It has been a slow time coming, but downtown SLC is starting to find character again after a rash of construction sites started throwing up apartment buildings in every corner they could. Except for that one church-looking structure on 100 South that now looks like Bruce Gray and IBM designed a building together. But in the nooks and crannies of the city we're seeing small businesses come to live and thrive. A perfect example of this is iconoCLAD, a consignment shop who are about to celebrate their one-year anniversary this weekend. Today we talk with the founder of the shop, Tom Sobieski, about the place and their plans for this Saturday.
Tom Sobieski (with Markelle Mordue)
Gavin: Hey Tom, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
That's a broad, scary, question. I'm a crazy cat guy who went to school in Business Marketing at the U of U and is a Burning Man enthusiast. So basically a weirdo with a business degree, I suppose.
Gavin: Prior to opening iconoCLAD, what was your career like?
I was actually an insurance broker for nearly five years and did numerous sales jobs prior to that.
Gavin: What sparked your interest in clothing and retail?
One of my first jobs was actually at Spencer's in Fashion Place Mall, where I ended up being a manager there. After trying to climb the corporate ladder right when the recession hit, I remembered how much I actually liked working face to face with people rather than miserably hiding behind a computer avoiding angry, demanding emails from insurance agents. To paraphrase Office Space
, "I have people skills, damnit
!!! What the hell is wrong with you people!?!?" But yeah, I love actually talking to people and building relationships.
Gavin: I read that you had quit your job with no major plans in motion yet. How much of a risk was it to you at that time?
Yes, I quit my cubicle job with no clear plans on what I was going to do next. My self-esteem was cripplingly low at the time. I wasn't in a good place mentally and couldn't muster the cheery self that I usually was to even do good phone interviews. All I knew is that I had to get out of that cubicle so I could salvage my attitude to effectively move on to the next thing. After that, even with what I thought was an impressive resume, I had an extremely hard time getting interviews. When I got the idea in my head that I could actually pull off opening a consignment store, I knew I had no choice. I didn't have that much to lose and I knew I'd hate myself forever if I didn't try. I couldn't do anything else wondering, "what if?"
Gavin: How did the initial idea of iconoCLAD's consignment business model come about?
Three major reasons. The first is an accounting reason. I had very little money available to start iconoCLAD and consignment allowed me to build an inventory without prohibitive upfront costs. This is because the expense of selling a consigned item doesn't technically hit your books until the item is sold. If the item doesn't sell, you're just out the space and time it took to host the item while it was in your store. This is why most resale stores sell your things at a much higher price than what they paid for it. They run a higher risk of having their cash tied up in inventory that's sitting around, especially if no one ends up buying it. That being said, they also stand to make a much higher profit margin (e.g.- they give you $5 for something and sell it for $20. They make $15. If the same transaction happens at iconoCLAD, we make $10). There are benefits of either sales model, but it's not all about profit here. Which brings me to reason number two. The important one. I really want iconoCLAD to be more about the people who buy and sell in here, rather than us. I chose to do a 50/50 split when we sell your items so that people who do sell their previously rocked stuff gain to benefit just as much as we do. I want everyone to know that they're a part of the store and to care about their stuff after they've brought it in. If people care about the store and their items, then we hope to attract the best items and crowd
. So yeah, I want iconoCLAD to give people the warm fuzzies and consignment is a big part of that. Three, there really aren't any consignment stores left around and we wanted to do something to set us apart. We were trying to be unique from the beginning and sometimes go out of our way to not be like other businesses.
Gavin: When did you come across the location on Broadway and what made you choose it for the location?
Well, actually, it was my third choice, but my first two got taken pretty quick. I'm glad too,
because I love our spot on 414 East 300 South, and we would have had a rough go if we had those other spots. Unlike most places in the area, we have our own parking lot, which is huge. The other businesses here on Broadway have been so awesome, too, and we're surrounded by apartments filled with really awesome people. I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop and finding your inventory?
It was an adventure for sure. Not having much money for contractors or fixtures, we built everything ourselves, including most of our clothing racks out of old pallets. It's an awesome, sustainable look. It was definitely a community effort getting inventory in here. Like I mentioned before, I'm part of the local Burning Man community and those people were huge in donating/selling and getting us ready to launch. We also had a lot of fun ordering in new items like leggings and shirts that helped set the tone of the kind of inventory we wanted to attract. Not many resale stores carry new clothing items, but some others have followed suit since.
Gavin: When you first opened last spring, what were the initial impressions from the neighborhood and how did the first couple months of business go?
The neighborhood is great with lots of foot traffic. We love the people in the apartments who come in. The first months were actually really good for us since we focus a lot on festival items for things such as Burning Man, Element 11, and Building Man. We even sell tickets for a lot of the local festivals.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in choosing what goes on the racks and what gets rejected?
It needs to be in good shape and it gets bonus points if it's fun and funky. It's sometimes a hard process, but after a time you start to get a sense of what sells well and what doesn't. I mostly rely on the awesome staff here for that though. I'm good at business and marketing, they're the fashionistas!
Gavin: What would you say are the most successful areas of fashion that seem to leave as soon as you get it?
We have a hard time keeping Doc Marten boots and anything with cats or unicorns on it. We have two cats who live at the store (#hugstheshopcat and #kissestheshopcat), so we love all things cat related!
Gavin: One of the biggest things you got recognition for were the breathing masks during the winter. How did you come across those and what was that exposure like?
We originally ordered those for Burning Man and other festivals where you partially live in a dust storm. They're also pretty effective with dealing with the Utah inversion, so we put them out there for that. Getting interviewed one morning by Fox 13 was a major surprise.
Gavin: The shop itself has become a sort of selfie-hub where a good portion of your customers end up taking pics of what they just bought at the shop and post it online. How much has that helped out the business?
It's been huge. Like I said before, I want iconoCLAD to be more about our consignors and customers. We don't really pay for advertising, so all the love on the social media (@iconoclad) goes a loooong way. We love and appreciate people who post about us and it makes the store what it is. You all rock!
Gavin: With the success the shop has seen so far, are there any plans to expand or open a second location at this point?
Everyone wants me to, but I still need to get one store under control. That being said, within one year we have five people working in the shop and I'm about to move back into my own apartment again. Not many businesses have that kind of luck in their first year. Who knows what the future brings.
Gavin: This Saturday is the one-year anniversary, what have you got in store for the occasion?
We're huge on supporting local arts and crafts, especially within the Burner Community. So we're going to have our top-selling local artists in here selling terrariums, coasters, fuzzy hats, awesome leather work, and tie dyed clothing. We'll have DJs playing all day with food and drinks. We'll also have a representative from the regional Burning Man organization selling tickets for the upcoming Element 11 festival. Burning Man is a huge part of what we are, so we want our party to feel like you're at a bar out on the Playa.
Gavin: What do you hope the shop will add to the community as you continue to grow?
I keep bringing it up over and over, so I don't want to sound like a broken record, but we really just want to be a catalyst for all of the awesomeness in the city as people resell their previously rocked stuff. So yes, an awesome place for new and previously rocked fashion, local arts and crafts, and a chill place to hang out.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and iconoCLAD over the rest of the year?
We're still figuring out everything as we go, so it has definitely been a journey. Expect more local artist trunk shows, random nights with our DJ friends rocking the joint, and more awesome inventory coming in. Thank you everyone for being a part of our experience. It's been a crazy, awesome years!