Warm, Shadeless, and Growth-Friendly: the Rarest Climate in Fashion
“We use this so no one can wear the same thing,” Ina said. “If they don’t check the page, they’re in trouble.”
It was a full five months before Senior Prom in Palo Alto, California, and my friend Ina was showing me a Facebook page created to prevent a fashion nightmare: the possibility of someone showing up to Prom in her exact same outfit. Ina had selected a trumpet-shaped marine green dress and was in the process of uploading a picture of it to the group page. Staking claim in this way would keep her look original and might even allow her to corner the market on the sultry mermaid vibe in formal wear, at least for one night.
A few months before this, I found myself in a seasonal educator training for a major fitness brand. A Black Friday spent away from a retail sales floor is, in my book, no Black Friday at all, and I was eager to clock in some extra holiday hours despite having two demanding jobs already. My mind wandered a bit as the training manager went through the usual discussion of discount policy, but snapped back into attention when I heard the words “don’t shop there.” We were being instructed to use our employee discount only at our own store, and not to give any business to the neighboring location of the same company, which to everyone’s knowledge was currently doing incredible volume and “totally killing it.”
The emphasis on competition in both of these instances, even to the point of purposely restricting or thwarting peers, is pretty prevalent in the world of fashion. With so much of the discussion in apparel centering on outdoing the rest, it’s no wonder that worst-dressed lists, Twitter accounts devoted to bad fashion, and trend watches predicting fashion failure have so much currency. In any given year, the forecast for fashion includes throwing a lot of shade around, and it’s well-known that achieving actual growth in this industry is rare, even at the very top. In fact, for most major design labels, surviving the first ten years in business is a known rarity, and the milestone is seen as just the beginning of real work.
Enter Nancy Kline.
An East Coast native with more than three decades of experience in the retail clothing industry, Kline’s path tells a different story from the cold and competitive narrative of most prosperous fashion tales. Nancy had worked for a successful clothing company for 32 years when she decided to venture into fashion franchising and open an Uptown Cheapskate resale store. Intimately familiar with the popular upscale brands carried at Uptown Cheapskate, Kline liked the concept of bringing those major brands to people at lower costs, allowing more consumers in her community to afford higher-end labels. Over the course of a few years, Nancy went from opening one franchise location to running four top-performing stores in Maryland, spanning both the Uptown Cheapskate concept and its children’s goods sister-store, Kid to Kid. Interestingly, Kline didn’t achieve her success through tactics of ousting competition or hampering the growth of others. Kline’s business model has instead been rooted in collaboration, mentoring and shared success. Knowing that she could push her stores’ prosperity by expanding to multiple locations, Nancy selected her daughter, Emily Schramm, and close friend, LeAnna Bush, as solid business partners. Together, the team of three toggled between roles of store manager, assistant manager, and district manager, training their staff and optimizing the processes as they became experts in resale store management. With each new store opening, they took on a greater measure of responsibility and found particular enjoyment in selecting which functions of the business they would personally head up.
“With running these stores together, we were able to decide which departments we wanted to lead,” Nancy reflects. “I had never done marketing, and I wanted to buy product and focus on the books. Emily took the lead in styling and making sure we were in tune with our customer’s needs. I don’t mind doing a lot of the things she doesn’t do, and vice versa. We work really well as a team.”
The growth fostered by allowing a partner to thrive in their unique skillset is further reflected in Kline’s impact on the neighborhoods surrounding her stores. “We are committed to giving back to the community,” Kline observes. “To see the number of employees we have brought in means a great deal to us. We now employ 60 people between our stores. All of our current store managers started as part-time fashion consultants. We help them grow in their own roles as we have in ours.”
At this season of her career, Nancy Kline finds particular enjoyment in letting others shine. In addition to regularly sharing her strategies and tips with franchisees at other Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid locations, she has relinquished some responsibility at her own stores.
“What’s happening naturally, is that I’m ready to back off,” Kline notes. “Emily and LeAnna don’t want me to back off, but they become more of the vocal and verbal ones, and take more of a lead as time goes on. That’s how it should be. I didn’t want to be the front of the house. I’ve done that. It’s about making room for someone to grow and lead in the way you want to.”
Within the cutthroat and sometimes merciless world of fashion and retail, Kline has carved out a warmer and more nurturing way of conducting business that inspires. While I might not have been able to use my employee discount at the competitor store last holiday season, I think I’ll ask Ina if she has any interest in changing the vision of her Facebook group. Prom is still a month away, and perhaps instead of keeping other mermaids out of the water, she can help them find their fashion sea legs.
About Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid
Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid are national franchises that buy and sell gently used children’s goods and adult clothing in an upscale environment. With over 160 locations throughout the U.S., each Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid store provides a convenient place where families are financially and emotionally rewarded as they recycle their best items. Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid are registered trademarks of BaseCamp Franchising located in Salt Lake City, Utah. For more information about Uptown Cheapskate and Kid to Kid, call 801-359-0071 or visit www.basecampfranchising.com.