As an assistant manager and buyer for Buffalo Exchange Chrissy Giles knows her fashion stuff. Giles has been an employee of the national chain's Buffalo Exchange outlet in Denver for more than four years, and when she isn't eying and buying items to fill the store's meticulously curated racks, she's scouring the mall, high-end boutiques and the Internet couture marketplace in search of the latest trends. Such attention to detail has proven to be Buffalo Exchange's greatest asset; its refreshing take on consignment keeps inventory circulating and regular customers coming back.
Giles recently spoke to Westword about how Buffalo Exchange picks its inventory from the hundreds of garments that come through the doors each day, assessing everything from fit and style to wear and tear.
Westword: Can you talk a little about your role at Buffalo Exchange and how you came to work at the store?
Chrissy Giles: I'm an assistant manager at Buffalo Exchange -- I supervise the buying as well as train and hire new employees, among other things a retail space requires. I used to live across the street from the the old Cap Hill location, and I shopped there every single day. I would find the best stuff if I went in a lot; it's something I learned is part of the mentality of our regular shoppers. I got to know some of the girls who worked in the store; it was weird, because I applied and interviewed and I didn't get the job. (Laughs.) Six months later, they called me and were like, "Hey, uh, do you still want to work here?"
I think anyone who works at Buffalo Exchange is sort of their own unique character; we're all very different people. Having fun is part of what we do every day -- it's written in our employee handbooks. We really work to engage the customer in that, too. It's not just the clothing we provide; it's also the emotional atmosphere of the store. Clothing's not so serious, and we don't want it to feel that way.
As a resale boutique, Buffalo Exchange's inventory is based on buying clothing from its customers directly. What is the buying process like on the store side? What are the specific things that you look for when people bring in their clothes to sell?
That's a big question. Anything that's going to sell for us is going to be a current style in good condition, and has to match our inventory's needs. So what we look for is a lot of mall labels that everyone loves: Gap, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Nordstrom. From that, we branch out into taking vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces that go along with the trends that are happening in the bigger fashion world.
When we buy, we look at a couple of factors: First, it has to be in good condition. We want the store to look nice. We don't want items that are too faded or too worn -- it can't have had much of a "life" before it comes to us. Then we look at the label -- a label is pretty important, because it factors into our pricing. Obviously, something that comes from Forever 21 is going to be priced much lower than, say, something from a boutique.
From there, we look at the overall style of the item. As employees, it is required that we shop, all of the time. We shop in malls, we shop at boutiques and we shop online. This gives us a good grasp on what's happening, and is how we are able to take things we think are going to sell. Beyond that, we look at the construction of the garment. Say the label fell off -- is this something that's made well? Is it going to keep up in the store? Are there holes in it? Those are the main things we look for.
Courtesy of buffaloexchange.com
Obviously, the store wants to be discriminating, because there has to be a balance of clothing coming in and going out.
Sure. Basically, we keep anything in the store for two months. After that, it gets marked half off, no matter what. We are always circulating our inventory for that reason -- nothing really sits too long. We also look at those items as a reference, too; it's a learning tool. We can say, "Did men's polos sell really well last month? No? Well, maybe we should look for good short-sleeved button-ups instead." We keep a very close eye on what is selling at Buffalo Exchange.
I think that's the number-one difference between our store and other consignment shops; we constantly rotate inventory. We also see up to 200 people a day selling to Buffalo Exchange. I was just in the store, and there were probably twenty people waiting to sell. So that's literally hundreds and thousands of garments a week that we pick from for just our store. Even though it may seem like we're picky, we take a lot in volume into inventory every day.
That's a great point, about being "picky." People seem to take it very personally when the store won't buy their clothes. What, do you think, is the biggest misconception about Buffalo Exchange's buying policy?
I honestly think that it comes down to, yes, people taking it personally. Every single garment has a memory for someone. That makes it very personal. When we pass or reject an item, it doesn't mean that we're saying something about that person. For us, most of the time, it comes down to the condition of the garment. Or maybe we have something similar on the floor already -- we only have so many racks and so much room.
It's a much different experience for us behind the counter; we start to see the same things over and over again. But I want to say that we like to say "yes" more than we like to say "no." More often than not, in most of the buys I do, I'm going to take something. Our philosophy? Everyone has something in their wardrobe that we want. We want our inventory to look good, so that people will trade out their own personal inventory to shop here. We want that constant flow -- we want people to use their store credit to buy from us. We want to make it worthwhile for the customer.
Does Buffalo Exchange accept higher-end items? Is there a cap on the store's price point?
It depends on how much someone wants for that item. We do have consignment in our store that we save for higher-end things. For example, we have a couple of Balenciaga bags that are priced at $400 to $500 in the store. Granted, that person (who sold the bags to Buffalo Exchange) probably spent $2,000 on those bags and will only be getting $250 back. But resale price-wise, that is a pretty good deal.
We always leave it up to the customer; we are upfront about our pricing. When taking items in, we tell the customer the price [it will be marked] in the store, and if they choose to sell, they get 30 percent back in cash, or 50 percent in store credit. Sometimes we'll negotiate a consignment price [for higher-end pieces] where the customer can get half of what the item sells for.
So there's clarity around pricing -- it's not like a customer will be quoted a price and then see it on the sales floor marked way above that.
Oh, no -- that would never, ever happen. When [Kerstin Block], the president of Buffalo Exchange, started the store in the '70s, there was no other store like it. She wanted the traditional "grey areas" of consignment to be clear. It seems to work out. (Laughs.) We understand that there are many reasons why people are selling their clothes, and we take great care when handling those items.
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Buffalo Exchange is open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. For more information on how to sell or trade items, visit the store's website or call 303-866-0165.