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“If you don’t wake up at 5:30 in the morning to pick up your things, the whole business will stop.” How second-hand survives in the outback

Alexander Kukarenko. Photo: personal archive

Over the past 4 years, 48.5 tons of second-hand clothes have been imported to Belarus, which is five times higher than in 2020. Some second-hand chains in Minsk have dozens of stores, promoted Instagram accounts, and their own stylists-ambassadors. It seems that starting such a business is profitable.

But in the regions the situation is different. Aleksandr Kukarenko, owner of two regional second-hand premium stores, explains that for the sake of an average salary one has to work almost alone from morning till night. In addition, since April 2, second-hand shops have been banned from selling new clothes – only those that were in use are allowed. Alexander told About Business about what a second-hand business really is.

“In a good month, I can even postpone”: how to launch a second-hand in the region

– Before starting my own business, I worked as a manager in a fur coat store. But the industry was gradually dying as less and less real fur was bought. A little more than three years ago, the last point where I still worked as a hired worker was closed.

My wife lived in Ostrovets. In the past few years, the city’s population has grown as a nuclear power plant was built here and builders and workers came. During the construction, the number of residents increased from 7000 to 12000 people.

I felt like I should try to open my own clothing store. It is easier to start a business in a small town – there are few competitors, there is still room for the development of a niche in the clothing trade. There were no second-hand shops in the city yet, and the buyers were not too spoiled by the assortment of local shops. So I launched my first second-hand 3 years ago in Ostrovets. A couple of months later, he opened the second one in neighboring Ashmyany.

I spent about € 3000 to open one store. Most of this money went to buying clothes. About a third of this amount was spent on renting a warehouse and shop. It seemed that the investment should pay off in the first few months. But it turned out that there are many nuances in working with used clothing.

The main one is the lag in the relevance of things for one season: in the summer I buy spring clothes and shoes, in the fall – summer, etc. The demand for winter clothes in the spring is not so great, so I had to wait a year to sell summer clothes in the summer. I managed to get income from second-hand stores only a year after opening.

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

Is this a profitable business? It is quite easy to get the average earnings in Belarus. But due to the large amount of work, the profit does not seem so great. There is enough for life and purchase of the next batch of goods for stores, and in a good month you can even postpone up to $ 1500.

But now, if they ask me whether it is worth entering the business of selling used things, then I, without hesitation, begin to dissuade. I often observe: a “second-hand” is opened in Minsk, and just a month later – they are already packing the goods and moving out of the premises. The second-hand niche is overcrowded.

“250 kg of new clothes every week”: how to choose a second-hand product

For a second-hand shop, buying goods “from hand” is an unrealistic task. All my colleagues and I myself work through intermediaries. There are not many of them in Belarus – only 5 or 6 companies. In their warehouse, you can choose already sorted bales of different volumes: 25 kg, 50 kg, 100 kg. What clothes are in the bags – you can’t see. Transparent bales are supplied only from Lithuania.

Now the cost of purchasing a kilogram of clothes in large warehouses has almost doubled, because Poles and Lithuanians understand that it is difficult for Belarusians to travel abroad, and they ask for more goods.Bales are distributed according to price categories – depending on the percentage of “substandard”. Each has a certain number of things from the categories “stock”, “cream”, “extra”, “first” and “second grade”:

  • “Stock” – not used clothes, but unsold clothes from stores
  • “Cream” – clothes without defects, practically new, sometimes well-known brands
  • “Extra” – good clothes with subtle defects
  • First and second grade – such clothes are often worn out, defects are pronounced. If this is bought, it is most often used for processing.

A garment bag usually contains one type of product — for example, “summer jackets” or “short sleeve blouses.” But in fact, anything can be inside – it depends on who collected and named this bag. There are no tags as such on clothes. But sometimes it may be that they were cut off in advance and offered to be given in a separate bag: if you want, you can hang it yourself.

At first I just bought bigger bags. But after 3 years, he developed a rule – not to buy goods for the sake of weight.As practice shows, taking low-quality things in the hope of being lucky is a big mistake for beginners. In this business, losses are mainly due to the purchase of low-quality clothing. For example, it happens like this: you buy 50 kg of clothes, but you can sell only 40% of this, the rest goes to waste. Compared to this, transport costs and rental of premises do not even account for 50% of the cost of a store.

“I choose, I breed, I iron – myself”: how the business of second-hand things works

Usually at the beginning of the week I bring things from suppliers. I sort them myself, evaluate and smooth the clothes after purchase. During transportation, I learned to fold things one by one so that they smooth out those under them with their weight. Sometimes it works better than ironing – it saves time, especially considering that every week I bring about 250 kg of new clothes to stores.

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

The rule, which is used by all large second-hand stores, is to indicate the day of delivery (once a week or once a month). Then shoppers will want to come back on that particular day to look for new things.

When I distribute things to points, I start from what they buy more often and in which store. Of course, there are things that you can’t sell at all. As a rule, I donate such clothes and shoes to shelters.

This has been the case since childhood – I was told that nothing should be thrown away if it could be useful to someone else.

