Judi Gerhardt started up Career Fashion consignment after her previous business was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. She's been running her Atlanta based business since 2009. Thanks for coming in Judi!
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Career Fashion Consignment is an upscale consignment boutique selling career attire for men and women.
When did you start the business?
I started off in 2008 in Louisiana then moved in 2009 to Atlanta.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
This is not my first business, it's really the third. Before CFC I had an international horse-breeding and equestrian training facility for 16+ years in Louisiana – Hurricane Katrina destruction was its demise.
Sorry to hear about that. What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
I would say that the consignment business is a double-digit growth business in our current economy and that it is a great business to start because it requires minimal investment. However, I would also say that a great deal of research needs to be completed beforehand – such as location, market, merchandise mix, and all the realities of the retail business.
How did you come up with your business idea?
After Hurricane Katrina caused the liquidation of my previous business and the slow, arduous rebuilding in the New Orleans area, I decided to research possible business (es) focusing on the "reuse, recycle, repurpose" sustainable properties of business and in my research I became familiar with the consignment, resale and thrift business. Further consideration and research led me to "target a niche market" which was the business attire, professional image value in the consignment business model. Additionally, I was determined to bring the consignment business into the upscale market by approaching the merchandising of the items in a "boutique manner". Thus was the birth of Career Fashion Consignment.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
I did write a business/concept plan that was very effective in helping me to focus on the practical elements of starting a business, such as the financial pieces, the purpose and the market. Whether simple of elaborate – I believe a business plan is as important to the outcome of starting a business as is the location, customer service and financing… starting a business without some written plan is like trying to find your way in the dark with no light!
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a woman business owner?
For a woman at any age who wants to become an entrepreneur I would advise to reach out to the multitude of women's business organizations that are available to provide numerous support resources. From research to professional image – women supporting women is a great motivator, after all, women traditionally have no problem seeking directional help. Shared experience, whether it be the challenges or the successes is a very positive activity and there are so many businesswomen, women entrepreneurs who are eager to help. I believe there are advantages to being a woman business owner – as I just mentioned, the range of support groups and organizations is so much greater for women. There are non-profit and government programs specifically designed to assist women and minority owned businesses with free advice, resources and support. Among women business owners there is camaraderie of understanding and desire to help each other.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
Actually, the very foundation of the business is "green" – that of recycling, repurposing business attire has been very practical. More consumers are aware of "green", shopping responsibly and will make the effort or spend just a little more to be socially responsible. I truly believe a business in today's socially conscious economic environment must have a "green" or "sustainable" value in order to be successful for the long-term.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Yes, it has been a little different than what I initially anticipated in that I believed there was a more mature male market for consigned clothing. However, after a year I find that because consignment for men is a new concept – where women have been shopping thrift, consignment and resale for decades and actually feel very comfortable shopping and wearing gently used merchandise – men haven't had that tradition and are not shopping in the store… not at the levels of women.
Thanks very much for your time Judi! We wish you the best of luck!