PALM HARBOR — It's noticeably larger than most secondhand clothing shops, occupying 3,200 square feet in what used to be a gym. Its interior is as bright as sunlight, allowing customers to check garments for imperfections.
Palm Harbor has become the first city in Florida to mark the opening of a Clothes Mentor, a national chain of stores that resell women's clothing. The local franchise opened last week on U.S. 19.
"We are not a consignment shop," said Dick Murdock, owner of the franchise, one of 44 nationwide. "We pay cash on the spot for items that fit our model."
So what's the model? Clothes must be less than 2 years old, in excellent condition, trendy and have a recognizable brand name. Ann Taylor, Cache, Jones of New York and even the costly Prada go into the mix. The store features attire for every age and occasion, along with shoes, purses and jewelry.
Murdock's business strategy is to offer a deal on both ends. He says a customer can expect to pay 70 percent less for an item than she would pay at a mall. The item's seller is paid 30 percent of the item's expected selling price, which is calculated by a company computer program based on the brand and the age of the item.
"This is like a candy store for women," said the 67-year-old clothing entrepreneur, who invested some $250,000 to open the business.
Clothes Mentor is the first retail venture for Murdock, a native New Yorker and longtime North Pinellas resident who spent 23 years as chief executive officer of various charitable institutions, including a number of family counseling programs. Unsold clothes at his store will eventually go to local homes and shelters for abused women.
Murdock says the volume of goods coming into the store has been significant since he opened the doors just to sellers on March 14.
"We fill 1,000 new dress hangers a week, plus 500 skirt and pants hangers," he said.
Drawing sellers to the store also took an investment — about $30,000 in newspaper and radio ads, as well as spots on television. The publicity apparently worked. The shop was stocked to capacity well before last Thursday's grand opening.
"I started with nothing but bare racks," Murdock said. "Every single item has come out of someone's closet."
On Thursday, the aisles were jammed and the store had racked up $14,000 in sales by 2 p.m. Designer handbags were especially in demand.
Murdock anticipates opening more local Clothes Mentor franchises in the future. He noted that clothes and their wearers have a special relationship.
"Your closet tells your history, your present and your future," he said. "We have to be very gentle when we reject someone's clothing."