The Tucson-based company offers cash on the spot, unlike consignment shops, for clothing and accessories, or invites customers to trade former favorites for new or new-to-you merchandise. About 80 percent of the goods at Buffalo Exchange are purchased directly from customers. The company offers 30 percent of the resale price in cash or 45 percent in trade.
Be forewarned that the buyers at Buffalo Exchange are known to be highly selective. (Full disclosure: all of this reporter’s clothes were rejected at a location in New York).
Chief executive Kerstin Block said she’s received complaints from solemn would-be sellers and tries to explain that her staff has an eye for what sells. And what’s selling these days? Trendy clothes from the past two years are appealing, as are designer and vintage pieces from the 1940s through the 1980s.
“The ‘Mad Men’ look is very popular for us now,” Block said. “We also take a plethora of unique items like hand-beaded sweaters or shawls from Afghanistan.”
A favorite of hipsters, Buffalo Exchange stores are often located in up-and-coming urban neighborhoods, like 14th Street Northwest.
“It looked like an area where our customers would be,” said Block, who began hunting for space in the District four years ago upon requests from customers. Retail brokerage and development firm Streetsense secured the space. “It’s an area with a lot of businesses that are similar to ours — there’s a used furniture store, another consignment shop.”
The 4,245-square-foot store will be the 43rd location for Buffalo Exchange, which Block and her husband, Spencer, started in 1974 out of an “addiction to secondhand shopping.” That addiction turned into a $64.4 million business that employs more than 700 people in 15 states.
Block said sales are up around 4 to 7 percent throughout the portfolio of stores, with the two locations in New York City reporting some of the highest revenue. She is considering another location in the Big Apple, along with new stores in Atlanta and Nashville to open next year.
Buffalo Exchange is one of the largest for-profit chains in the resale business, according to Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale Professionals, an industry trade group.
There are more than 30,000 resale, consignment and thrift stores in the United States. Not-for-profit Goodwill Industries, with 2,500 stores and $2.6 billion in annual sales, is a dominant force. In our own backyard, stores such as Secondhand Rose in Georgetown, Annie Cream Cheese in Georgetown and Mustard Seed in Bethesda are popular draws for used and vintage wares.
As a whole, the resale industry has recorded roughly 7 percent growth in stores in the past two years. Meyer said the recession fueled a lot of that activity as “people began seeing resale as a viable option for saving money on shopping” or earning a few extra dollars.