Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Express Yourself Re-Sale Clothing Store: A training store for young high school students

By: Anne Kelly

Junonia likes to donate its past-season inventory to charities in our area.  One is Youth Express.  They train high school students in business skills, and provide them an amazing leadership experience.    The re-sale shop is called Express Yourself.  www.expressyourselfclothing.com.  It is located at 1154 Selby Avenue in Saint Paul, MN  55104. Be sure to visit when you are in town!

I spoke with two of their managers, Perquila and Stella and store intern, Hannah.  Perquila and Stella started out with the store as high school students and they are now in college.  I was so impressed with their savvy, maturity and vision for their business.  They really run the show, with backup from the organization for space, accounting and training.

Q:  What’s the best part of being on staff here?
It’s the clothes.  It is especially fun working with fashion design students from our area colleges and university.  They select clothes from the store and completely re-work them into new really unique fashions that we then sell at special trunk shows.
It’s also fun to working and learning, growing as a group and a store.  I have been here since the start.  Over the 2 ½ years I have been here, we have really improved in our people management skills.  When we started we just didn’t know!  We had ugly clothes-horrible!  We would put out whatever we could get.  None of that stuff would sell now.  Now we have the hang of it.

Q: What help did you have getting started?
Randy and Chris at Youth Express really helped us, but they also gave us a lot of latitude.  We got a grant from the Sundance foundation for youth entrepreneurship, and paint from the Valspar company.  We also got help from the local colleges who allow us to do clothing collection drives.

Q:  Who is your target customer?
She is not the girl still in HS and still in the Mall.  She is the young woman at college or in her 20’s who is on a budget and wants to reduce, reuse and recycle.  She wants a variety of things to choose from in her limited budget range.

Q:  What is your pricing strategy?
We keep prices reasonable.  We peg our prices to about 1/3 of what “Lola” at the Mall of America charges.  We buy clothing and give cash or store credit.  A typical buy would be in the range of $1-3 but sometimes to $5-6.  The highest retail price we have is around $20, unless we get a real Chanel wallet—that sold for $50!

Q:  What have you learned about managing people?
People are so different!  We work with each new intern very closely, to figure out how they work and to see what they do well.  Some people work great from a task list, others come up with their own ideas.  We want them to grow up to our level.  We have really improved as people and grown up by working here.

Q:  Hannah, what have you learned as a new intern?
I’ve learned how to work a till, all about spreadsheets, and how to take care of a customer.  Be friendly, but give them enough space.

Q:  What type of items sell best for you?
Fashion jeans always sell, but tops are probably our best category, if we have enough variety. Some shoes do well. In the winter, any riding boot flies out of here, and in the spring sparkly prom shoes are very popular.  

Q:  Where do you find most of your clothing?
We do clothing drives at the area colleges, when students need to clean out their closets.  It also spreads the word so they come and shop here.  That’s our best resource, but we also take donations, like from Junonia, and we buy used items from people.  We tell them to clean out the back of their closet and then to come shopping to fill in the front of their closet!  We also use social media to get the word out.

Q:  What’s next for the store?
We are working on a campaign to push the name Xpress Yourself.  We want all women, no matter what their size, age or whatever, to express loving themselves.  Our thought is, “If mirrors could speak what would they say? They would say ‘You Rock!’”  (The mirror in the store says “Hello Gorgeous!”)  We want women to be who they are and to dress to express that individuality.  We think the magazines for women are terrible.  They say you should look a certain way.  Why do you need to look that way?

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