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Holdrege consignment shop thrives in struggling economy
by Jennifer Chick

The Drawer

The declining economy, fluctuating gas prices and rising environmental awareness have created the perfect storm — in a good way — where consignment stores like Denice Swanson’s shop, The Drawer, in Holdrege, can seize new opportunities and thrive.

In October, Swanson, 47, had her highest sales month since opening the doors in August 2003. She attributes the high traffic to the poor economy and higher gas prices. More environmentally conscious consumers also bring more attention to consignment shops.

“This is one thing that keeps going around and around,” Swanson said. “You keep perfectly good merchandise from entering a landfill. If you want to be eco-savvy, or want to be green, this is the way to go.”

Job loss is new beginning.

The Drawer

The idea to open a consignment shop took hold after Swanson visited Christine’s Closet, a consignment store in Wichita, Kan., with her niece in 2003.

“I couldn’t get that out of my head,” she said. “I was obsessed with that consignment shop.” Then, 30 days later, the Holdrege factory where Swanson had worked for 23 years announced it was closing its doors.

“It was like somebody was telling me something; to look in another direction,” she said. “I just decided to go ahead with this plan because then I could give it 100 percent of my time.”

The Holdrege native rolled up her sleeves and went to work. She rented shop space along Fourth Avenue in Holdrege and bought books and computer software on how to open and run a consignment shop. She submitted a business plan and sought help from the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project and received a loan.

“I kind of sweated through that, but it was well worth it,” she said.

Consignors and customers.

The Drawer

Interest in her shop spread by word of mouth through the community and surrounding areas. Consignors and customers came from Lincoln to McCook, Lexington to Kansas. They explored the aisles, racks, nooks and crannies on treasure hunts for the perfect outfit or something special among the gifts and other items — some of them new — carried in the store.

“The consignors’ chances of selling products are better when more people come in,” she said. “It’s the consignor and The Drawer working together to make this work.”

Less than four years after opening her business, she was moving to a location that roughly doubled her display space.

“I outgrew that building so fast,” she said. “I had more consignors and items than I knew what to do with.”

Since February 2007, The Drawer has been located at 409 West Ave. in Holdrege, a building Swanson knows well. Her father, Willis Woodring, operated Woodring Department Store there in the 1970s.

An accident forces change.

The Drawer

When Swanson first opened The Drawer, she ran the business by herself, but after her son, Zack, was in a car accident, she closed shop for one month.

“I had so many customers that were worried that I was going to close the store for good,” she said. “They said, ‘We’ll do anything we can to help you through this. We love this store and don’t want to see it close.’”

When she reopened, people swarmed to the store, and now she employs five people part-time, making schedules flexible to maintain a family-friendly business.

“For a lot of customers, once they find that one bargain, they are hooked,” Swanson said. “We put new stuff out every day so it’s constantly changing.”

Trust is paramount in Swanson’s partnership with her consignors. She takes consignments every Thursday, Friday and Saturday unless seasons are changing or it’s close to the holidays.

“It’s exciting to see what comes in the door,” Swanson said. “I can’t wait to dig into it. There is always something new.”

She sets a limit of 25 items or less at a time, and items must be in good condition and ready to display. Consignors get 40 percent of the price of an item when it sells. Several consignors who have moved out of state still send their items to The Drawer for Swanson to sell.

“I think you have to gain people’s trust, and it’s easier to do that in a community of this size,” Swanson said.

In May 2006, Swanson went to work fulltime at Tap Enterprise in Minden, where she is manager. Robin Townsend manages the shop for her, and the flexibility allows Swanson to price items at home. Recently, fate again stepped in when Tap Enterprises announced it will be closing the Minden office to consolidate to its headquarters in Springhill, Kan. Swanson is contemplating whether she will focus solely on The Drawer or look for another job.

“I want to be able to spend more time (at the shop), and I feel like I could get more into the marketing aspect and increase the business,” she said.

Look like a million bucks.

The Drawer

Swanson dreams of doing a fashion makeover on a customer with items from her store to show people how consignment shops can give wardrobes more variety and flexibility at less expense. Swanson said 90 percent of the clothes she wears come from her store or other consignment shops, but admits that the hardest customer to persuade are teenage shoppers, who may feel uncomfortable shopping in a consignment store.

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money,” she said. “If you know how to shop, you can find something that is affordable and look like a million bucks.”

The Drawer’s hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, although on Thursday, customers can shop until 7 p.m. On Saturday, the store is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This is my passion,” Swanson said. “I love fashion. I love shopping. I love art. I never think I’m going to work when I am here.”

Who To Contact...

The Drawer
Denice Swanson
409 West Ave.
Holdrege, NE 68949
(308) 995-5255

Jennifer Chick is a freelance writer and western Kansas native who moved to Holdrege in 2005 with her husband and two young children. She has found Holdrege to be an inviting place with a variety of family-friendly activities. You can contact her via email at tjchick@q.com

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