Clutching a snowsuit, I faced a marital dilemma.
Before I left to buy winter attire for our daughter, my husband, Sean, had one request in anticipation of my anti-pink penchant when it came to Juniper’s clothing: “Don’t buy something too boyish.”
This snowsuit was blue. With a football helmet on it.
It was also $7.
There was another option in the 12-month size at my local Kid to Kid children’s resale store — a more attractive plaid for $15 — but to pay twice as much seemed silly, even downright wrong. Chuckling, I wondered if other parents were increasingly following variations of what I’ve dubbed my “consignment mama” mindset – i.e., a preference for buying youth clothing and toys secondhand.
Are we in the midst of a children’s resale renaissance? Or is this something I’m only aware of as a new parent? After all, eBay is well beyond its adolescence and Goodwill is a household name. So I did what any curious, stay-at-home mommy/reporter would do: I set up nap chats (i.e., interviews during Juniper’s afternoon snooze) to dive into the bargain bin of buying for kids.
Among those I spoke with was Chelsea Sloan Carroll. As a daughter of Brent and Shauna Sloan, who opened the first Kid to Kid store in Sandy, Utah, in 1992, she’s more familiar with the topic than most. Today, she’s president of Uptown Cheapskate — a resale franchise targeting young adults — and is a Kid to Kid board member. She number-crunched my hunch. “We’ve grown 33 percent since 2013,” Carroll says of Kid to Kid’s total sales between 2013 and 2016. The operation’s number of franchises also ballooned 82 percent from 2008 to 2016, growing to 120 stores.
They’re not the only reused kids’ items concept that’s expanding. Winmark, the Minneapolis-based company that operates 348 Once Upon A Child resale stores in the United States and Canada, opened 25 more last year and plans to roll out 26 more. It goes well beyond permanent bricks and mortar folks, too.
Ginormous consignment happenings are more frequent and massive. Last year, Just Between Friends, one of the nation’s largest consignment sale franchises, had 75,000 people selling wares at 154 locations – a third of which had an event sale over $100,000. In 2008, the company had less than half the locations and only eight reached that sales goal.
Facebook is full of kid-centric resale groups. Google “children’s consignment sale” and pages of results hawk happenings from Plano, Texas, to Marietta, Ga. Or skip the search and try ConsignmentMommies.com, a national directory of local sales and stores.
Don’t forget web-based consignment shops where any ole Jane or Joe can mail in superfluous stuff to be sold for a proceeds portion. Kid-focused operations include Little Sprouts and Loteda, while trendy sites like thredUP offer voluminous kid sections.
Who’s buying all this for their wee ones?
“We are pretty broadly represented from young moms, 25 to 49, and even have a good segment of grandparents, especially grandmothers,” says Rich Lesperance, chief marketing officer at Swap.com, which lists over half a million children’s items on its virtual marketplace.
Similar demographics were echoed by other industry insiders. The factors motivating these mamas and nanas to shop this way, however, are multifaceted. “Families want to be more socially conscious, they want to be more green and practical,” says Lisa Batra, founder and chief executive of My Kid’s Threads, a consignment website that specializes in upscale kid brands.
An eco-friendly aptitude is part of it, as clothing waste is rampant in the U.S.: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 8 million tons of clothing and footwear were landfilled in 2014. Other credited catalysts include some parents’ need or desire to stretch a dollar, while others enjoy indulging a child’s love-it-today/hate-it-tomorrow style whims on a budget. Then, of course, there’s the explosive interconnectedness the Internet provides today’s smartphone crazed society.
Facebook claims more than 450 million visit its sale groups on a monthly basis. Social media advertising also bombards us daily, making the idea of buying resale in general – let alone for our rugrats – even more ubiquitous.
The biggest impact? The economy, stupid.
The 2007-2009 recession brought new customers to resale’s doorstep.
“When that happened, Kid to Kid surged as a company,” says Carroll. “What happened is people started saying, ‘I would never buy something used,’ but when budget constraints became real, ‘Okay, let me go try it.’ What’s been nice since 2008 is we’ve never seen a downtick.”
Buying habits changed. Parents who tried shopping used out of necessity are still doing so even when they can now afford otherwise.
“If we can get someone like you as a customer now, we feel like we will have you as a customer for 10 years,” says Just Between Friends chief executive and co-founder Shannon Wilburn. After all, having a kid – recession or no – isn’t cheap. The Agriculture Department estimates it will cost $233,610 to raise a baby born in 2015 to age 17. A steep figure that doesn’t include college expenses.
Yet one of the most intriguing theories as to why some present-day parents are opting to buy secondhand came from Michael Norton, coauthor of “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.” Norton, a Harvard Business School professor who researches consumer psychology, points out that what we buy our kids also signals to others what type of parent we perceive ourselves to be.
“There are many ways you can show that you’re a good parent, right? You can make everything yourself – and show you’re a good parent that way,” he says. “You could always make sure your kid always has the newest stuff, and that’s a very different way to show you’re a good parent. Or in some communities, you can show you’re a good parent by engaging in this kind of behavior, like you’re a smart parent buying secondhand things, maximizing your dollar as a parent. In that way, you’re showing you’re a savvy parent.”
As for the snowsuit? After a giggly phone consultation with Sean, I made my purchase. When Juniper took her first sled ride atop her dad’s lap a couple of months later, neither of us cared that she wore the blue football helmet special. What mattered most was that she was snuggly in the snow. The fact that I got the snowsuit for such a deal was a bonus, not a necessity.
It could have even been pink.
Kris Coronado is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va. Find her online at kriscoronado.com.
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