The timing in the midst of a recession was curious to most observers, but two Libertyville women have seen their start-up business far exceed expectations.
In early 2009, stay-at-home moms Erin Heard and Tricia Regan decided to break the routine and began researching possibilities.
Knowing firsthand how quickly kids outgrow or lose interest in clothes, musical instruments, sporting equipment and other items, they reasoned that a consignment shop might be a good choice for a modest investment.
"We just wanted a local place that would be a good venue. We knew so many people had the same needs," Heard said.
At a consignment shop, the owners sell items dropped off by clients at an agreed price and keep a portion of the proceeds -- 60 percent in this case -- for the service.
By September 2009, with high hopes but realistic expectations, the pair opened ReNew Family Consignment, a 1,350-square-foot storefront in a busy strip center at 1750 N. Milwaukee Ave.
They were as frugal as some of their future customers to start. Their front counter was salvaged from a Dumpster and freebies became available from other sources. Furniture, for example, became available from stores that were closing.
"I remember thinking in my own mind, 'How much am I willing to lose before we call it a day?'" Regan said. "We knew the odds were against us."
Surprisingly, they recouped their investment within four months and have been operating in the black since.
"It's been a little over a year now and the store is going gangbusters," Regan said. "It's bursting at the seams."
Their research showed the benchmark for getting 1,000 consignors was three years. The shop already has reached that mark and includes several who designate the proceeds from sales for local nonprofits.
Several factors played into the success: high quality of goods at reasonable prices; a good location; and a poor economy in which people are downsizing, in need of cash or looking to save.
"I think there's a trend toward consignment shopping. Three years ago, I'm not sure a consignment shop would have been as exciting to people," Regan said.
She reported a "sizable" month-over-month increase, much of that by word-of-mouth from customers who have made money or saved money.
Dany Hernandez of Mundelein is one of those customers. On a trip to a nearby dry cleaner, Hernandez noticed ReNew and has made a routine of coming back once a month to buy clothes for her growing 5-year-old daughter.
On a recent morning, she also took advantage of a 40 percent off winter sale and left with a dozen pieces, including a brand name sweatshirt. Total bill: $57.87.
"The clothes are very good," Hernandez said. "It looks brand new to me."
ReNew currently has 4,231 items in stock, including small furnishings and sports and exercise equipment. Larger items, such as formal dresses or ski equipment, are sold at periodic community consignment events.
"The best-selling items in our store are home decor, handbags and accessories. But one weekend in December we sold almost every pair of ice skates we had," Regan said.