Jennifer Weiss-Wolf has a favorite Milk Money story. While cashing in a gift card at a popular mall store, her youngest daughter, Sarah, “noted all the shoppers and asked why on earth anyone would come here without a gift card. Who would pay $35 for a pair of pants that cost $8 at Milk Money?” she said. This is the question that Weiss-Wolf, now co-owner of Unique Experience, the company that franchises Milk Money stores, asked herself some 10 years ago.
In 1998, she and Danna Hunking, both new to the South Orange-Maplewood community, became friends. With 2-year-old sons and infant daughters, the two mothers found common interests quickly. One such interest was in creating a store for kids and mothers that was more than shopping. Weiss-Wolf envisioned a children’s apparel and equipment resale consignment store that would purposefully serve the community as a social center and allow her to work alongside her children. She confided her vision to Hunking, who replied, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
The two women met for breakfast on Saturdays from January of 1999 into the summer. “We crafted our business plan then,” recalls Weiss-Wolf. “To create the name, we played word games. When we said ‘Milk Money’ aloud, we knew that we had it. It said all the things that the store meant to us.” When a retail space became available in August of that year, Weiss-Wolf and Hunking made the leap. The first Milk Money store opened its doors on Oct. 16, 1999.
“People here understood the store right away,” says Weiss-Wolf. “They got it. We enjoyed a fun ride to popularity.” And both women relished the opportunity to work where their children were welcome. “That was a very strong purpose for us,” recalls Weiss-Wolf. “We wanted to do it with the kids.” Milk Money became “a second home” for her children, and Weiss-Wolf remembers that her third child came to the store when she was two days old.
Five years into the project, the partners broadened their vision. Knowing they wanted to continue working together, but eager to accommodate their changing family needs, the women considered franchising. Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer by trade, learned how to create the business entity to do so. Through word of mouth—the partners don’t advertise in trade publications—a store sold. Another followed. There are now six Milk Money stores, including the newest, in Cranford, N.J.
Weiss-Wolf and Hunking were joined by Kimberly Baugh in 2008. Previously, Baugh ran the Maplewood Milk Money with a partner. “I take care of the business side of things,” explains Weiss-Wolf. “Danna is the artist. She provides the aesthetic. And Kim brings a background in Human Resources and technical expertise.”
The three women work together with fledgling stores in what Weiss-Wolf describes as a “hands on” manner. “We look for civic-minded communities and a good space for the store,” notes Weiss-Wolf. “Danna helps them paint and decorate,” she explains. “We encourage store owners to furnish their places with used items, so we’ll go with them to a rummage sale or antique store. We help set up the stores and role-play situations.”
Weiss-Wolf reports some changes in customer attitude in the last year or so. “I think people have grown much more in tune to their own consumption habits out of both economic and environmental reasons,” she says. “Clearly cost savings abound when a customer can buy items for 10 to 30 percent of the retail price, and when the same person can get cash for outgrown items. And the environmental benefits of recycling clothing are also extremely beneficial. Kids outgrow their things long before they become useless. We keep them in the consumer chain.”
Looking back at 10 years of kids’ clothing sales, Weiss-Wolf says, “I always say that I love this business because it is truly utilitarian. Everyone wins no matter who you are, buyer or seller.”
Even now, Weiss-Wolf can’t walk into a Milk Money store without walking out with a pile of clothing for her children. She listed a few recent favorites. “My latest finds include a pair of Ugg boots that were owned by some crafty person who bedazzled peace signs on them and a like-new black and pink fleece jacket. Other favorites over the years have been a leather bomber flight jacket and pink cowgirl boots,” she says. She's convinced that “used is simply better,” and the six communities served by Milk Money seem to agree.
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