Swap and Shop


A new Uptown consignment shop lets you clean out your closet and make money at the same time

It’s a win-win.

This year resolve to get rid of everything in your closet you don’t wear and rake in some cold hard cash or credit to buy fashion that fits just right!

If you own designer duds, like a dress you wore just once because it never looked quite right, designer jeans you had to have but that ended up not fitting or flattering, consider a consignment shop. If your stuff is in tip-top shape, Swap, the Exchange Boutique will accept your items and allow you, as a consignor, to earn commission, either 40 percent cash or 50 percent store credit.

Swap is the concept of owner Michelle Reinhardt, who recently opened the new Swap for Kids, both located on Maple Street in Uptown.

Reinhardt’s rule: “If you have not worn it for more than two seasons, it’s time to let it go, before it loses value. For consignment purposes, the item will become aged and out of style, so you wasted something that you treasured.”

While the shaky economy is forcing many small business owners to close, Reinhardt is taking advantage of the fact that consumers are watching every dollar they spend. She sees this period in our economy as an opportunity, the perfect time to expand her business, which recycles high-end, hand-selected clothing at extremely affordable prices.

Reinhardt believes that small business owners can be very successful if they genuinely care about their customers and focus on service. “In years past when the economy was very strong, people would spend money anywhere because money was available to them. In the current climate, they are still spending money, but they are spending where they are getting value.” Reinhardt instills in her employees to “treat everyone, regardless of how much they spend, like they are our best customer.” She firmly believes that “if people spend money selectively they are going to spend it in an environment they enjoy. They are going to have fun shopping in a place where they can chat with the employees and get great things they are excited about. People have to make choices these days about their purchases. So I think the experience needs be engaging and fun and light. That’s why we are thriving.”

Reinhardt recently launched her online store and now sells designer clothes around the world through links on eBay. “It’s another way to sell the high-end things. Sometimes certain designer labels that don’t work here in New Orleans might appeal to a customer in Canada, China or Australia.”

Her second store, Swap for Kids, sells gently worn children’s clothing, from newborn to 12 years old, and maternity clothes in all sizes. In the next year, Reinhardt plans on opening stores in Baton Rouge and is currently scouting other locations in Louisiana.

“I got the space next door on Maple Street purely out of luck. However, this is now the model I will continue into other markets because it’s so symbiotic. So many new customers from Swap for Kids pop over to the adult store next door and visa versa.”

“I decided to open my first designer consignment store because I love a bargain, I enjoy fashion, I believe in recycling and, really, I just wanted to spend more time with my kids,” Reinhardt says.

“I wanted to be the one picking them up after school and putting them to bed. I was missing their best years. Although my husband and family thought I was crazy, I decided to leave my secure, well-paying job with full benefits to start my own business. I’d never worked in a clothing store before, and the week Swap opened, I found out I was pregnant with my third son. It was a crazy time, but the incredible support from the community and our customers was immediate. Circumstance led me to this amazing opportunity. I wanted to change the way people felt about consignment and preowned clothing, ” Reinhardt says.

Reinhardt lets the customers define the stores, saying, “Demands change what we accept.” When she first opened Swap for Kids, Reinhardt originally only sold sizes 0 to 5. “But so many of our customers were asking for 8 to 12, there was a void. We immediately added 8 to 12.”

Selling  maternity clothes was also not in Reinhardt’s original business plan. “It never even occurred to me. Now Swap for Kids accepts and sells maternity clothes. It’s been one of our biggest sellers.” Reinhardt thanks her customers for their suggestions. “We are so fortunate. Our consignors drop off these awesome things, but our customers really shape what we sell in the store. They voice the things they need and want to see sold here, that’s why we started consigning maternity clothes.”

So how is the business doing? Reinhardt says it has “exceeded expectations.” She has fixed costs of salaries and rent, with five employees (three full-time, two part-time) and leases on the two Maple Street stores. Then she has the “cost of sales,” how much she pays out to her consignors every month, which averages 45 percent of sales. Her formula works this way. Anything Swap sells under $100, the consignor gets 40 percent cash commission. On items over $100, the consignor gets 50 percent cash commission. Instead of cash, there is also a store credit option, where the consignor can decide to take 50 percent off on anything in the store. If items do not sell within 75 days, the consignor can pick it up or Swap will donate to local charities like Mary’s Hope, Bridge House or the Junior League. In Swap for Kids the items are sold for 90 days and whatever doesn’t sell is donated to local charities.

“I love every minute!” Reinhardt says of her new career. “Opening my own business has taught me how fulfilling life can be when you get to decide what you do. When you are surrounded by engaging customers and a passionate staff, work is not work at all. I get to pick up my boys every day, help with homework and go to every football, basketball and baseball game. I am truly the luckiest girl in the world.”

Swap also accepts jewelry, costume and vintage. And she reminds customers that most of the time, the items get devalued as they hang in the closet or sit in the drawer and age. If you consign whatever it is today, it will be worth much more than if you hold onto it.” Reinhardt’s bottom line is this: “I’ve learned that getting rid of things we don’t love and filling our closet with things we do love really changes the way you feel when you walk out the door.”

For more information, go to www.swapboutique.com or visit 7716 Maple St.