Chantelle: So I think it’s important that we continue to grow with our changing times and continue to respond to what people are looking for, but to never lose that personal touch, to never lose that face-to-face contact and just the ability to make someone smile.
Host: That’s Chantelle Harder. She’s the owner of three stores within the Winmark Franchise family. She’s our first out-of-country guest here on the podcast and she’s sharing her story with us all the way from Canada. In this episode of the Growing Our Trade podcast, you’re going to hear her best advice for other franchisee owners. She shared a couple tips on how her team has grown their efficiencies and finally she also talks about how she’s used modern tools, including ResaleAI, to love being a store owner again.
The Growing Our Trade podcast, presented by ResaleAI, features stories of the very store owners and managers who are shaping the future of the Winmark franchisees. You can hear more stories like this by visiting resaleai.com/podcast. Let’s begin.
Chantelle: Hello. My name is Chantelle Harder. I own a Plato’s Closet and a Once Upon A Child in Winnipeg, Manitoba. And I am a part owner of a Plato’s Closet in Calgary, Alberta.
Host: Chantelle, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk a bit about your journey and your experience of being a franchisee. So before we jump into some of your best advice and some of your lessons learned along the way that you’ll be sharing for other owners and operators and managers all around North America. Could we start off by just hearing a quick snapshot of how you got your start? What was your first Winmark franchisee concept? What was your first store? When was that? And then walk me through where you’re at today.
Chantelle: Well, my first store, I opened a Once Upon A Child in 2011, that was my first crack at the bat with the Winmark brand. And then in 2015, I grand opened my Plato’s Closet. And the Plato’s Closet in Calgary that I am in a partnership with, we grand opened that one last week.
Chantelle: Thank you.
Host: So that’s your second Plato’s Closet. Now, your first one, you said the grand opening was 2015, so that was two years ago. What has been the biggest difference for you? Now, that you’ve gone through that whole launch process, what have you done differently this time around?
Chantelle: Well, what have I done differently in terms of the Once Upon A Child and the Plato’s Closet?
Host: Well, that’s a good point. Right. Because there’s a lot of comparisons. There’s a lot of commonalities, I’m sure, from the 2011 Once Upon A Child, and the 2014.
Chantelle: When I opened my Once Upon A Child, I was the first store in my market to open. The first of any Winmark brand. Actually, that’s not true. There was a Play It Again Sports in the city. But what I found in 2011 is it took me a long time and a lot of effort to get that brand recognition, to get customers to understand that we weren’t a traditional consignment shop, that we paid cash on the spot. And just how fantastic our selection and our prices were.
So when I opened my Plato’s Closet in 2015, it was like night and day because I already had a customer base that I could tap into, that understood the brand, that understood that Plato’s Closet was kind of the next succession, so to speak, for their family once they outgrew Once Upon A Child, and they really understood it. So it was much, much easier when I opened the Plato’s Closet in Winnipeg, than when I opened the Once Upon A Child. Just because I had spent several years building the brand and really getting Winnipeg to understand who we are and what we do.
Host: And now, with this next grand opening, at the moment we’re recording this, that is in the works. So now you can take the best from both experiences that you’ve had already opening a brand. What are you most excited to do for your third location?
Chantelle: With Calgary it’s been fabulous, because I’ve got such a great business partner, and just because Calgary has had Once Upon a Child for many, many years. I want to say close to 20 years, probably more. So Calgary has been asking for a Plato’s Closet for a long time now. So the response we got from the people in Calgary was phenomenal. They were so excited and just couldn’t wait for us to open our doors for them to start buying from us, and of course, selling to us. So just being able to go in that with my eyes wide open, understanding how the brand works and understanding how important brand recognition is, I knew that Calgary would be a very exciting market to tap into.
Host: That’s got to feel great, that the brand you’re bringing– it’s already in demand. For an owner or a franchisee somewhere in the States or in Canada, now what if they’re starting a brand and they don’t yet have that recognition? What would be a piece of your advice to help them get some traction, get some understanding, and build that loyal customer base that you’ve done already?
Chantelle: The best advice I could give for someone coming into a new market is just to get into your community. Get into the local events going on to explain to people who we are and what we do. Go to high schools if it’s a Plato’s Closet and talk to the students who are going to be your customers, and help them understand the brand and exactly what it is that we offer. But really getting yourself out there and getting your staff out in the community is key.
