The Tresslars’ need a bigger Closet
Success at Plato’s Closet, above, depends on buying desirable inventory and motivating a “young and easily distracted” workforce, according to the Tresslars.
Collectively, brothers Chris and Tim Tresslar own 10 Plato’s Closets and two Style Encores.
In their 15+ years in the recycled fashion biz, they’ve convinced six younger relatives and a few family friends to get into the same Winmark brands, and they offer a simple, but important piece of advice: Put a fresh face at the counter whom the young, primarily female customers can relate to.
“Your customers don’t want to come in and see you,” Tim said, laughing about the coldness of his words. “You better have a plan about hiring a manager, probably a female, somebody they can relate to.”
Now 68 (Chris) and 63 (Tim), the Tresslar brothers initially dipped their toes into the fashion world, but quickly doubled down after a few revelations about their fashionable new industry: overhead is minimal, profits generally come easily and, most surprisingly, they both love the everyday contact with young people—employees and customers.
“Wow, the thing works,” Chris said about the success of his first few stores. “It just worked for us, it produced income and cash, and we decided to try it again.”
Tim, a former banker focused on insurance and investments, was impressed with the simplicity of a business model recycling still-current, lightly used clothing. “When you lock the door at night, everything inside the store is paid for,” he said. “We don’t borrow money anymore, so all the inventory is sitting there already paid for.”
Chris opened his first Plato’s Closet in 2000, and the Tresslar family fashion empire has grown across the Midwestern and Central Plains states. He now owns four Plato’s Closets and one Style Encore, a fledgling concept aimed at adult women. Tim opened his first Plato’s Closet later in 2000, and now owns six locations and one Style Encore.
In the family
Chris Tresslar Jr.
Nick & Collette Tresslar
Their success has proven contagious, as they’ve convinced several relatives and two of their accountants to open their own stores. Chris’s son Chris Tresslar Jr. now owns three Plato’s Closets in Texas, and his other son Nick and his wife, Collette, own one in North Carolina. Nephews Jason and Eric Tresslar own stores in Illinois and Wisconsin.
“We’ve helped train employees for the nephews,” Chris said. “There’s a learning curve to Plato’s, and you can learn some of it with shortcuts, rather than the school of hard knocks.”
Tim added that recycled fashion is a challenging business, especially because their profits depend on buying desirable inventory from the public and through employing a “young and easily distracted” workforce.
Looking back to their first, pre-recession years in the business, both Tresslars fondly recall the halcyon days of Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle—relatively upscale youth brands that were wildly popular in the early 2000s.
“Plato’s had a run of four to five years when it seemed like we could do no wrong,” Chris said, noting even the Great Recession wasn’t enough to slow the good times. “Those brands eventually cooled off, their price points aren’t near what they used to be and now we have Forever 21 and H&M so it’s become harder.”
Started in the late 1990s as kiddos spent their parents’ dot-com winnings on distressed cargo shorts and butt-monogrammed shorts, Plato’s Closet had an initial “wow factor” that benefitted secondhand retailers. In recent years, youth apparel prices have generally fallen back to earth coinciding with the rise of lower priced, fast-fashion brands.
The Tresslars are less optimistic about their Style Encore locations. It’s a newer concept they both classified as a “work in progress,” and said it hasn’t been as successful as their Plato’s Closet stores.
“At Plato’s Closet stuff is happening all day long—the customers are young, they come in groups and it doesn’t take very long to get really busy,” Tim said. “Style Encore is a different customer, a more mature woman … the pie is a lot different and it still works, but we have to see how that thing goes.”
Regardless of the store, the key to selling used apparel, they said, is knowing what brands are hot, knowing how they’re priced when new and purchasing goods that are no older than 18 months, lest their own inventory falls off the fashion wagon.
With plenty of members of the target demographic within the Tresslar family—their so-called sample of five—Chris added that staying in touch with younger tastes has also impacted their ad-buying strategy. Both brothers have shifted radio advertising away from local radio stations to Pandora and other internet-based avenues for the bulk of their stores.
“The future looks bright for these kids, because they’re going to be exposed to so much stuff so fast—I wish I was 40 years younger, because I’d like to see it,” Tim said.