Johanne Zlenko was just a first-year student at UCSB when she was hired by the original owners of Closet, a store that resold secondhand clothing and other items, in 2003.
Now she has four stores and has plans to franchise Closet Trading Co.
The San Francisco native was first introduced to the store when she was walking through an alley on her way to an interview and saw a hiring sign.
“I needed a part-time job so I just saw an ad on Craigslist for a Greek deli that used to be on Figeuroa,” Ms. Zlenko told the New-Press.
Instead, the original owner of Closet hired Ms. Zlenko as she had experience in buying and then reselling clothes back in high school.
“I helped her paint, make these little makeshift fitting rooms and we got the store all set up. We went down to Ventura and we went through the thrift stores, picked things that we thought we could resell, and so I helped her open,” Ms. Zlenko recounted.
For the first few months she worked there as a part-time employee, but she was soon faced with a dilemma.
The owner’s husband’s job relocated him out of Santa Barbara.
“I was just really devastated. I had gotten into it already and I felt like there’s a lot of potential and there was nothing like that in the Santa Barbara community at the time,” Ms. Zlenko said.
There was a market for resale in Santa Barbara, she said, pointing to the UCSB community that “would love to get rid of their old stuff every season.”
Ms. Zlenko said she had a choice: find another job or take over the business herself.
Ms. Zlenko made a call to her grandmother, who encouraged her to see if she could take over the business. Ms. Zlenko was still a first-year college student living in the dorms at the time, but she took over the original’s owner lease and debt. She pursued both a degree and worked at her store and graduated with a bachelor’s in global studies in 2007. She credits her friends for ensuring that the business did not go under.
“My friends were really helpful. They were really at the time, brand new friends,” Ms. Zlenko said. “They helped me work when I was in class.”
Sometimes the store would be open only three days a week, as Ms. Zlenko was busy with class and nobody could cover for her. Other times it was open seven days a week. (Nowadays, Closet Trading Co. is open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., at its Santa Barbara location).
The payroll system was not exactly state of the art, Ms. Zlenko said. Her friends would work hours and then take whatever they felt was fair.
“It was kind of just keeping it afloat for the first couple of years and trying to balance it with school,” Ms. Zlenko said.
However, she did make changes.
“And right away the first thing I changed was that we started buying clothes from the public instead of going to thrift stores and finding things, so I went back to IV and asked people in the dorms, asked people I was meeting in classes, if they had any clothes they wanted to sell and that’s kind of how we started getting inventory. As we started getting better inventory, we started getting more customers.”
The Santa Barbara college community is still a big market for Closet Trading Co., Ms. Zlenko said.
After graduation, Ms. Zlenko devoted more time and energy into her store, eventually expanding to three other locations. In 2010, she moved her Santa Barbara store to 920 State St. The other locations include Agoura Hills, Santa Monica and Woodland Hills. She used to spend a day a week visiting each location and resides in Los Angeles, but she has devoted more time to her franchise work, which means she usually visits her stores every two weeks.
Ms. Zlenko has 26 employees, with six working at her Santa Barbara location. The store staff is divided between UCSB and Santa Barbara City College students.
How Closet Trading Co. works is that people bring items to the store and the company resells them. Most of the brands they sell are considered “luxury” according to the company’s website. Brands they do not accept are more mainstream, like GAP and Hollister. Anyone who wishes to see what brands Closet Trading Co. takes can visit the company’s website athttps://www.theclosettradingco.com/.
People who bring items to Closet Trading Company can get a commission; sometimes, as little as 40 percent for items priced to $199.99 and sometimes as high as 80 percent for items that cost $5,000.
Ms. Zlenko said prices can range from $3 scrunchies to $10,000 handbags (though she cautions those handbags are “few and far between”). The average garment is $18 and the more expensive items tend to be around $3,500.
Her decision to franchise came to her in 2008. She credits customers from out of town.
“They would go back to wherever they were going and they’d call, ‘We don’t have anything like this in my town, like how do I open one here?'” Ms. Zlenko said.
She added that she really “liked the idea of helping someone else develop their own business. I felt like I’ve learned a lot in 16 years and I really want to be able to help someone take all those tools and all those skills and all the data and replicate this in Cincinnati … wherever they are.
“I think there’s a demand and I like the idea of helping other people to leverage what I’ve learned,” she said.
The cost of a franchise tag will be $40,000. According to a press release, the estimated initial investment range is $146,400 to $425,300. The franchising website is https://www.tctcfranchise.com/.