Host: Excellent. We’ve actually interviewed a guest on this podcast growing her trade. I think it was maybe two episodes ago, one or two episodes ago. And Haley was sharing – her name is Haley – and she actually started out as a high school student. And she worked her way up, and now she’s managing three different locations. And she had a lot of interesting insight to share. So I like that example you just made.
Chantelle: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Host: Yeah, she talked about the community aspect as well. And that’s what you just shared, about showing up and building those relationships. Okay. One thing I was really interested to ask you about – so when you started back in 2011, you were seeing some big changes probably with how marketing was shifting from your traditional platforms like radio, or TV, or billboard, or print. And now, we live in a world that is digital. How has that change rolled out with what you’ve done as an owner? And maybe we can make some connections to how you’ve utilized the different tools, including ResaleAI and other tools too, to make sure you’re ready and prepared to grow as your needs of your customers grow.
Chantelle: Well, I mean obviously the shift to digital has been huge over the past several years. And as owners and franchisees, obviously we’ve responded to that and we’ve heard our customer base, with both brands in my case, telling us that this is how they want to find us, this is how they want to communicate with us. Tools like ResaleAI are so important for helping us keep up with the digital age because we’re just always connected to our stores, and we can connect to our customers so much easier. But of course the shift, whereby we used to spend more time focusing on a plan, an advertising plan more so on paper, now we’re on our computers, we’re checking our Google Search ad placements, and we’re on Instagram posting, and we’re boosting on Facebook. It’s just so different, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.
Host: Excellent. What else has changed? When you think back to the processes and the workflows and the routines that your team has had over the years, what have been some of the changes you’ve seen from maybe pen and paper to that digital approach?
Chantelle: What we do in our job is that, no matter how you look at it, we’re a labor intensive business, and unfortunately, the digital age hasn’t made it – we still have to sort and enter every item that comes through our store. So in that aspect, we’re still kind of old school. That we’re not having people ship us their items and paying them in bulk. They’re still having to come into our store face-to-face. We’re still looking through each one of their items and entering them through our computer. So in that way, I think it’s great because we haven’t lost that personal touch with our customers that a lot of businesses that are only online – they never see their customer. They never talk to them face to face.
Now, we certainly do reach out to our customers and communicate with them in many different ways, but I think it’s really cool that we’re still kind of a business where we have that interaction with them daily, we get to speak with them, we get to hear their frustrations, hear what they’re excited about, not only digitally because, of course, they find ways to communicate with us online, but that we also have that contact with them that’s still so important and real.
Host: Can we zoom in a little bit more on kind of the day-to-day, for instance, maybe a Plato’s Closet then you really zoom in. You’re thinking about what the differences have been, even there. There’s always going to be that manual component now that you can digitize a majority of this. What’s that look like for the wait times, the real-time sales, kind of, if you look closely at this, what stands out to you as an owner?
Chantelle: I would say that just something that’s been so helpful is all the different tools that we’ve been given including ResaleAI to make our businesses more efficient, to make our staff more efficient, more productive, and ResaleAI for sure is a huge part of that because there’s so many aspects of it, and of course, I could probably spend the next several hours talking about all the different aspects of just ResaleAI alone that have helped to make us more efficient and a little bit more current with our customers. I mean, the lists go on and on.
In Canada we struggle with a really high minimum wage. So for us – I’m sure you’ve heard – the Canadian stores are all doing very well in terms of contributing to the brand. Where some of the US stores haven’t seen a ton of growth, Canada is seeing lots of growth and really amazing numbers. But I think a big part of that is the fact that our minimum wage is so high, and the cost of doing business here in Canada is so high.
So we have had to find ways to become more efficient in this day and age, in a business that is labor-intensive, by using tools like ResaleAI to help us to really bridge that gap, so that we can operate maybe with a little bit less staff and keep our labor numbers in check. But we’ve really been forced into this, just because our costs are just so high in Canada. So something that I know I’m really proud of – and I love that we have things like ResaleAI to help us be all that we can be to help us really keep our efficiencies in check because that’s really what it’s all about.
