Before becoming a Plato’s Closet® franchisee, Rita Cortese-Torres worked as an underwriter for an insurance company for 15 years. She enjoyed the work but decided she needed more flexibility to raise her three-year-old daughter Ava. This prompted Rita to look at other career options.
Rita researched different franchise concepts, realizing that owning her own business would allow her the independence and flexibility in her schedule she needed.
“I didn’t want to start from scratch, but I knew I wanted to be a business owner,” said Rita. “When I came across Winmark and the great products and franchise system they had, the decision was made for me. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and they already had a successful, proven system.”
Finding the Right Fit
Rita traveled to Minneapolis for a Discovery Day to learn more about the brand. There, she was able to talk to current franchisees and understand the nuances of the franchise opportunity. She also visited a Plato’s Closet nearby and was very impressed by the product.
“I actually ended up spending around $250 at the Plato’s Closet buying clothes for myself,” said Rita. “That obviously wasn’t the reason why I was there, but I liked all the clothes so much that I couldn’t help myself.”
Rita also says she enjoyed the eco-friendly nature of resale. Every year, 13 million tons of clothes are thrown away. Clothing resale is one of the most effective ways to combat this waste. Rita enjoyed the opportunity to make a positive impact on communities and the environment, while still operating a profitable business.
In order to finance her Plato’s Closet, Rita refinanced her house and an investment property, as well as maxed out all her credit cards and borrowed money from her father. In April 2006, she was finally ready to open up her Plato’s Closet in Deptford, New Jersey. She experienced immediate success, bringing in 40 percent more revenue than the average store during her first year in business. By her third year, she had more than $1 million in annual sales.
“It’s funny because you are always prepared for the worst,” said Rita. “So, I had run through every scenario in my head where things could’ve gone wrong, but I hadn’t prepared for the success or need for expansion right away.”
Rita soon realized she would need to make adjustments in order to continue serving her customers effectively.
Outgrowing Her Space
Along with the store’s great success came the challenge of keeping up with it. Rita’s 4,000-square foot store was quickly becoming too small to house all her inventory. In 2009, she decided to move to a bigger location – double the size of her original store. Rita also increased her staff to accommodate the larger space, and credits her great team for much of her success.
“I really have tremendous people working for me in the store,” said Rita. “Half of them have been with me since the very beginning, and I really couldn’t have done any of this without them. They were so wonderful with the transition and continue to be an asset to my business every day.”
Rita says she has no plans to expand by opening new stores and instead continues to build on the success of her Plato’s Closet. She has become an integral member of a co-operative in her area, providing guidance to new business owners. Noting her success with Winmark, Rita’s husband Mark opened up a store with Winmark as well – his own Play It Again Sports® location. His store is in the same complex as Rita’s, just six doors down.
With almost 12 years in business, Rita has found a lucrative niche within the clothing resale industry. She says her biggest success, however, is how she has been able to foster a positive relationship with her daughter – now 15.
“My daughter Ava wants to be a business owner as well,” said Rita. “I think providing a good example to her and showing her that success is possible – even when you’re taking a big risk – is one of the best things this business has done for us.”
Are you interested in breaking into the $17 billion resale industry and positively impacting your community? Click here to learn more about our franchise brands.