Shane was one of the very first stores to already be using ResaleAI on the day of their grand opening. For many of us, opening the first store was a long time ago, but an experience you never forget. It is very cool of Shane to share his story with us while it is still fresh.
Prospective franchisees will definitely want to listen to this one.
Also, be sure to check out the Plato’s Closet Westminster facebook page for a bunch of great pictures from the first days of build-out through the grand opening.
Full transcript below
Full Transcript of Growing Our Trade, Episode 5 with Shane Harris
Shane: The grand opening was insane and really awesome. And it’s hard to know what kind of response you’re going to get from the community, who’s going to show up, until the morning of. I was really anxious the night before, pretty nervous. A lot of butterflies.
Host: That’s Shane Harris. He just had his grand opening of his first Winmark franchise. He recently opened up a new Plato’s Closet in Huntington Beach, California. On this episode of Growing Our Trade, you’ll hear Shane’s super helpful advice on hiring the right staff early on, along with marketing during the opening process using today’s tools, and more.
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. Enjoy.
Shane: Hello. My name is Shane Harris from Plato’s Closet in Huntington Beach, Westminster, California.
Host: Shane. Congratulations. You just had your grand opening and we’re going to be talking with you today about your perspective as a store owner who is just right there in the thick of things, right during one of the busiest times for you. And I know you’ve learned some lessons along the way and we’re going to hear what you would’ve told yourself if you could go back in time to talk about staffing and hiring. And we’re going to be talking about some of the ways you have been using modern tools to attract your customer base and some things that might not have been around a couple of years ago even, for store owners.
But something else we want to make sure we talk about on Growing Our Trade is your backstory as an owner. And we’ll just talk about this for a quick moment but, from my understanding, you were on the television show Wipeout. You and your wife participated. So tell me what happened and then we’ll kind of fast forward a bit to when you were on the search for starting a franchisee.
Shane: Great. Yeah, that was a fun experience for us. My wife and I applied to be on the show Wipeout. It was a long time ago. I think it was 2009. It was the second season. We got on the show. We had no expectations of progressing very far. My athletic ability is known for not having any. My wife, on the other hand, is a PE teacher. She’s very fit, very active, and, really, she carried us the whole way. We ended up winning our episode, which was amazing. And we won $50,000 and they just sent that to us, all of it in one check, so that was really nice. And I used that money to buy my first business, which is a property management company. And it’s a franchise that has about 400 offices across the US. That’s how I got into franchising. And that business has done well. From winning Wipeout to then having that franchise, that’s what allowed me to expand and to be able to look at opening another business and opening my Plato’s Closet.
Host: I love it. So let’s talk next about your journey to find Plato’s Closet because, I mean, you already had some franchise experience. Now you were trying to grow into something that makes the most sense for you and what your goals were for you, and your family, and what you wanted to do. So let’s talk about that next and then, later on, we’ll talk about some of the lessons learned and also your experience as a ResaleAI customer.
Shane: Well, my background is in property management and real estate, and I own a small property management company east of Los Angeles that’s also a franchise. And I got into franchising because I had no experience in that field before I got into it and I wanted to kind of have a blueprint of how to do it, not try to figure it all out myself. So that’s been going well. I’ve been doing that six or seven years and just decided that it was time to try something else out. And I just knew already that I was going to do another franchise because it had worked so well for me.
So I just started researching franchises, all different types. And my mindset was that I was just going to find one of the best ones. I didn’t really care what it was. And that if I could find a franchise that offered a good game plan and good support, that I would be able to execute it. And in my research on Forbes, and Entrepreneur, and INC, and in all of those websites, Plato’s Closet just consistently was coming up at the top in satisfaction from franchise owners and the support that they would get from the corporate office, as well as the investment range that I was looking to – that I had available to invest. And so that one just stuck out to me. And then I found out that I had a friend that actually owned one and I didn’t know it. And after spending a couple of hours on the phone with him, it didn’t take me long to just forget about all the other franchises I had been looking into and decide that Plato’s was the one that I wanted to do.
Host: So you make your decision, you are going to join the Plato’s Closet, the Winmark family, right? And here you are. So you just had your grand opening, you’ve been buying your inventory. Walk me through what you just experienced and then let’s talk a little about what’s next for you.