Host: For you, you have three locations now, three brands, three locations, and you have a lot of growing, things that you have to take care of, and you’re in high demand. So how do you, more or less, be three places at once? How are you able to multiple your own bandwidth, your own time and resources? How do you multiply that so you can really focus on the efficiency that you just talked about?
Chantelle: Well, like I said before, tools like ResaleAI have made such a vast difference in our business, because before where it have to always be in my stores, checking numbers, now they come directly to my phone. I see task list and who’s completed them. I can add things to the list. If I know that there’s a sale coming out, we need to start getting things ready for clearance. I can add that to a list seamlessly, no matter where I am, whether I’m in Calgary, or in Winnipeg, or in a conference. The backstock program, being able to have your backstock at your fingertips, I no longer need to drive over to my storage unit to see how many things I have. I can look on my phone and it tells me that I’ve got 45 bins of sweaters that I need to get out on the floor by June 30th, or whatever the drop dead date is.
So things like that have made it so much easier for owners to have more than one store, and to still feel like we’re part of the day-to-day operations. Because I’m sure you’ve heard that the best stores are ones where owners are active and part of the day-to-day operations. And tools like this have made it possible that we can be, so to speak, in more than one place at the same time. And you know what works well at one store often works really well at your other store.
So you can take the tips and the tricks you’ve learned and the efficiencies that you’ve picked up on, and they translate beautifully to the other brands in the system for the most part. So I know for me, these tools, having things like Winmark Remote, where I can look at sales comparisons data, and my inventory, and where we’re sitting at in terms of subcategories, and being able to do that remotely is huge for the success of my business and just to be able to grow.
Host: I like how you said that owners who are involved, those stores just simply do better. One of the final things I would love to ask you about, it kind of returns back to that conversation we were having about marketing and how marketing has changed and how building relationships with your customers have changed because their needs and their accessibility, and their want and need to connect directly to your brand have grown so much. One of the features I like to hear how it’s being used, and I think I’ve heard some interesting cases or some interesting stories about you on this, but the texting part, the being in the know for your customers from their perspective, how has that been a tool you’ve used and has that at all surprised you, the result surprised you at all from how you’ve been able to implement that?
Chantelle: Being able to text our customers is one example of being in this day and age, I think for our customers, it surprised them because I think they expect that maybe we’re more of a traditional company, and when they see that we can do things like text them and say, “Hey, thanks for coming in today. We did have to pass on all of your items, do you want us to donate them for you?” I think that adds another level of customer service that I know has surprised some of our customers in a good way, so I think it’s important that we continue to grow with our changing times and continue to respond to what people are looking for, but to never lose that personal touch, to never lose that face to face contact and just the ability to make someone smile.
Host: I love that. I think that is such a great place to wrap up this conversation. I really am thankful for your time today. I appreciate it. Any final thoughts or final bits of advice you’d like to share to other Winmark franchisees on how to just continue to have that authentic connection with customers? And if you had to leave one bit of advice, what would that be?
Chantelle: I would say the best advice I could give would be to trust your people, to trust the people that you have in your store to do the things that you need them to do, and to never hesitate to reach out to other owners and ask for their advice or ask for their help or ask what’s working for them. Because I think our greatest resource is each other. And I love that Jackson created ResaleAI, and that he owns a store because nobody understands our business better than we do.
So, I mean I love having Jackson as a resource. Someone that I can reach out to to say, “Hey, have you tried this on the program?” Or “What are you guys doing about this? Do you have any ideas to how to make this more efficient?”
So I would say trust your team and reach out to other owners for help for when you have questions, when you have concerns, when you’re just having something happen in your store that’s so exciting that you want to share. Tell someone. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it because we’re here for each other. We want everyone to succeed because when we all do well, the brand does well.
Host: I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you for not only talking about your story but also sharing the advice that you’ve learned along the way with other store owners. You’re walking the talk. And I appreciate your time. And I hope we can do a follow-up sometime in the future, so.
Chantelle: Sounds good. Thank you so much.
Host: Thank you.
Thanks for joining us today on the Growing Our Trade Podcast, presented by ResaleAI. For more stories like this and to learn other Winmark franchisees have fallen back in love with being a store owner, visit resaleai.com. Thanks.