An interview with Heidi DeGraf, senior partner at Rhea Lana's of Chicagoland in Addison.
Q: Tell us about the business.
Rhea Lana's of West ChicagolandAddress: 1421 W. Lake St. Addison, IL 60101
Owners: Christine and Heidi DeGraf, a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law team
Year business started: Fall of 2010
Web address: www.wchicagoland.rhealana.com
A: We are a seasonal children's consignment sale company that is part of a fast growing, award winning franchise founded by Rhea Lana Riner about 17 years ago in her living room. We hold one sale each spring and one each fall.
Q: How does the consignment process work?
A: We have a computer based system, designed by Dave Riner, husband of Rhea Lana, by which consignors can sign up and enter their gently used children's clothing, furniture, equipment and toys. We rent a vacant store, and the week before the sale, we have the consignors bring their items in and check them for recalls, stains and rips in clothing. We help families throughout the suburban area by allowing them to sell, earning 70 to 80 percent of their sales, and then to take that money and purchase whatever their children need for the current season, at a savings. At the conclusion of the sale, consignors can choose to leave their items with us, and we donate to several local charities, including Easter Seals, Family Shelter Service of DuPage, CareNet Pregnancy Service and foster families.
Q: What made you start the business?
A: As a new grandma in 2007, I began shopping at a local Rhea Lana's sale in Northwest Arkansas, where I currently live. I loved it, and was able to spoil my first grandchild and help her parents to stretch their budget. Once Christine, who lives in the Chicago suburbs had her first child in 2009 I had sold her on the concept and we decided to bring Rhea Lana's to Illinois. I joke about my commute, but being up here for two weeks at a time, twice a year allows me to spend quality time with my son, Christine and their precious little ones.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running the business?
A: Finding a vacant store to rent which is large enough for our rapidly expanding business is our challenge each season. Most landlords won't even think about a two week lease. Once we get our location, it's all fun.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating the business?
A: I really enjoy helping young families, who constantly come up to us and thank us for doing what we do. Many could not afford a good car seat, stroller, or nice clothing without shopping here. We had new parents come in to shop for preemie clothing, and everything else they needed, while their baby was in the NICU, having been born before the parents could even prepare for his arrival. It's very heartwarming.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?
A: When I was young I wanted to be a teacher. Marriage sidelined my plans, but I have always been a volunteer at my church, a cosmetologist, (who is basically a psychologist who cuts hair) and then I was an office manager for a psychiatrist. Helping people has always been in my blood.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: With our business only being open for a week at a time, twice a year, it is very intense. I worry about all the details including if we get enough consignors, (we do), will we get enough shoppers (we do), will it snow (hopefully not.)
Q: What is one tip you would give a rookie business owner?
A: Be as kind and helpful as you can be, smile, and never give up! Follow the golden rule, treating others as you want to be treated. Our sale now has grown 10 times since we started 7 sales ago, by following this principal.