Justin Crump and his wife, Natalie, right, have two Uptown Cheapskates with relative Jennifer Johnson.
Winner: Uptown Cheapskate
Justin Crump declined when his brother- and sister-in-law first proposed going into the franchised clothing business together with him and his wife, Natalie. There were countless reasons to say no, including the typical family business worst-case scenarios, but fear of the unknown loomed the largest.
What if they pulled the trigger and it failed? What if it was more work than expected? With Justin working for the government and his wife a school teacher, both had relatively cushy jobs—nothing fancy, but a nice, comfortable living.
After passing on the idea, it kept coming back into the fore. After more research, they changed their tune and signed on with Uptown Cheapskate in 2013. Five years later, they have two stores in Utah with plans for a third—and everybody in the family is still on speaking terms.
“Certainly we’ve had uncomfortable conversations about business and how it would affect us potentially and personally, but we’ve also had very open communication from the get-go,” Crump said of their first time as franchisees. “We haven’t had to cross that uncomfortable bridge too often.”
They initially focused on clothing resellers, with Plato’s Closet and Uptown Cheapskate as their top choices. Ultimately, they felt Uptown Cheapskate’s parent, Basecamp Franchising, was a better fit in terms of values and personalities.
“Scott Sloan, the CEO, has become a good friend of mine and someone we exchange professional views with and go to sports events together,” Crump said. “We like Uptown, we like the look of the stores and felt we could have more pride in how the stores look—that jibed with our view.”
As franchise first-timers, the group appreciated its marketing support and a support rep providing ongoing consultation on what items to buy and what to pass on, among other issues. Crump said everything has been easier than that first year.
“I tried to do so much by myself and tried to leverage everything on my own shoulders, tried to keep hiring to a minimum, staffing to a minimum,” he said. “What I learned the hard way was that was the wrong way to approach it—doing it by myself was a terrible decision.”
Everything improved since that first year. Crump’s wife Natalie was able to quit her job to stay home with their three young children, and they found Uptown Cheapskate appeals to customers far outside of the young 20-something demographic in the brand’s marketing.
With two successful stores, and talk of a third, the Crumps are happy with life after taking the plunge. “We live in a regular house, we drive regular cars, but we live a comfortable life,” he said. “That’s not something that would have been possible if we hadn’t done this.”
Several hundred miles east, Natalie Armstrong and her husband, Lyle, found similar success with two Uptown Cheapskate locations near their home in Branson, Missouri. They opened their first store in Springfield, Missouri, in 2012, and their second in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the end of 2015.
After moving to Branson, they first opened a sandwich franchise, which ultimately wasn’t a good fit. They felt a little more seasoned in examining the clothing reseller category, and considered Plato’s Closet at the same time. Lyle did the financial research, while Natalie brushed up on staffing and researching the fashion world.
“There were a lot of positives about what was available to us as franchisees, the support we got and then just the numbers, too,” Armstrong said. “It seemed to be a little easier to make a better profit on the Uptown side.” The brand’s trendy positioning and fresh stores were the final cherry on top.
Their first location was the 19th Uptown Cheapskate, and she said the brand has matured now that it’s nearly three times as large. Armstrong said staffing and maintaining proper customer service are her two biggest challenges.
“You never realize that’s going to be your issue, but it is,” she said. “One of the biggest struggles we have is keeping our employees on point, hiring the right employees, making sure they’re doing what you need them to do when you’re not there.”
She added the reselling business attracts “a certain demographic” that has included theft, damage to inventory and occasional harassment of staff. Combating these means being especially careful to hire employees who can do more than record a sale with a smile.
Armstrong spends several days a week at her closer Springfield location, and visits the Tulsa store once a week. While the beginning of 2017 was challenging, she said both stores over-performed during the second half of the year.
Looking ahead, she is grooming a manager for the Springfield store to reduce her time on site, and is weighing whether to add another store in the area, if not two.
“The model that Uptown gives us to follow is very easy, it speaks for itself and it’s very trendy,” Armstrong said. “We’re putting a spin on everything bad that our competition does or people don’t like—that soft stuff that somebody maybe wouldn’t notice right out of the gate.”
'Zor Awards 10 Categories
Finalists: Abrakadoodle, Engineering for Kids, LearningRx, Mad Science
Finalists: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Church’s Chicken, Pollo Campero, Zaxby's
Finalists: 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Caring Transitions, College Hunks Hauling Junk, Junk King
Finalists: Kid to Kid, Clothes Mentor, Plato’s Closet, Uptown Cheapskate
Finalists: Another Broken Egg Cafe, Denny’s, Huddle House, Village Inn
Finalists: Nekter Juice Bar, Pita Pit, Saladworks, Tropical Smoothie Café
Finalists: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Golden Corral, Hilton, Ruth’s Chris
Finalists: Rock & Brews, Walk-On's, Wingstop, UFC Gym
Finalists: Cicis Pizza, Dickey's BBQ, Hardees, Taco Bell
Finalists: Bar Louie, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, The Brass Tap, Bar Louie
3 ways to choose a franchise