By Amanda Harvey
In 1991, sisters Ann and Jenny Siner opened their first 1,200-square-foot shop in Phoenix, an upscale consignment store called My Sister’s Closet. Flash forward 25 years, and the pair now run Eco-Chic Consignments, the umbrella company of their three successful stores My Sister’s Closet, My Sister’s Attic and Well Suited, spanning 15 locations in both Arizona and California.
Prior to starting the business with her younger sister, Ann worked in marketing for Petsmart corporate. “I had my dream job,” she said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest person or the dumbest person to leave it,” she said, laughing. “I love animals, I love marketing, but deep down I thought, ‘If I’m going to work this hard, I want to do my own thing.’” Ann explained that while on a business trip she happened to pop into a consignment store and found some great items. When she returned home she said to Jenny, who had just graduated from college, “Maybe we should do this!” Jenny recalls, “I was up for anything.”
At first, the sisters did everything by hand: pricing, processing, calculating. “It was just us for a long time,” said Ann. They recounted the hurdles of figuring out payroll, taxes and filing for a business credit card. It was also very difficult to get a lease, they explained, due to their lack of experience and funding. Many of the shopping plazas they approached were concerned a secondhand store would bring down the value of the neighborhood. “We learned a lot about owning a business by the seat of our pants,” said Ann. She joked, “We should have called the store The Seat of Our Pants!”
At the beginning, Ann and Jenny were concerned they wouldn’t have enough quality product to fill the small store, but pretty soon they were bursting at the seams with it. They soon opened a location at Lincoln Village in Scottsdale, where they still reside. The sisters also opened a children’s store named Small Change. It was open for 10 years and was successful in its own right, but the prices were much lower and it took twice as much labor. A few years later the sisters tried again and opened My Sister’s Attic, a consignment store for furniture and home accessories.
Customers appreciated the sisters’ business model and frequently made requests for menswear. When another vacant spot opened in the Lincoln Village plaza, they jumped on it, and Well Suited was born.
“It was all based on demand,” said Ann. “People said to us, ‘I really like the way you do business. I don’t need an appointment, I can come in and get paid when I want.’” Other consignment stores will make customers wait 90 days after their item has sold to receive a check. “We’ll pay you right on the spot,” said Ann.
Their next foray was creating My Sisters’ Charities, a 501(c)3 nonprofit thrift store, out of concern of where items end up after the consignment period is over. Since the beginning, they have always donated unsold items to thrift stores. However, after realizing only half of the six thrift stores they donated to were successful, they decided to use their extensive retail experience and take matters into their own hands.
“Last year, which was our first full year, we netted $136,000 in 3,000 square feet. Our gross sales were $300,000,” said Ann. All of this money was donated to causes the sisters care about: the environment, homeless animals, and women. The largest recipients were the Humane Society and The Nature Conservancy, among many others. It makes people feel good about consigning: they can earn some money if their item sells, or if it doesn’t, they can rest easy knowing it will help those in need. If an item is damaged or doesn’t sell at the thrift store level, it then gets purchased by a recycler who repurposes the items or ships it to developing countries for further use. “It’s this big circle,” said Ann. “We will find a use for it. Nothing gets sent to the landfill.”
The sisters’ next goal is to expand their e-commerce options. Currently, customers are able to view items online but must call the store to purchase the item and have it shipped. “We have everything lined up, we just need to flip the switch to make it available,” explained Ann. One concern is figuring out how to manage it, “since we’re not a warehouse and we can’t just pull it off the shelf,” she continued. “It could already be in someone’s shopping cart at the store!” As with the other obstacles the sisters have overcome, they’re sure to figure this one out.
Another focus will be on further educating their 240 employees on being more eco-friendly, specifically on reducing the amount of plastic water bottles used. “We’re going to have pins made that say ‘I Took the Pledge’ [against single-use plastic bottles],” said Ann, to encourage the staff to bring reusable water bottles instead and fill them at water stations in the store.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have success, and it’s amazing how when we give back how much of it comes back to us,” said Ann. “I’m always impressed with the number of people who say they shop with us because we give back to the community and charities and send nothing to the landfill.”
My Sister’s Closet will host a 25th anniversary soiree on Thursday, October 20 from 5:30 p.m.- 8:00 p.m. at their location at Lincoln Village in Scottsdale. RSVP to 25years@mysisterscloset. com. For more on the Siner sisters and My Sister’s Closet, visit mysisterscloset.com.
Read more about corporate social responsibility at greenlivingaz.com/csr