Way, way back in 1995, shopping for second hand clothes in Boulder was a little different for Margaret Miner and her friends. “There was no Craigslist, there was no eBay,” she says. “There were vintage and retro (consignment stores)… but I could not find anything my friends and I were purchasing. And I thought somebody should be selling things like Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Banana Republic, things that we’re all familiar with that are not 30 years old.”W
With no formal business training, three young children at home, and only $6,500, the CU alum thought, “Oh I think I can do this,” and she did. She now owns three Rags Consignment stores and the innovative Ten20 Nail & Waxing Spa on Pearl Street, known for its friendly atmosphere and Ellen reruns on all the TVs. She takes time out from dashing between shops to share some of her well earned startup advice.
Find a niche: between a white robe and a stinky place.
“I found a niche, I guess, that I didn’t even know to call a niche back then.” Miner laughs as she drives. She’s been assembling mannequins at her newest Rags in Cherry Creek. Much like her first premium consignment store, Ten20 came about when Miner herself experienced an unfulfilled need in the marketplace.
“I was with one of my daughters at one of those corner nail shops that was a bit questionable and… stinky and stuff,” she says. “I thought ‘What is wrong with this experience?!’ Well, number one it was ‘please don’t talk about me in front of me’ and number two, ‘if someone would just turn on Oprah and hand me a Diet Coke, I’d be OK!’”
Miner realized that, with only two options, the expensive “shi shi, white robe, gotta be quiet” spa experience or the questionable, stinky corner store, there was a wide open space in between that wasn’t being filled. “That was just sort of a whim,” she says breezily, but her instincts were right on. The mid-range nail and waxing spa celebrates its 10 year anniversary this month.
Gumption and grit: do the dirty work.
“Gumption is a word from my grandmother,” Miner says. “I feel like it keeps popping up in my life. It’s the determination, the drive to see it through.” Miner advises that to start a small business, “You have to be willing to do WHAT…EV…ER needs to be done to make it work. People look at me and go, ‘Oh! Well, I can do that!’ and I’m thinking ‘yeah if you want to show up and put pails where the roof is leaking and clean the toilets.’”
Once Miner realized there were no higher end consignment stores in Boulder she set to work. “There was just one book I could find back then about how to start a consignment store, that was my little bible.” She did all of the leg work and financed it herself. “I was taking things home to launder them and sew on buttons.”
A well trained staff helps. “I get my managers fully trained,” she says. “One of the things I feel really strongly about is that you need to be in your store learning the processes and creating the processes before you hand it off to someone. You need to know what it is you want to teach them before you get them in there. I think I just lucked into that because I had to be the only employee.”
Criticism: take it and leave it.
“One of the greatest compliments I’ve gotten through the years is a woman got home with her purchases and then called us and said, ‘I think maybe these things have been used’,” Miner says. But like every business, Rags had its detractors and at first Miner took it very hard.
“In the beginning I cried for three days,” she says. “Somebody would come into my old shop and not like the color of the paint on the walls or not like the music that I was playing, or tell me that I needed to get new curtains. It would hurt my feelings and I would cry, and then somewhere along the way I thought, ‘Wait, 200 other people walked in and really loved it so maybe it’s OK to listen to those people.’ You have to learn to take criticism if there’s something to be learned but you can’t please everyone. You can try but it just doesn’t work.”
And just like, that Margaret Miner is off from one hands-on start-up to another.