“I thought Reading needed a higher-end consignment shop,” says Rachael Bankey, owner of Raspberry Beret, which opened its third location last October. In the about-to-boom downtown business district where it is located, lunchtime foot traffic is steadily increasing—good news for a new-to-town retailer.
Bankey has owned Raspberry Beret for 10 years. The first of her stores opened in Wakefield on the Melrose line. Before owning it, however, she was a frequent browser. “Ten years ago,” she notes, “it was kind of a new idea to have a boutique consignment shop, and it was really the only place around.” One day, she went in to find everything on sale for five dollars. The owner was going out of business. “I wasn’t in the market for it at all,” recalls Bankey, “but a friend recommended I buy it. I pulled it together, and in the first year, sales tripled.”
Ultimately, she outgrew that space and opened a second location in Cambridge. “That one is altogether different—it’s the city, so it has to be.” With three distinct locales, Bankey must be cognizant of her clienteles’ disparate tastes and choose stock accordingly. High-end lines like Coach, Burberry, Henri Bendel, Michael Kors, Juicy Couture, and Tory Burch will move in Reading, she notes, but not in Cambridge. In the city, people want labels like Anthropologie and vintage items.“Our customers are definitely more creative. They don’t necessarily want what’s trending, but [rather] what’s uniquely them.” Many are looking for a certain era or style they can’t find in malls. Bankey certainly keeps an eye on trends, but more than that, she pays attention to what people want. “A lot of it is about listening,” she says.
Once a magazine photographer, Bankey has a trained artistic eye. The lifelong thrift store shopper says she’s “always loved interesting clothes and dressing up.” What she didn’t know about herself is that she has a mind for business. “It’s like a game,” she says. “I love trying [different] markets.” Self-educated, Bankey follows Michael Gerber’s EMyth and references his book, Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, in which he recommends turning small businesses into franchises. Bankey is doing just that. “It’s a system—you have a business plan, you write manuals, and that way it frees you from being locked in,” she explains. “You can work on the business instead of in the business.”
Being savvy includes finding ways to keep people coming back time and again.
“Consignment isn’t for everybody—people can get frustrated by it because it is time-consuming,” notes Bankey. “I try to make it easier and to get good inventory.” Toward that end, she offers cash buyouts on Saturday mornings, makes house calls, attends auctions, and investigates estate sales. At times, she also does open-drops, which allow people to come in without appointments. Of special note are her after-hours shopping parties during which five to seven customers have the store to themselves for two and a half hours. They are invited to bring wine and cheese, and the organizer of the group is given $75 to spend that night.
Another way in which Bankey carves a unique niche is by donating unsold items to Mass Appeal International—an organization that helps sexually abused girls. “A lot of times those girls leave home with nothing, so they are really grateful for all these clothes,” says Bankey, who received an award from the governor for her contributions.
Of her three-store franchise Bankey says: “We’re a good cause: We recycle a lot of clothes. We serve lower-income communities—they have an opportunity to look great for less. Whatever we don’t sell, we donate to a great [charity]. And I’m employing six women.” Add to that a funky mix of high-end apparel, and Raspberry Beret is a hot hit. raspberryberet.us