Thursday, January 20, 2011

Patti's Resale celebrating 40 years in business; glad to be downtown

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:08 AM CST

After Patti Acquisto moved back to Owensboro in 1969 she began offering some of her no-longer-wanted clothes for re-sale at a consignment shop in a small house at Fifth and Triplett streets.

She also shopped at the store, finding bargains at every turn. The woman loves a bargain.

After a few months, she started working there part time.

One day the owner asked if she wanted to buy the store, and she did with her brother providing the stake she needed. That was in January 1971.

And she has turned the venture into a 40-year career.

Today, Patti's Resale is downtown at 105 W. Second St., and Patti Acquisto and her daughter-in-law and co-owner Martha Acquisto are excited about the future of their business.

They are "sitting in the catbird seat in the historic district watching the downtown come alive," Patti Acquisto said.

Two years ago, Patti Acquisto sort of retired from working in the business. She spends only from three to four hours at a time there when her daughter-in-law asks her to fill in.

She goes to the store primarily to shop. But she also does the store's promotions and is chairwoman of the We Are Downtown merchants organization, which she organized soon after the new store's opening.

"I don't miss the work, but I really miss the people," she said.

She said she has completed "a great cycle of service" -- selling a generation their prom dresses, wedding gowns and maternity wear.

"I love to see those moms who have shopped with me come into the store with their babies in their arms," she said.

Martha Acquisto loves the resale business in general. Her mother used to shop at Patti's store. Martha and Patti Acquisto's middle son dated when they were in high school before their marriage.

"I've always been around and appreciated what the business is," Martha Acquisto said.

She has a bachelor's degree in human environmental sciences and has worked in retail with jobs at the GAP, Gymboree and The Limited.

The younger Acquistos moved back to Owensboro 13 years ago, and once their children were older and more independent, Martha Acquisto started working with Patti.

Two years ago, she became co-owner.

"Patti knew she didn't want to do this forever, but she knew she wanted the business to continue," Martha Acquisto said. "Slowly, it transitioned to what it is today."

It took awhile for Martha Acquisto to build a rapport with the regular customers and consignors.

"There is a certain amount of trust involved, and she has a good reputation from having been in business 40 years," Martha Acquisto said. "I want to keep that trust."

When Patti Acquisto started in the resale industry, consignment shops had an image problem, she said.

"The community here had not bought into the concept yet," she said. "I set out to change that. I wanted to let people know that resale shopping was socially acceptable and the fundamentally prudent thing to do. I've been doing that ever since."

While she has experienced industry trends over her career, the basic concept at Patti's Resale has not changed, she said.

The consumer gets half of what the item sells for, if it sells within the time frame listed in the contract. And the business is operated professionally, Patti Acquisto said.

"We pay everybody (consignors) every month with a check that we mail to them," she said. "There is no cost to them for that, and we include a list of what they're being paid for."

Consignors can pick up any items that don't sell.

Donations from Patti's Resale are given to the Baptist Center at Ninth and Lancaster and the Salvation Army.

Multiple stores, locations at first

In the early years, the store used a manual system of sales and inventory -- everything was written down in 12 ledgers.

The inventory was logged, and then much of the same information was written on the merchandise tag.

She also paid her consignors in cash during those first years.

"As the years went by, we got smarter," she said. "We paid by checks and then computers came along to simplify things."

She added a friend to work at the store, and in the first two years of operation, Patti Acquisto often paid her one employee when she couldn't pay herself.

Patti's survived shoplifters, thieves (including some employees), burglaries, robbery at knifepoint, a tornado and growing competition from consignment shops cropping up in the mid-'90s.

Her husband's illness and death marked a particularly difficult time.

After 10 years of business at the former Cornell's Restaurant on New Hartford Road, she bought the downtown store that was built in 1890 and was home to Woolworth's in the '50s and '60s.

The service of longtime employees has helped the Acquistos' business to thrive, the owners said.

For a number of years, Patti Acquisto worked with two sets of clients -- the consignors "who wouldn't be caught dead" buying from the resale racks, and the customers who clamored for bargains.

"As the years went by, consignment and resale became more acceptable, and these two have merged," she said. "They're both buyers."

When Patti's branched into resale furniture, that opened more than one new market for the business.

"People came to buy used furniture to furnish a dorm room of a child going to college or a summer home, and they, too, wouldn't have wanted to be seen looking for used clothes," she said. "But they looked around the store at other things and bought items."

Both Acquistos said NARTS, the Association of Resale Professionals (formerly the National Association of Resale & Thrift Stores), has provided them with a professional network.

Patti Acquisto served one four-year term as president and is the current treasurer.

"Martha and I go to the conferences and teach seminars and give keynote speeches," Patti Acquisto said. "We meet our peers, continue to learn and improve our skills."

Martha Acquisto said Patti's Resale stacks up better than most of the shops she has visited when attending conferences in Atlanta, Palm Beach, Fla., Boston and various other cities in California and Texas.

"People tell us that our store looks like a real store," Martha Acquisto said. "The clothing section is like a big closet to me. I get to look at what comes in

New shoppers joined the faithful during the recession, but most of their customers are repeats, she said.

"Some of our customers come back each week because they know the inventory changes," Martha Acquisto said.

She also enjoys the foot traffic the current location affords as people travel downtown for an event or to another store and decide to check out their store as well.

"I can't imagine being anywhere else," Martha Acquisto said. "I look at what comes in and get to get to decide what I get to highlight."

The store often sells name brands that shoppers can't find in Owensboro, another plus, she said.

Resale, consignment growing

"The industry has certainly come a long way in the 26 years our association has existed," said Adele Meyer, executive director of NARTS. "Historically, the resale industry has been recession-proof. When the economy is down, we thrive."

Now a multibillion dollar industry, resale has been growing by about 5 percent per year, measured by the estimated number of stores opening each year, minus the business closings, she said.

The NARTS 2010 Operating Survey, based on figures the organization's members provided, shows a growth in net sales of 12.7 percent in 2009 from 2008, the strongest sales year in the past five years.

Retail sales overall were down 7.3 percent in 2009 from 2008, according to data NARTS reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Meyer attributes some of the growth to an increased awareness of the value of recycling and reusing. Consignors can make money on their used items instead of adding them as waste. And the tax benefits donating to not-for-profit thrift stores also is attracting some customers.

But the potential for finding bargains is still the main reason for the industry's uptick, Meyer said.

Consumers also have made resale shopping a pastime.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com

Learn more about Patti's Resale at www.pattisresale.com or follow the store on Facebook.

Check out more information about the national resale industry at www.narts.com.