Shane: Yeah. So it is a little bit unique in the Plato’s world of having kind of two openings, a soft opening where you’re open to buy clothing and you can’t sell anything and then your grand opening when you can finally sell. And the open-to-buy period is interesting. You’re spending a lot of money on buying the clothing, payroll, and rent, and those things, without any money coming in. So managing your time efficiently is really important.
That was a great period for us. It was a learning period. And it’s kind of nice to have that period to learn the system in a lot of ways before you actually add the other piece in of selling the clothing. And really, the only difficulty we had is managing the customers who were getting upset that we couldn’t sell anything and figuring out how to talk them in the right way and let them know how the process works and just educating them. But we had a great response from the community. And our open-to-buy period went really well. The grand opening was insane and really awesome.
And it’s hard to know what kind of response you’re going to get from the community, who’s going to show up, until the morning of. I was really anxious the night before, pretty nervous, a lot of butterflies. Our grand opening started Thursday morning at 10:00 AM and by 7:50 in the morning, we had a line already starting out the door. By 10 o’clock, it was down the block and around the corner. So that was a beautiful thing to see after putting in six to eight weeks of buying clothes and spending a lot of money on marketing, and advertising, and trying to get the word out. To finally see that come to fruition was awesome. We opened the doors and it was packed all day long, just a sweaty hot mess of beautiful people.
Host: You said sweaty hot mess of beautiful people?
Shane: Yep. And it was a great day. It was a really fulfilling day. And, I mean, I don’t know if you want to get into this right now, but ResaleAI was just a critical part of that in reducing the amount of stress that went into that day and being able to operate efficiently, and smoothly, and to effectively bring out the inventory that we needed to put on the floor to make our customers happy and have the stuff out there that they wanted.
Host: I really love that visual you just created with that Thursday morning, with the line at the door. You’re, in some ways, probably, over the last six to eight weeks, you’ve been holding your breath. You’ve been buying all of this inventory, you’ve been spending all this money. So what I’d love to walk through – I mean, this podcast, Growing Our Trade, it’s all about the stories and the advice, the experiences from owners and managers who are in the Winmark franchisee family. And so what I’d love to hear from you are maybe some of your best advice for the grand opening, like how do you have a successful grand opening from all that prep that you did starting at the soft opening? So, any things that come to mind?
Shane: Yeah. So, staffing is going to be one of the big ones. Hiring the right people and letting go of the people that aren’t working out for you. Spending money on advertising and marketing and spending it in the right places. For me, Pandora was a huge benefit in my area. It’s not something that I personally use, but I took the advice of the marketing company we hired and we put a lot of money into Pandora. And as we asked people that came in the door to sell their clothes to us where they heard about us, Pandora was consistently number one.
Host: That is so helpful to know.
Shane: Yeah. I wouldn’t have guessed that.
Host: Yeah. Who would’ve thought?
Shane: And then also using the Facebook ads to create ads and market on Instagram. We did some on Facebook as well but, really, our demographic is on Instagram right now. And so we put a lot of money into promoting our business and our grand opening on Facebook and Instagram. And, again, we had a lot of people telling us that they saw our ads on there. And what I would say about that, and what took me a little while to learn, is to really get the demographic dialed in. Facebook will automatically pick a wide radius for your store, a wide age group of people, and to market to males and females. And I narrowed mine down really specifically to about a 5-to10-mile radius, a 13-to-25-year-old age group, and to females only. And men will get picked up in that as well, and the girlfriends will tell their boyfriends about it. So you pick them up automatically.
Host: Oh, totally.
Shane: But spending your dollars on only the people that you know your store is targeted for, I’d say, was a huge help for us.
Host: I’m so happy that we’re talking because so many of the owners that we’ve already talked to on this show, they opened their first store maybe a decade ago. I mean, these tools you’re sharing, those were not –
Host: I mean, other than, of course, having great people and training these people, and you shared some really great tips around that. But, wow. Yeah. Facebook ads, but specifically Instagram. Facebook, of course, owns Instagram. So Instagram, your Pandora strategy. Something you just said is, make sure you have your demographic dialed in. And I know you also mentioned you hired a marketing company. What was the process? In just 30 seconds, just a quick overview, what was your process to find that right demographic that would respond to your spending?
