Chloe’s Closet was founded in 2003 by San Francisco mom-of-two, Molly Tyson. Chloe’s started as a daydream, grew into a labor of love and is now a thriving business with 3 locations in the SF Bay Area.
Our goal is to provide a convenient, welcoming place for parents to trade with each other, passing clothing, toys and baby gear from one family to another. Our stores truly are one big “closet” that everyone can shop from. We strive to make our stores feel like home – and yes that means at times you’ll find us a little messy, with toys strewn on the floor, and the distinctive smell of a poopy diaper wafting through the air. So relax, have a chat, browse our closet and let the kids play. (There’s a changing table in the bathroom, by the way.)
Want to know more? Keep reading for the 10th Anniverary “Store-y” of Chloe’s Closet!
The Store-y of Chloe’s Closet
by Molly Tyson, Owner
In the beginning of 2003, I had survived getting Eve—my bright, joyful but demanding and formidable first child—to the age of three and enrolled in part-time preschool, where she happily spent her mornings playing dress up and creating elaborate drawings with markers. My second baby, Julius, was a sweet, chubby-cheeked two-month-old who required only frequent snuggles, head to toe kisses and relaxing interludes of breastfeeding. For the first time since becoming a mom, I found that I actually had some energy to spare. I certainly wasn’t looking to go back to work. I never felt successful in the world of work and being a stay-at-home mom was by far the most rewarding and enjoyable job of my life. Despite my contentment, some mornings while pushing Julius in the baby swing at the Bernal Heights Playground I could feel my brain going more and more numb with each arc of the swing and I wondered what else I might do.
Not long after, while browsing the Parenting Forum on Craigslist I came across a posting by another local mom: “I have a business idea. Contact me for more details.” I was intrigued and sent an email. The author of the post was Tina Estrada, a San Francisco mom with one young child and another on the way. She was interested in finding a partner to put on a kids and baby clothing consignment sale, with the goal of raising enough money to eventually open a consignment shop. I was familiar with these sales and had attended a few. I was also an avid thrift store shopper who loved clothes and this seemed to be a great fit. I was definitely interested. We shared a few emails, and even discussed the possibility of opening a shop in Bernal Heights.
Fast forward to April, a For-Lease notice appeared in an empty storefront on Cortland Avenue, just a few blocks from my house and right across the street from the grocery store. The sign stopped me in my tracks. The consignment shop. This is IT! I immediately called the number on the sign to get more information. Back home, I emailed Tina: “I think I found our spot!” She had recently delivered her baby, however, and was out of commission. But by this point, the bite was too deep. I HAD to do this.
I went home and announced to my husband, Jon: “I want to open a store.” He gaped at the second head that had apparently sprouted from my shoulder. “Who are you and what are you talking about? You don’t know anything about running a business. You need to stop and think about this,” he said. He asked me to put together a business plan. I had no idea what that was but, naively, I went online and downloaded some templates. Turns out, I had a clear idea about how the business would be organized and how I would run it. When I plugged in the numbers, however, they didn’t add up. I estimated how many pieces of clothing I thought I could sell and at what average price, then I calculated my costs: rent, payroll, insurance, supplies. I couldn’t make it work on paper but I just KNEW it would succeed if only given the chance. I tried desperately to convince my husband. I seem to remember some tears. “If I don’t do this, someone else will and I will regret it forever. I just know it!” Jon agreed to go with me to meet with the landlord.
It took almost three months to negotiate the lease. I thought on several occasions that it wasn’t going to happen. In the meantime, I busied myself acquiring clothing, toys and baby gear to sell in the shop. I turned to the Craigslist Parenting Forum again, this time to post that I was looking to buy second-hand baby clothes, maternity clothing and gear. The emails started trickling in and I spent many mornings bundling Julius into his car seat, headed off to appointments at homes and apartments around the city. I hand-wrote lists of what I bought from each person, including a description of the item, the price I thought I could sell it for and the amount I was paying them. I went as far as San Jose to score some second-hand maternity clothing. Of course I scavenged everything I could from my own children’s closets and enlisted friends to donate.
I interviewed other moms and dads at the playground and at City College playgroups. What kind of store did they want? What were they interested in buying? Jon helped me research and buy a consignment software program. I proudly entered my own name as consigner #1. Consigner #2 was the director of my daughter’s preschool (she had good stuff!). #3 is a Bernal Heights mom who still occasionally consigns. #6 is one of my best mom friends. The list grew and grew—as did the pile of bags and boxes in our family room, our garage, the bedrooms… Jon was getting irritated and still didn’t understand what the heck I thought I was doing.
I finally got the keys to the space in August. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I quickly scoured Craigslist yet again to track down the cheapest painters and flooring installers I could find. Jon helped me drill clothing racks onto the walls and set up my computer system. A kind neighbor wired track lighting into the ceiling in exchange for a $100 store credit. Another mom friend painted a colorful mural on the outside. We opened officially the third week of August, 2003. A month earlier I had hired Olga, a recent immigrant from Ecuador, to help me care for the kids while I focused on getting the store ready. She quickly made herself indispensable, taking care of Julius and Eve with love and skill, lending me a hand whenever and wherever—and never saying “No”—no matter what the task or need. In return, I dusted off my ESL teaching skills and helped her adjust to life in her adopted country. When the store opened, Olga and I would often trade off—she would walk Julius to the park while I attended to customers, or I would take a breastfeeding break in the rocking chair while she rang up sales.