Clothes have to be bought for the season ahead. This requires a large warehouse. For example, I can store up to 1500 kg of clothes at a time. For colleagues in Minsk or in regional cities, this weight can be 2-3 times more, even if there are only one or two points.

I have 3 sellers working for two stores. They help sort and hang things, monitor the room and, if necessary, iron the goods. Sometimes my wife helps me with advice on what people will like and what will be in demand. This is the whole team of my business.

In addition to responsibilities, employees in the store have restrictions. For example, sellers cannot buy goods from their own store. So that there is not even a thought of violation, I support the workers with a good salary – an average of 900 rubles. rub. ($ 340) per person.

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

All work with the product before it arrives at the store, I do alone. It’s more profitable, but I don’t have vacations and sick leaves.

If you didn’t wake up at 5:30 in the morning to go to the warehouse and collect things, then the whole business may stop.If suddenly it breaks down on the road or there is too much supply of clothes and you need to help in the store, then under a work contract I hire those who can solve this problem.

“People buy more often at the border with Europe”: what do second-hand customers want?

The pandemic has greatly contributed to the development of the used clothing business. With each new month of the closed borders, the demand increased.

And the closer the second-hand is to the borders with European countries, the higher the demand. For example, two of my stores are located in cities where people are used to going to Vilnius on weekends to buy cheap clothes for themselves. They cannot leave now – so they come in search of something European. Although not so far in every region. For example, in small towns of the Gomel region, people are accustomed to buying things in ordinary stores and do not tend to change their preferences. I know about it because I myself am one of those places.

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

A few years ago, everyone bought in stores and markets, and if everything was very bad with money, then they bought second-hand. But now the trend has changed – young people and the older generation can be seen in the “second-hand” much more often than in the queue for a Turkish blouse on the market. To explain all this is quite simple: people choose the optimal price-quality ratio.

The bulk of second-hand buyers are middle class and wealthier people.They are no longer confused by the fact that the clothes are second-hand. And people started to pay more attention to ecology, reuse of things. Some just want to act rationally – for example, artists and bloggers often visit my colleagues in Minsk, who need one-time clothes for performances or filming.

There are not many clothing outlets in a small town – people are not spoiled for choice. They come here for the same things every season: jeans, bikes, T-shirts. These are the most popular goods in Europe too, which is why they are not given away so often.

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

It also happened that the demand for everyday things exceeded the amount of clothes that I brought. People quickly snapped up basic clothes, and more formal outfits hung for months, for example, as is often the case with white blouses. In Minsk, people are more likely to buy such things, because in the capital business style is more common.

Clothes of bright or non-standard sizes will most likely not be bought in the region. For example, a large and bright sports top. There is no demand for such goods in small towns.

“Even an accidental slip of the tongue can cause a series of checks”: what requirements second-hand goods must comply with

The Council of Ministers issued a decree banning the sale of new clothes along with used items in second-hand stores. Such restrictions for private business have been discussed for a long time (in 2018 and 2020), since state-owned enterprises of the light industry were worried that competition was increasing. Moreover, various requirements for second-hand goods already exist, and they are quite strict.

For example, they often require certificates confirming the sanitary processing of products. Such processing with formaldehyde is carried out in the country from which the goods are exported. When cleaning, they must issue a certificate that cannot be lost.

It is also constantly necessary to remember about sanitary standards. For example, it is not recommended to sell underwear in used clothing stores. If the assortment includes clothes for a child under 7 years old, then it should not have natural fur. And there are a lot of such nuances!

Photo: personal archive
Photo: personal archive

In addition, finding out whether new clothes or they were worn a couple of times is also quite problematic for the inspectors. The difference is only noticeable in the product tags. They should not indicate that the product is new. It is very easy to rip off these signs, and for proof it will be necessary to conduct an examination. This may take an indefinite period of time, and it will be unlikely to get the clothes back.

The system works the same as with driving licenses. You are first stopped and your license taken away, and only then your guilt is established.It is important not only to check the tags on the goods so that they do not indicate that the item is new, but also to prepare the sellers. They should not confuse the concept of “stock” items and new products. Even a casual slip of the tongue can trigger a string of checks.

I believe that if the borders with European countries are not opened in the near future, then people will continue to choose second-hand clothes to buy. Then there will clearly be more restrictions on the business. Probably, most of the well-known second-hand stores, which previously traded exclusively in “stock” clothing, will have to be closed.

“Second” will not be able to exist without “stock” clothes. If you have to remove all the “stock”, then only 20-30% of the clothes that can still be worn will remain on the shelves.Realizing what difficulties will follow after the ban on selling new things, I think about what to do if second-hand shops have to be closed. Now I think that in this case I will open a clothing rental business in order to offer people things “for a while”, spend almost nothing and earn money on it.

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Fidenge Pecold

My profession is a journalist, but my hobby for 8 years has been studying Forex investing and trading. During this time, I managed to gain extensive experience in investing and trading cryptocurrencies and double my capital in the Forex market. To be the author of this magazine, the site owners invited me to participate in one of the 2020 trading webinars, and I will try to reveal the most relevant crypto market news for you.

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