Shane: Yeah. Really, it was just listening to what Winmark was telling me. And they know what that demographic is. It’s 13-to-25-year-old females. And I, in the beginning, was just like, “Well, my wife’s 30 and she likes to shop here as well. So I will just add in them as well. Maybe up to 35.” And I was just kind of expanding it to kind of what I thought it would include.
Host: And Facebook probably wants you to do that because they want you to spend more.
Shane: Of course. Yeah. So, just trusting in Winmark and that they know what the demographic is and there will be some – even when you narrow it down to that specific of a demographic, there will be some bleed over into it as people share it with their friends, and family, and things like that. So you will get a little bit more of a broader base than what you narrow it down to, but you really want to spend your dollars on what Winmark tells you is the demographic of who’s going to be coming into your store.
Host: Something else you were talking about earlier is you have to make the right hiring decisions and you have to fire those who aren’t right for your business. And I know you said that you made a couple mistakes early on. Now, it is interesting that you do get that grace period because you’re just buying and you’re not quite fully operational with buying clothes back after the eight-week mark. But what were a couple of the lessons you learned that you wish you could have told yourself before you opened? Before you did your soft opening, when you were buying all the inventory?
Shane: Yeah, that’s a great question. With staffing, it was just not to get too desperate. I didn’t get as many applications as I wanted so I felt like I had to lower my standards on who I was going to hire in the beginning. And so I took some people that in the interview weren’t as outgoing as I would have liked. And I wasn’t able to train them on how to have a better personality, to be honest.
Host: Okay. Right. Right. Yeah.
Shane: You can train people how to run a cash register, but when you’re trying to change somebody’s personality, it’s really, really hard. And for me, what makes a great employee is, one, that they can just follow the procedures that are laid out, which is pretty simple. And the other one, and the biggest one, is to have great customer service. And that’s the harder one to train on, is to get somebody who isn’t naturally outgoing and friendly to be that way.
And so those are the three people that I let go. They just wouldn’t get on board with using the proper tone of voice, using the right body language, and just giving that really welcoming, friendly vibe off to our customers and in our store, we go beyond that. We say that we have to be loving up all on everybody. And we’re not just friendly, we’re showing them love, and so that’s the requirement. And so now when I hire people, they just automatically have to have that. It’s not something that I’m going to even try to teach them anymore. They just have to have great customer service and a good personality built in already.
Host: How were you recruiting them early on or was most of the focus on buying back the clothes? Did you have any kind of campaign you were trying to do to hire that right fit?
Shane: I was just advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Craigslist that we were hiring, and then doing group interviews. This is one thing I wish I would’ve told myself. I should have started doing that, because I didn’t give myself enough time to find the right people. I started the interview process too late. So I wish I would have started it sooner, been able to look at more applications, and given people a lot longer to put applications in. Once you’re open to buy, at least for me, I haven’t needed to advertise for people since then because people want to work here. They come in, they give me their applications automatically. They ask if we’re hiring. And then I can usually tell just from meeting somebody and them asking me if we’re hiring if it’s somebody that I want to hire based on their personality when I meet them.
Host: That’s helpful. So we’ve been talking about some of the different tools you’ve used for finding candidates, for buying clothes, for communicating your grand opening. And I know it’s been pretty recent that you’ve done the grand opening. But from your time so far, being a ResaleAI customer in this journey of opening your first Winmark franchisee store, I would love to talk a little bit about how you’ve been able to use some of the tools that they have and how that’s integrated with your strategy as an owner.
Shane: Ah, man. The tools are amazing and I really wish I would’ve started using them sooner, actually. I was about halfway or three-quarters of the way into my open-to-buy before I started using ResaleAI. One of the amazing tools that they have is being able to text your customers from the point of sale system. And the reason that’s so important in the open-to-buy period – I can tell you, we made a lot of mistakes with this. Because we were so new at sorting the clothing and entering it into the computer, it was really taking us a long time. And so getting customers in and out and getting their clothes processed was taking a long time and taking a longer time than we were quoting them. So we would have customers come in, drop off their clothes. We’d tell them it’d be 30 minutes to an hour. And then we’d get slammed with people and it would take us three hours to sort through their clothes. So they’d be calling the store or coming back. And we would have to constantly be apologizing and letting them know we were sorry that we mis-guessed on the amount of time that it was going to take to finish. And it was just a really stressful situation. The customers weren’t happy about it. It made us look bad.
