening in one of the highest class malls in the state.”

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