Tales from a 20-something vintage clothing shop owner

I opened my first clothing shop, the vintage store Beaucoup Vintage, in May 2010. I was 27 and had literally zero business experience, unless you count the lemonade stand I ran when I was 5, when my only mark of success was making enough coin to get my granddad to take me to 7-11 for a Slurpee (I don’t).

Being a small business owner been the biggest and most rewarding challenge of my life. Since then, I’ve combined my vintage business with another local consignment shop. I was able to add an amazing business partner to my life and subtract half the amount of work. It was a necessary and invaluable business move and one I wouldn’t have dreamed I could accomplish when I first started out. That’s two businesses in two years but all the lessons remain the same. And there are lots of lessons: some crazily great, some miserably hard, and still more complete surprises. Here are a few of those I learned quickly.

It can be boring

Don’t get me wrong – there’s always something I could be doing. I could be getting a head start on my holiday marketing plans or organizing the office supply cupboard. Sometimes though, the clothes are steamed and on the racks, the counters are dusted, Facebook has been updated and the bags are stamped and maybe the shop is slow. So then I’m left with…time. I think there is an idea that small business owners are these frazzled, overworked, always busy stress balls (and I’m sure there are those) but I learned quickly that if I manage my time well and keep productive habits, I’m able to get a lot done in a short amount of time. Not a bad problem to have, but still. The occasional lonely afternoon took me by surprise at first.

Trends will surprise you

When I first opened, I bought anything if it was vintage: ’80s polyester elastic waist dresses, muumuus, floor length corduroy skirts and everything in-between. I quickly realized though that just because something is vintage, it doesn’t meant it’s sellable. What took me longer to figure out was the nature of trends within vintage buying and selling. When I first opened in 2010, Mad Men was still in its 1950s Betty Draper phase and you better believe I stocked up on floral, a-line, cinched waist dresses. Over the years, though, that flirty, feminine frock has fallen out of favor. Instead, high waisted cut-offs, mini dresses and Baja hoodies are hot. I may be selling clothes from another era but what sells is still dictated by today’s trends.

Having the door open again in the spring is the best feeling in the world

Everyone warns you that the winter months in retail are financially brutal. And they are: shoppers are cuddled up in bed, basking in their post-holiday glow and uninterested in taking off their 5 layers of outerwear to try on a pair of jeans at a store. What no one tells you, though, is how absolutely, mind-blowingly intoxicating it is to open the shop on that first 73 degree day and bask in the simple joy of keeping the door propped open all day. It’s both a literal and symbolic gesture of renewal. It allows for fresh air and for the promise of busier days.

A tangle of hangers is literally the most frustrating thing in the world

When I first opened the store, I knew filing taxes, re-folding sweaters and sweeping the floor would cause me some level of grief but never did I know true agony until I tried pulling a single hanger from the top of a box of many hangers. Each hook catching on the next arm until there’s a Barrel of Monkeys situation happening in my back room and I don’t even WANT to play Barrel of Monkeys because what was the point of that game, anyway?!? If I get myself into a hanger situation as described above, I have to walk away for a few minutes to clear my head before going back in. Otherwise, hangers get thrown and hangers get broken.

The feeling of pride is unparalleled

I bet watching your son or daughter walk across the stage receiving a diploma for graduating medical school makes a parent really proud. (I’m guessing, as I’ve never had a child nor have I even been to a medical school graduation.When I feel the most proud—when my heart is so happy and my head is in the clouds— is when I’m out to dinner and I see a girl walk in wearing the 70s plaid sundress she bought at the store that same day. She loved that dress so much that she went home to put it on so she could wear it on a Saturday night date with her boyfriend! To her, that’s as simple as she just bought a cute new dress and wanted to wear it. To me, though, it’s a stamp of approval and a vote of confidence. It’s validation that my life’s passion gives others even a small amount of joy.

If I allow myself a minute of reflection, things start to get super surreal inside my brain. Think about it: I go searching for old clothes and then put a price on them and hang them inside a building and people walk into that building and pay me money to take those clothes away. Is that REAL? It is real! I made it real! I mean, I obviously didn’t invent vintage retail but I invented that store. I’m grateful every day I open that door in the mornings, even if it’s not always warm enough outside to keep it that way.

Megan Parry is a shop owner and freelance writer living in Virginia. She loves Miami, french fries and Taylor Swift. She’s got an Art History degree, a cat whose affection she is constantly seeking, and a bomb bookclub. You can find more of her writing on her website

[image via Shutterstock]

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