What ResaleAI offers is that as soon as you finish the buy, you’re able to send this customer a text message letting them know that their buy has been processed and they can come and pick up their cash. And that would’ve saved us the headache of guessing on how long it was going to take us and for them having to constantly call in or drive all the way back to the store to find out if it was completed. Once we instigated that, about three-quarters of the way through our buy process, everybody was happier. The customers love the feature. They loved being able to leave and knowing that they didn’t need to worry about it. They would get a text and know as soon as it was finished. And we love the ease of not having to call them and let them know or have them come in and explain to them that we were sorry that we hadn’t finished it in time. So that texting feature, amazing. We love it. And my employees were so happy when we implemented that tool into our procedures. And it’s been awesome to be able to use that feature.
Another one of the features that – I mean, the main feature, the back stock feature. As I was exploring the franchise and going to other stores and seeing how they did back stock, which was kind of the old way, it just gave me a knot in my stomach to where I was like, “Oh, no. This doesn’t seem right to me.” And I was just thinking, “I’m going to have to figure something else out.” And so to have ResaleAI to have already figured it out is amazing. The organization of it, the ease of it, the records, how they keep track of it all is just above and beyond what I could have thought of or created myself. And I’m a little bit OCD in all aspects of my life. I like things to be really organized and ResaleAI allows me to do that automatically. It’s amazing. The way that they’ve laid it out, how easy it is to use. On our grand opening, when we needed a bin of women’s pants size two, I could pull that up on the computer, no problem. I knew exactly where the bin was and I could go and grab it and move it to the floor. So it cut down on my stress level and just made it so easy for my employees to be able to get the product out on the floor that we needed.
Host: That’s great. And one quick question for you, when you were saying other stores, are you talking about other Plato’s Closet stores or other retail stores?
Shane: Yeah. I’m talking about a couple of other Plato’s Closet stores that I have talked to on the phone and been to their stores, and just know that they’re using different systems. And to me, they were just really archaic . In my opinion, they actually cost you more money. So I know people that will spend a lot of time and energy on saving a little bit of money, but my approach is to spend some money to save a lot of time and energy because I can use that time and energy to make a lot more money, and that’s what ResaleAI does for you. It allows you to save. You spend money on the program. It saves you a lot of time and energy which you can use, really, to put into all the other aspects of your business. They’re going to make you a lot more money. It’s a no-brainer.
When I finally signed up for ResaleAI and I started using it, it was like, “Oh my gosh. This is amazing. I should have been using this from the very beginning.” And I recommend it to everybody now and I’m not getting paid to say that. I mean, I just love the product.
Host: While you’re at it, anything else you want to say that you enjoy about ResaleAI?
Shane: Yeah. The opening and closing checklists are just awesome. They’re all online. They’re really easy to use. You can customize them to however you want and you can set different tasks to appear on different days. So if you organize racks on one day or if you mop the floors on another day, you can set it so they only pop up on that day. That’s been really helpful for my staff.
And then also there’s a spot at the top called Today’s Tasks, I think, where you can just add in tasks as you go throughout the day that your staff can see and know that they’re responsible to take care of. And that’s been super helpful to just keep everybody moving and keep things progressing in the store. So I’ve loved all of those aspects.
And I got to say something about the ResaleAI team because they’ve been amazing. They’re really responsive to all of the issues that I’ve had and just figuring out how to use it, which hasn’t been much, but just in understanding it. And the few problems that I’ve run into, they’re really responsive. They have been really kind, and just personality-wise, they’re all really easy to work with, and it’s been a pleasure using their service. I love it.
Host: Shane, thank you so much for taking the time to not only share some of your best advice and perspective of being a new store owner, everything from the staffing, and the hiring, all the way to buying the inventory, to selling, and everything in between. I really appreciate the time. I appreciate all of your just transparent feedback about being a customer, and I hope we can do another one of these in the future and continue the conversation.
Shane: Thank you so much for having me.
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.