Ron Olson so believes in the power of recycled goods that he’s recycling his career. The Minnesota-based businessman made it big with his original multi-concept company, Grow Biz, which is now Winmark.
“I was looking for other opportunities as every entrepreneur does,” he says. He found it in Columbus, Ohio, where he was having dinner with Dennis and Lynn Blum, who wanted to show him their new concept, Clothes Mentor. The resale store for women had good bones, but needed fleshing out. His specialty.
After selling the company in 2000—which included Play it Again Sports, Once Upon a Child and Plato’s Closet—Olson retired. Five years later he discovered something AARP never tells seniors: “Retirement is very boring.”
Olson is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. His forte is investing in others’ concepts and helping grow their business. Almost anything can be recycled into a business, he says, except perhaps tools. “No one wanted to sell their (used) tools,” he says about the one concept he couldn’t hammer out—Re-Tool.
The beauty of a concept like Clothes Mentor is the customers never age out. “Women change sizes, they change professions and they don’t wear clothes that long,” he says. Most of the clothes he teaches franchisees to buy are two years old and hardly worn.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into pricing,” he says. “Our secret sauce is the pricing” and which brands to buy.
The beauty of a second time around is you’ve already made the mistakes. His son Chad, who joined him at his original company right out of college, is COO of the new company, NTY Franchise Co. Clothing Mentor has more than 100 stores, with 67 in the pipeline, Olson says.
Coming online are two other concepts: NTY Clothing for teens and 20-somethings and New Uses for household items. “It’s a totally recession-proof business,” Chad Olson says.