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Resale shops are thriving, looking to expand in Utah market

SHARE Resale shops are thriving, looking to expand in Utah market
Jeremy Hilton helps his son, Dax, pick out a bat at Play It Again Sports store recently.

Jeremy Hilton helps his son, Dax, pick out a bat at Play It Again Sports store recently.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When 6-year-old sports enthusiast Dax Hilton needed a baseball bat, there was no doubt in dad Jeremy Hilton's mind where they would get one.

Play It Again Sports, a sporting goods resale store at 6910 Highland Drive, was the place where Dad got great deals on workout equipment a few years earlier.

So on a recent summer day, Hilton steered his son into the store to check out the bats for Dax's upcoming game.

"I've shopped here for years," Hilton said. "Four years ago, when I decided to get into shape, I bought all my weights here. The price was fair, and the staff was always knowledgeable and friendly."

Play It Again Sports is one of five resale franchise brands owned by the successful Winmark Corporation, which currently operates 900 shops in the United States and Canada. The sporting goods store offers gently used equipment and, unlike some of the other Winmark outlets, also sells new items.

Winmark's other franchises are Plato's Closet, which recently opened a new store in Bountiful; Once Upon A Child, which plans to expand into the Utah market; Music Go Round, which sells gently used musical instruments; and Wirth Credit, which offers lease financing for small businesses.

Winmark's reported net income for the first two quarters of this year ending June 26 was $4.5 million, which is up from $2.6 million in 2009.

The recession is helping the resale business and resale stores are flourishing, according to the National Association of Resale Professionals.

The resale industry is not only recession-proof, but "it grows and thrives" during lean years, NARTS executive director Adele Meyer said on the group's website.

Resale stores are not only helping consumers with extra-tight budgets, but also are putting cash in the hands of people who have plenty of things they'd like to sell.

Among other things, this change in consumer spending has also been influenced by the growing awareness of environmental issues.

"With the economy posing a challenge and the fact that many people have an overabundance of possessions, savvy shoppers and sellers are realizing a real need to recycle perfectly good merchandise," Meyer said.

However, Steven Murphy, president of franchising for Winmark, said the recession alone is not the reason for that company's success.

"People are saying, 'You're doing well because of the economy.' I've been here since 2001 and we've done well throughout," Murphy told the Deseret News. "Our brands have consistently been doing well, but we now seem to have more interest in our brands from franchise candidates and consumers."

But the recession is having an effect.

"People nowadays are looking to stretch their family budget as far as they can. Suddenly they're discovering our brands. (Some) would not have considered it before. Some people would have said, 'I would not go into a resale shop,' in the past. Now the stigma is gone and they're seeing our stores are bright, beautiful, look like any mid- to high-end retailer. People like the environment, they feel good about the savings and about selling things to put cash in their pockets."

Bill Hicks, who owns two Play It Again Sports stores in Utah, agrees.

"In September, I will have been here 20 years," he said. "I've been through a few recessions."

He previously worked at Snowbird, decided he needed a change and, when his sister sent him an article about the franchise, "it seemed to fit."

The Highland Drive store sells a wide variety of merchandise, generally at costs that on average are 50 percent less than new retail prices. The store buys used equipment for cash, sells it and also offers consignment opportunities.

Hicks has plenty of repeat customers — "mostly families with kids" who need replacement sporting goods as the youngsters grow and also begin explore new sports. There also are adult consumers who often want such things as treadmills or other items to augment their home workouts.

Plato's Closet is another Winmark franchise that has done well in Utah with stores in Taylorsville, Layton, Draper, Orem and, most recently, Bountiful.

Jason Young, who owns three of the stores, started with the Orem store in 2003.

"I used to work at Intel in Riverton, but I always wanted to own my own business. I'm just not a corporate kind of guy," Young said.

He began investigating franchises and found Plato's Closet, which then had only 19 stores. He skipped the idea for a time but returned to the store's website about 18 months later, only to see that the franchise now had 85 stores.

"I knew it was my time — if I was ever going to get out of the corporate world, that was it," he said.

These stores have been successful not just in this market, but around the country, Young said. "Even before the economic downturn, it's been great. You come into a Plato's Closet and find really nice, in-style clothing for about 70 percent off for what you can buy new. That just resonates with a lot of people."

Business clearly has picked up during the recession, but Young is confident this trend will last even when the economy rebounds.

"The recession was good for us because it got a lot of people familiar with our store and it's not a typical secondhand store," he said. "I think we'll keep that customer base there."

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com