Vena Holden is picky about the seconds in her shops, specializing in better brand-name clothing, accessories, linens, gifts and shoes. She makes clear that hers is not a used clothing store.
"We look for the higher-end items and are selective in what we take," said Holden, 45, who founded the appropriately named Selective Seconds after years of shopping consignment shops for herself when she worked as a legal secretary and office manager for local law firm Plews Shadley Racher and Braun.
Her two shops in Mooresville and southside Indianapolis carry items in sizes 2 to 3X, but no juniors. A national chain, Plato's Closet, has the teen and junior market pretty much locked up, she said.
Right now, high-end sportswear is popular with tops being the number one seller, said Holden, a member of the National Association of Retail and Thrift Stores. Selective Seconds is one of about 20,000 thrift and resale shops in the United States, according to the national association's Web site.
The first store opened in Mooresville in 1997, and Holden added the 3,000-squarefoot Indianapolis shop in 2003. Not inclined to sit for long, she would like to sell the Mooresville operation and move the other store to a more visible location.
Holden augments store offerings by buying pallets of new merchandise from QVC, a television shopping network. These are returns, discontinued items and overstocks, and draw in customers on their own. She also offers items on eBay. Most of her shoppers are middle-class women.
"I don't buy seconds," said Marjorie Hudgins of Bloomington, who makes the trek north to the shops a couple of times a month. "I like the QVC things they have, all unopened. She has so many different kinds of items, like Louis Vuitton bags, on occasion, or Boyds Bears" collectibles.
The stores rotate their stock frequently, adding up to 200 new items a day, said Holden, a Mooresville native. She alerts customers to sales, new arrivals and promotions through monthly e-mails and quarterly direct mail newsletters.
"They have shoes and nobody has shoes," said Monica Burkhart, a marketing representative in Indianapolis who shops the stores frequently to find clothing to wear on the job. "She knows a lot about the brands and she knows me by name. They try to get to know the client and the type of clothes" she prefers.
Selective Seconds is the only consignment store Judy Price shops, usually visiting a couple of times a month.
"People are so friendly there, they know my name. And the merchandise is good quality and the prices are good," said Price, of Indianapolis. "I usually find something and a lot of time, I find a lot of somethings."
Recently, Holden launched a program targeted at not-for-profit groups. Supporters can donate items to Selective Seconds on behalf of their favorite charity. Forty percent of the sales of those items will be returned to the charity, Holden said. One of the charities Holden picked is in light of Hurricane Katrina. Proceeds from designated donated items will go to the American Red Cross, she said.
"It's really a no-brainer. You clean out your closet, bring your things to us," and support a charity, she said.
Holden had no business plan and started her venture with less than $1,000 in personal funds.
"I have never added any more of my own money," she said. The business is supported by sales.
It wasn't like she was totally without resources, however. She said the law firm was "very supportive and helped me pursue this" by allowing her to work flex time, then part time before venturing out on her own.
"It's a long road. You look at salary in a different way," Holden said. Had she known how hard it would be, she might not have taken the leap. "But I look back and say it was worth it. I don't have to depend on somebody else for my survival."
Vena Holden shopped at consignment stores before opening her own store in 1997.