By Daniel Nash
A low-overhead retail business in a shopping district dominated by many small family-owned shops, that manages to foster a friendly network of repeat business may be considered a holy grail for small business owners.
That is precisely the balance that the owners of BB’s Closet in historic downtown Sumner have accomplished and plan to maintain. The store is a consignment shop specializing in women’s fashions with a focus on dresses. It is found at 1005 Main St.
Owners Keri Davis and Scena Whittle are Washington state natives who have known each other for 35 years. When they first became friends in second grade, their rooms at home faced each other, allowing them to communicate even when they were both forced indoors.
“I still call her ‘Bean’ after all 35 years,” Davis said.
Davis previously owned a gift shop for two and a half years in Issaquah’s Gilman Village shopping center. Whittle was an employee at the shop.
Since opening in September, running the consignment shop has been preferable because of the low overhead cost, Davis said. Under the consignment shop model, the business sells gently-used clothing brought in by hopeful sellers. BB’s does not pay for the clothes until they are sold to a customer. After a sale, the shop cuts a check to the original owner for a portion of the profit.
“Running the gift shop, it’s not like we could buy two Thomas Kinkades (paintings) and only pay for them if they sold,” Davis said. “We had to pay for those whether they sold or not. With this business, as long as we have customers coming in and making rent, we’re always making money.”
The owners have exacting standards for what clothes they accept. Items must appear close to new, cannot be frayed and must adhere to the shop’s fashion sense.
The interior of the shop has the same upkeep one would expect from a retail store specializing in new goods, and the style is meant to resemble a French boutique.
The maintenance of the shop has been relatively stress-free and no outstanding difficulties came up in the opening, Davis said. The owners agree it is hard not to spend all their time in the shop because of the fun they have while there.
“I actually have another job, and when I’m working there I find it hard not to be here,” Whittle said.
A key aspect of their management method is fostering a close relationship with customers and sellers, a key part of which is honesty. If a particular outfit does not look good on a customer they will tell them, sacrificing the immediate sale rather than losing repeat business after the customer becomes dissatisfied within a week.
Rosemarie Clemente, a regular customer, recently called the shop just to wish her friends a good day of sales.
“You come here and you find such genuine friendship and warmth and general support of people in the community,” Clemente said. “I know when I come here my money’s staying in the community by going to a local business and to women who are selling locally. And I know when it grows they will be employing people in the community and creating jobs.”
Davis and Whittle plan to stay put and within their original vision for now, but they have been toying with the idea of expanding to men’s and juniors’ fashions, which could require a larger space.
BB’s Closet can be reached at 253-863-9580.