Franchisor Profile: Ronald Olson, NTY (New To You) Franchise Company
Building a highly successful franchise company from the ground up is nothing new to Ron Olson; however, his latest endeavor - NTY Franchise Company - does involve new brands, new ideas and new faces.
One familiar face in the business is his son Chad Olson: the two started franchising the upscale resale brand Clothes Mentor back in 2007, and it soon became one of the fastest-growing franchises in the United States.
NTY, which stands for “new to you,” focuses on a unique resale concept that buys like-new items directly from customers for cash on-the-spot and sells that gently used merchandise for about 70 percent less than original retail prices. This simple process not only provides franchisees with high gross margins because they purchase inventory for about one-third of what they sell it for, but it also puts money back into the pockets of people within their community. It’s a win-win.
But getting rid of the stereotype surrounding used merchandise hasn’t been easy. Ron and Chad and the NTY team have had to orchestrate a shift in consumer thinking. It involves showing how NTY stores are different than traditional consignment and thrift stores for two main reasons: cash on-the-spot and shopping experience.
In comparison, consignment stores only pay customers a percentage of the profit when (or if) their specific merchandise sells, and thrift stores usually don’t pay customers for merchandise at all, accepting only donated goods for inventory. When it comes to shopping experience, all NTY stores put great emphasis on buying high-quality, name-brand merchandise that is in excellent condition.
Customers know that there are no stains, holes, missing parts or other damage with any of the items, and merchandise is often less than two years old. The stores feature a modern design and are clean, bright and meticulously organized. These factors aren’t always found at consignment and thrift stores, but they are at NTY stores.
Another way that NTY has reinvented resale is with technology. The company has developed a proprietary point-of-sale system designed specifically for the resale of goods. It includes a built-in buy matrix, touch-screen capabilities and more. NTY and its franchisees also utilize the power of social media, user-friendly websites, and opt-in emails to connect with customers on a daily basis. In addition, Clothes Mentor is the first of NTY’s resale brands to roll out a rewards program, which also includes a mobile app. All of these factors help to create brand awareness, spreading the upscale resale message and brand loyalty.
The market for resale has proven to not only withstand, but flourish during economic downturns.
Clothes Mentor, for example, which started franchising when the U.S. economy was on the verge of a recession, thrived when other retail stores were struggling. It created an even bigger demand for NTY’s resale niche that continued to grow as the economy improved. The very nature of resale keeps customers coming back: inventory changes daily, which is a thrill for shoppers.
A Storied Past
No one had to tell Ron Olson that Clothes Mentor would be a success before he took a chance on the brand. He knew he had a winning formula because of his success with a similar resale concept back in the 1980s. His first home run came in 1987, when the company he cofounded, Franchise Business Systems, purchased the franchise rights to Play It Again Sports (PIAS). The used sporting goods store achieved success quickly, and Ron expanded the company offerings in 1992 when he purchased the franchise rights to Once Upon A Child (OUAC) from Columbus, Ohio couple Lynn and Dennis Blum. The company then changed its name to Grow Biz International, which was recognized by Forbes and Fortune Magazine as the fastest-growing private company in America in 1994. The following year, Grow Biz went public on Nasdaq - and skyrocketed to 1,000 stores nationwide. Within the next five years, new management took over Grow Biz and changed the name to Winmark Corporation. The company continued to franchise PIAS and OUAC, as well as Plato’s Closet and Music Go Round. Ron retired from Winmark Corporation in 2000.
But retirement didn’t last long for the businessman who has been referred to as the godfather of resale. In 2005, Ron decided to pay a visit to his longtime friends Lynn and Dennis Blum in Columbus, who he knew well from his Grow Biz days and the purchase of their brands OUAC and Plato’s Closet. When the Blums started talking about their store Clothes Mentor, Ron’s entrepreneurial instincts kicked in once again, and he decided to come out of retirement and purchase the franchise rights to Clothes Mentor. He then founded NTY Franchise Company in 2006.
NTY (New To You) Franchise Company
In 2007, Ron’s son Chad Olson, who had also gained many years of management experience at Grow Biz and later Winmark Corporation, joined the newly formed NTY Franchise Company to start franchising Clothes Mentor. With many years of successful franchising experience and an innovative resale brand in their back pocket, the Olsons knew they were onto something big.
The concept of buying and selling gently used designer and name-brand women’s fashion has certainly struck a chord with consumers. Clothes Mentor provides shoppers with high-quality clothing, shoes and accessories at resale prices in a true retail environment. The brand expanded rapidly, and the total number of stores now exceeds 140. Every year since 2009, Clothes Mentor has been recognized as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500.
After building a successful women’s resale franchise and a team of managers with extensive resale and retail experience, Ron and Chad Olson decided to expand NTY Franchise Company’s offerings. In 2011 Ron once again reached out to his old friends the Blums, and purchased the franchise rights for New Uses, a resale store for home furnishings. Just two years later, NTY purchased the franchise rights for Laptop Exchange from Mike Smith out of Las Vegas and changed the name to Device Pitstop. The brand now buys, sells and repairs smartphones, tablets, laptops and other personal electronics. Rounding out the company’s current franchise opportunities, NTY launched two new resale brands from scratch in 2014: NTY Clothing Exchange, for teens and young adults, and NTY Kids, for children sizes 0 to 14. The latest addition came in 2015, when the company purchased Children’s Orchard and its more than 30 existing stores. NTY decided to merge the new brand with NTY Kids and keep the name Children’s Orchard while incorporating the modern design and updated store features created by the NTY team.
While many franchisors stick with just one brand, NTY offers its potential franchisees five different brands to choose from, all featuring the same solid resale concept. And many store owners opt to franchise multiple brands.
Simple and Smart Model
NTY Franchise Company has developed a proven, profitable business model for all five of its resale franchises - one that helped the company reach 200 stores nationwide in 2016. It is designed to provide franchisees with a simple, clear path to success, so they can achieve their goals sooner. The eight main areas of franchise support include business planning, training, bank financing, store location assistance, store opening assistance, point-of-sale system, regional operations manager and marketing.
Each franchise also has a corporately-owned store near NTY’s headquarters in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Franchisees receive extensive training at the NTY-owned stores, and it’s also the place where current methods are updated and new ideas are tested to make sure they work before providing them to franchisees.
NTY Franchise also offers a unique experience during the decision-making process for potential franchisees. Any qualified candidate who is looking to learn more has the ear of the Vice President of Franchising from beginning to end. Unlike other franchise companies, it’s not someone who works for the VP that potential franchisees interact with, it’s the VP himself. And NTY’s simple four-step process provides a clear-cut path to becoming a franchisee.
For more information about NTY Franchise Company’s franchising opportunities, visit www.ntyfranchise.com or call 866-261-2030.