From day one I was clear that Chloe’s Closet was a “mommy job.” I left at 3pm on the days when Eve was in preschool, or I didn’t work at all when she was home, leaving my newly hired employees to run the store. We were busy from the start, and the business was well received in the neighborhood.
I learned a long list of lessons that first year:
- I learned to recognize a Gymboree from a Zutano from a Hanna Andersson at a quick glance.
- I learned to refine our consignment policies to avoid problems and miscommunications.
- I got better at saying “no” once I gained confidence in our abilities to identify the difference between desirable and undesirable merchandise for consignment.
- I learned that most of my consigners were motivated primarily by getting rid of stuff, not by making a big profit.
- I tried my best to make everyone happy and quickly established that customer satisfaction was our primary goal—above profit if need be, at least in the short run.
On the downside, I had never managed people and I struggled to discipline employees when they weren’t meeting my expectations. I still hate giving negative feedback and often don’t move as quickly as I should, but I have gotten better at it over time. I love my employees and am so appreciative of all the support I have gotten and continue to get in keeping this place going.
I didn’t make any money for four years. The business plan was about right. I always managed to pay my bills, make payroll and pay my consigners but there was nothing left over for myself or my family. My long-suffering husband continued to cover our household costs and put up with my stress and time away from home. The tension level was high and toward the end of year three I hit a breaking point. I was dealing with an unhappy customer issue from home via email and for the third time in a week I had screamed at my kids—this time followed by smacking Eve on the butt and slamming the door to their bedroom in a rage. I went back to my computer and sat down, feeling sick with shame. I couldn’t do this anymore. The price was too high. If the business had to fold, so be it. I was going to let my employees handle the problems when I was away from the store and when things fell apart that was going to be okay.
I remember feeling surprise when things didn’t fall apart over the next few months. Everything seemed to go along just fine and I slowly regained my balance. I still feel guilty when I head off on yet another field trip, refuse to even make an appearance on the weekends or stay home for days with a sick kid but it’s a far more manageable feeling of guilt and I’m ok with that trade off.
The sales grew year over year and I always felt that “this” was going to be the year I would take home a salary. Even in year five, we only made about $25,000 profit before taxes. However small, it felt like a victory. Each year has gotten better, but growth has remained steady yet modest. I was grateful for all the other “payoffs” I got from Chloe’s Closet through our incredibly kind and appreciative customers and consigners. And, for better or worse, the bags of consignment kept arriving on our doorstep. And arriving and arriving…
In January of 2011, we were getting SLAMMED again. January was always a crazy month for consignment as people cleared out after the excess of the holidays. This year was especially bad and we were feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff that was coming though our doors. It was clear: we either had to cut back or grow. It didn’t take long to identify the Inner Sunset as a strong contender for a second location and we were lucky to find a small, but well-placed location on Irving Street. We had some bumps the first year. Some hiring and firing ensued as I tried to find the right people to run the new location, and eventually I was blessed with two moms who had all the right criteria. I met Jane McIntyre when our daughters shared a soccer team for two seasons. She is a customer service connoisseur. Jane is all about people and she beautifully implements the Chloe’s value of “people first, profit later.”
I’ve been lucky to have a slew of talented, hard-working, caring people running the show at Chloe’s Closet.
- Ellice DeMattos was a customer who wormed her way over to the other side of the counter. I think it was for the employee discount. She is the ONLY person I would ever allow to bring her kids to work because she is incredible at getting a $%#-load of work done while keeping her kids in check with a fearful yet loving hand. Yes, the tattoos are a little scary, but there is just a big goofball underneath.
- Olga Hidalgo continues to work at Chloe’s and runs the Cortland Avenue pricing room along with her sister Maria Hidalgo and co-pricer and new mom, Gaby Heras.
- Andrea Mejia started working at Chloe’s when she was barely 18. She has always had a maturity and self-composure far beyond her years and I’m proud to have her as our new manager at the Cortland location. She is much more together than I ever will be and she manages people well above her age with tact and firmness. She does not share my fear of telling people like it is. Thank goodness!
Keyko, Rose, Natalia, DeAnne, Rosalva, Michelle, Alex, Lara, Emilly, Jane, Josie, Luz, Maria, Susan & Sara. The ones who are keeping us going now.
And past employees Zulekha, Zenobia, Helen, Emily, Mary, Katy, Maisha, Lydia, Alissa, Jessica, Maire, Anna & Janine. Angela, Donna, Therese, Teri, Kayla, Maryam, Maggie & Miel. Just a few of the people who have lent their shoulder to the wheel to keep Chloe’s Closet turning.
And of course, our amazing customers and consigners—we have the best customers in the world and it has been an honor to serve you. Can’t wait for 10 more!
Thank you, thank you, thank you.