Old Clothes, New (Business Models)
Pete Benck’s Instagram account wasn’t always all business. When he first started posting on the photo-sharing app, he shared the usual candids, selfies and personal inspiration. Aside from the occasional event flyer or shop-window shot, there was little to suggest that he owned a vintage clothing store in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Good Style Shop. When Benck started noticing that vintage shops in New York and Los Angeles were using Instagram as a free e-commerce and promotional tool, he quickly “industrialized” his own shop’s account, complete with a paid online content producer. Now, six years after Benck bought the struggling store for $11,000, business finally is booming. “My Instagram account became a mouthpiece — a megaphone, really — for the shop,” Benck says. “Like, ‘Hey, we exist!’”
At a time when established mall-based retailers like J.Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch suffer from declining sales, the used/resale apparel market is growing. According to a 2016 report from the online resale giant ThredUP, high-quality resale is one of the fastest-growing sectors in retail; the market is expected to grow from $14 billion in 2015 to $25 billion in 2025.
Benck and his team of vintage consignors obviously are a small part of that growth, but the Good Style Shop is one example of how a brick-and-mortar retailer in flyover country can flourish by tapping into broader market trends and new technology. In 2016, the Good Style Shop recorded $250,000 in sales, up 20 percent from 2015, and Benck attributes that success to a hybrid business approach that the 29-year-old Iowa native calls his four legs: in-person purchases at his physical shop; online sales through Instagram; wholesaling heartland-harvested vintage clothing to buyers on the coasts; and out-of-store events like the Midwest Vintage Flea, a resale summit that Benck founded last year.
Roy DeYoung, senior vice president of creative strategy at PMX Agency, a marketing concern based in New York, sees the trend as a connection between the growing demand for used clothing and personal brand building via storytelling apps like Instagram and Snapchat, especially for younger consumers. He calls it “out-of-house social.” DeYoung, who also happens to have a passion for vintage, adds: “They’re going to bargain shops. They’re going to end up on Instagram. It’s not just the purchase. It’s the journey of the purchase and the story behind the piece. Do I think that they’re going to build entire wardrobes out of vintage? No, but they’re going to have select pieces that will be part of their personal story, which is their art.”