Full Transcript of Growing Our Trade, Episode 3 with Grady Farmer

Grady: We can more consistently and efficiently manage our stores and that gives, with this platform of ResaleAI, it just gives us more time to concentrate on our customer and concentrating on buying the right product.

Host: That’s Grady Farmer. He’s the owner of four Plato’s Closets. He has quite the impressive retention rate of his key team members ranging anywhere from 5 to 10 years of being on his team, and he was just sharing about how ResaleAI has helped his loyal team grow even bigger on their solid foundation. On this episode of Growing Our Trade, you’ll hear more about his story as a store owner, along with his best advice to growing a team that loves coming into work. The Growing Our Trade podcast, presented by ResaleAI, features stories of the very store owners and managers who are shaping the future of Winmark franchisees.

You can hear more stories like this by visiting resaleai.com/podcast. Let’s begin.

Grady: Hello, my name is Grady Farmer, and I’m the owner of the Plato’s Closets in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

Host: And how many does that come out to be?

Grady: I have four stores, one in Matthews, Pineville, Winston-Salem, and one near the university, UNC Charlotte.

Host: Excellent. Which one did you open first?

Grady: Well, actually, my family got into the business 25 years ago. My mom and dad, David and Nancy Farmer, and they started with a Once Upon a Child and from there they grow the store with the Winmark franchises to four Once Upon a Childs and four Plato’s Closets. And about five years ago, they were looking to retire and I was looking to get into the business. And in order to take over the business, they wanted me to open a store from scratch, so I opened up the Pineville location.

And that involved everything from finding and working with a realtor to finding the location, negotiating it, and then actually managing the store for almost a year before moving into the operation side and taking over the rest of the Plato’s closet portion. My sister, Stephanie Farmer, actually took over the Once Upon a Child stores. And then we had a – we actually, they had our district manager, that helped handle the stores for years with them. She actually, her name is Rena and she took over the Greensboro Plato’s Closet location.

Host: So it was almost like a – you have to prove yourself before you fully get in.

Grady: Yeah, yeah, it was. It’s true. And at the beginning, it was certainly difficult. I kind of wanted to come in and just take over, and this is a difficult brand and business to just come in and take over without really knowing what you’re dealing. And they were smart enough to know that and forced me into running a store from the ground up. So I appreciate that a lot more now than I did at the time.

Host: Something that we’ve been discussing on this podcast, it’s highlighting the stories of owners, managers, and it in real time illustrates what it’s really like. And for other people who are like – I mean, you get it. You know it’s not just something you just fly into and it just works. When you think back to your early time absorbing the other three stores, and you have four stores total, what were some of your pain points? Anything surprise you from that experience?

Grady: I think one of the most difficult aspects of our business as an owner is our staff. It’s not one of those businesses where you can really just pick up anyone and plug them in. And in terms of management specifically, you can’t just pick them up and plug them in and have them manage the store and understand the concept. It really does take a lot, and for the most part, I think most of the managers across the system probably get promoted from within the brand, within the store, and move up probably from an associate position straight on up, which is great for – it’s really great for the employee but it does make it difficult at times if you don’t have someone that you feel like can move into that position. It makes it a little bit more difficult to find management.

But we get through it and we personally have been pretty fortunate. Our managers have been with us. We’ve got one manager that’s new, that’s been with us now for six months, that we’re really excited about. But all of our other managers have been with us anywhere between five to eight years. And our district manager has been with us for 11 years now, so we’re excited to have staff that the management has stuck with us and really helps make our business what it is.

Host: Another topic we’ve been sharing on this podcast is when we get owners like yourself and people who are in the trenches daily with this business, an advantage we get is hearing what works, what doesn’t, an honest look into running one of the Winmark franchisee locations. So when you say you’ve had team members five to eight years, what do you think has been your secret ingredient that you would want to share with other Plato’s Closets owners, for instance? What works really well?

Grady: That’s a really good question in terms of retention. We just try to treat them like family. We are a family-owned business and we try to do everything we can to run our business in that way. Even though we are corporately owned by Winmark, we are individual franchise owners that really believe in the value of family. And I always let my staff know no matter what’s going on, there’s nothing more important than your family. And we work around people’s schedule, make sure that they understand that that’s what our priorities are.

Host: I love that. We have, in the previous episode, we were talking with Hayley and she is local to where I’m calling you from today. And that word family, certainly something that she was talking about, not only from when she first started when she was in college. I think she was – or maybe in high school, even. Maybe she was 16 and over the years, almost a decade later now, she’s a manager and has a couple locations she’s been managing. And so she definitely referred to that word family frequently in our conversations.

So I’m curious, when you think about your team as family, how does your team – what’s their engagement like with the customers? Because the reason I ask that is because she was talking about how her experience, it was almost as if the relationship that they build with their customers. It’s almost as if they join this Plato’s Closet family as well. They know their names. They’re coming in. They know if they have something that might be in their style. Does that make sense?

Grady: Absolutely. I mean, we’re in the retail business and it’s really – right now, it’s a difficult spot to be in because of e-commerce and because of all the other challenges. Our number one priority is our customers. And it’s how we treat our customers and part of that is treating them, and becoming friends with them, and knowing them, and having them come back and really enjoying their experience. And I stress that to the managers daily how important our customers are and customer service.

And to me, the two most important things are our customer and our product. Everything else we can sort out and figure out. But without our customers, we wouldn’t have a business and without good product, our customers wouldn’t come to shop. And that all is tied together with the customer service that we provide. And that’s, to me, all the main ingredients of what makes your stores successful, or not.

