Having children is an expensive endeavor given all the clothes, shoes, toys, and paraphernalia that is required. Kim Burtner recognized the financial strain that many families face and in 1990, she opened her first Once Upon a Child store on 86th Street to help ease the burden. Her shop is different than consignment because here customers don’t have to wait for their item to sell before they get their money. They simply bring in gently used clothes, shoes, and toys and receive cash right on the spot.
“Customers love it because they can buy and sell items all in one day, all in one-stop,” Burtner says. “We call that a trade, when the customer sells and buys. The difference of whatever they purchase from us goes together and eliminates sales tax.”
The merchandise at Once Upon a Child is 70% off retail, depending on the brand. To the folks who point out that their prices are similar to Walmart, Burtner reminds them that Walmart doesn’t offer customers the opportunity to make money.
The store has a sorting process in which items are assessed and, based on condition, style, brand, and demand, determines whether they are suitable for resale. The employee then enters the brand and size into their point-of-sale system and that, in turn, generates a quote for the customer.
“A lot of the guesswork has been taken out through using the computer system,” Burtner says. “The staff does have to be sure they look at every toy and piece of equipment for potential recall and to ensure they have all pieces and parts. Butner acknowledges that the buying process can be initially confusing to the customer who doesn’t understand why the store may choose to pass on purchasing some items.
“They assume, ‘My child wore this yesterday, so it must have value,’” Burtner says. But she explains that they can only purchase so many items in a certain style because their storage capabilities are often at full capacity. “I probably have 4,000 totes in my warehouse with items that get switched out seasonally.”
Burtner is interested in purchasing items that are like new and ready to sell, which means they are freshly laundered and folded.
“I think a common misconception is that I have a laundromat in the back, which I do not,” Burtner says. “The second we pay cash for something, unless we’re back-stocking for another season, we put a tag and a hanger on it, and it’s on the sales floor by the end of the day.”
Once Upon a Child has grown very popular. In fact, Burtner has opened two additional locations as well (one on 96th Street and the other on US 31 South). Though they offer promotions throughout the year, as well as coat sales and clearance blowouts, they tend to be busiest when the seasons change.
“We see the biggest bump in clientele when the weather turns hot or cold,” Burtner says, who has four children of her own.
“We tend to clean out the closets when we can’t find a coat that fits or when we see the pants are too short,” she says. “It’s panic and then everybody comes here at the same time. It gets really crazy.”
Burtner says, though, that she has amazing employees who are great at handling those crazy times.
Even though clothing sells well, used toys make up the store’s highest percentage of sales.
“There is lots of trading with toys as parents prepare for that next developmental stage to stimulate their child,” Burtner says. “We are always in need of toys and equipment.”
They’ve also expanded their shoe section, tripling its size over the last eight years.
“The shoes used to be a small section and now it’s a whole wall of cleats and shoes and seasonal boots and sandals,” Burtner says.
For the most part, they keep only seasonal items on the floor. They may keep a small selection of out-of-season items out, but typically things such as swimsuits, tank tops, shorts, sweaters, boots, and sandals go to the warehouse and come out as the season unfolds. They do always keep some costumes out, year-round, which they call “playwear.”
“My son wore his Power Ranger costume to preschool single every day for four months so, believe me, I have a great appreciation for our dress-up section!” Burtner says.
Once Upon a Child is located at 7325 East 96th St, Suite B and has two other locations off of 86th Street and in Carmel. For more information, visit them online at onceuponachild.com.