Host: Product. Or not, yes, right, yeah. And did you have previous retail experience before jumping into this?

Grady: I didn’t. I had some marketing and advertising experience. I was in radio sales for about 18 years, worked in the Charlotte, North Carolina market selling radio commercials and then moved to New York City where I lived for 5 years and worked with Howard Stern, which was quite interesting.

Host: I bet, wow.

Grady: I did that for about five years and then moved out to California and lived in LA and worked in that market for five years before moving back to Charlotte. And it’s been a blessing to be back and working in the family business and being close to the family. It’s exciting to see what they’ve done with this business for the past 18 years and 20 years, and it’s been fun to get involved with it and be close to the family again.

Host: I like that. We were talking with Jackson, as well, on a previous episode and he was sharing his story and how he got started similar to you in the sense – didn’t necessarily have retail experience. He jumped right in, learned a lot of lessons quick and then they adapted and doing great now. And so when you’re talking about your product being one of your most important ingredients, your team, your customer service, let’s talk more about the product side. How have you been able to, with all four stores – how have you been able to grow your businesses specifically with product, and managing that product, and delivering that product, all of that?

Grady: Well, I mean, product is a key component of what we do. I mean, it’s what we sell. So making sure that we have the correct product in store and are buying the right product, it’s so important. And to do that, there’s different reports that we run in order to look at say, aging, how items are selling. So if items aren’t selling, we look at these reports to see. Okay, there’s a certain subcategory, say, denim, that doesn’t seem to be selling. Then we’ll dig into that a little bit deeper and see if it’s a pricing issue or a style issue.

What ResaleAI has done is really help us in terms of organizing our back stock system. I don’t need to really keep any complicated spreadsheet. Everything is digital. Basically, how it works is – our product is all sorted and packed. We assign it a back stock number, and that number correlates with what’s in the bin by subcategory and date it was packed.

In the old days, before ResaleAI, what we had to do is, we would sort it, sort the items by subcategory, pack them. We’d put a date on the actual bin and then we’d go put it in that section that shows the subcategory. So in other words, if we’re packing dresses and we’re dating it to make sure that the first that go into back stock are also the first that come out, they’re sorted just basically old school with spreadsheets that we’ve written down.

And then now we’re relying on our actual staff, could be associates or whoever, that when it’s time to unpack that subcategory, that they’re actually unpacking the first one that went in. And I tend to think that sometimes the associates, not all of them, but sometimes they may pull the easiest bin and not necessarily the oldest, or not really the oldest but the one that was packed first. And what that means is, if we’re pulling that and all of a sudden putting that on the floor, the items that were packed previously, that’s just going to show that in our system when we’re analyzing what’s selling and what’s not, it’s going to show that it’s aging. And in reality, maybe it just hasn’t had a chance to see the floor because we haven’t been pulling those bins out in order of first in, first out.

So what Resale does is it’s a number system and a dating system where we pack the bins by subcategory. We assign it a number and then it goes into back stock by number and not by the actual subcategory section. So when we need to pull dresses, for instance, all we do is pull up ResaleAI. We look at dresses by date packed and it gives us a number. And then we go to the section of that number and pull that specific bin and unpack it. So at that point, we know that we’re on track. And at least in terms of what’s going in the back room that’s first, it’s actually coming out first, and helping with our aging and just managing our product as a whole.

Host: I love that and I enjoyed hearing a little about the before and the after. Like the before you had – even though you’re a numbers person, you have that marketing, advertising background, it can be messy. And you get so much inventory and products moving around, so I enjoyed hearing that. That was great. Thank you.

Grady: Yeah. Also, there’s some accountability in there as well. We know who’s pulling it, pulling the items. The bins we have to check up, check off on it, through the Resale that they were the ones that pulled it. I’m able to, from anywhere, literally. All I need is a computer and Internet service. I can pull up Resale and I can look at what bins have been unpacked, what needs to be unpacked, who’s unpacked it, and make sure that we are on track and steadily unpacking what we need to to get product out on the floor.

Host: At the beginning of this conversation, you were talking a bit about just how important your staff is, and especially those staff members, those team members, that have been with you for several years. And you just mentioned also that we’re all humans and some associates, they might be – I mean, there’s just naturally tasks, as humans, that we just enjoy doing more and we’re better at it. But I’ve heard ResaleAI be affectionately referred to as RAI. And RAI is like a team member that can help and do the things that are super mundane or can be very meticulous and can be easy to make errors. So have you experienced the time that’s been freed up from some of the super redundant tasks that have enabled your associates and your team members to do other things in your stores?

Grady: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. That’s exactly what it does. It frees up time for us to concentrate on our even more important things which is customer service and being out on the floor. We’re not back in the back room digging for a bin because we need a dresses bin. We know specifically what’s back there from looking at ResaleAI and we just walk back and grab that number. It’s really that easy.

Host: Great. I think that answers all my questions. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today. I’ve really loved hearing about some of the keys to your success with creating that impressive five, seven, eight, nine-year retention from your team members and your associates. I’ve loved hearing how ResaleAI, how RAI has been a team member for you and help your associates do what they do best and overall, just create a better experience and to help you love being a store owner. So thank you so much for taking the time. We really appreciate it.

Grady: You’re welcome. Thanks, Clark. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.

Host: Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Growing Our Trade podcast, presented by ResaleAI. For more stories like this and to learn how other Winmark franchisees have loved being a store owner again, visit resaleai.com. Thanks.