New Business: Once Upon A Child

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Maybe grandma bought the frilly baby dress a size too small. Maybe you dropped big bucks on a toddler blazer that was put on once. But chances are that if you are a parent, you’ve accumulated some never worn or hardly worn clothing that is now taking up space in a storage bin. If so, you need to meet the Schmidts and their new business.

Kim and Geoff Schmidt and their daughter Erin are the proud owners of Once Upon A Child, a franchise that buys and sells gently used clothes and gear. You’ll find everything from toddler togs to big kids’ outerwear, ride-on toys to cribs.

You just won’t find the business in Verona. The Schmidts have lived in Verona since 1986, but their newest business is based in the same town as their previous two: Fairfield. The Schmidts opened the indoor play space Funtime Junction 18 years ago and the nearby miniature golf course Dynamite Falls in 2001.  Erin Schmidt grew up with her siblings in the businesses and managed both over the years. But it was the birth of her son two years ago that set the family on its newest entrepreneurial venture.

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“We were on vacation in South Carolina and wandered into into a Once Upon A Child store,” says Kim Schmidt. “And I discovered Ralph Lauren baby jerseys for $6.50. I said, ‘What is this place and how do they do that?’ ” Geoff Schmidt did some homework on the Minneapolis-based company, which has more than 240 franchises across the U.S. and Canada. The family then went on a frustrating search for a location: They needed at least 3,000 square feet and recession or no, many landlords weren’t willing to budge on the rent. They finally found a spot at 137 Route 46 West, just two miles from their other businesses.

Early this month, they e-mailed customers of their other businesses to say they were looking to buy kids’ gear–and got hit with a deluge larger than that waterfall at Dynamite Falls. “The first person through the doors brought 22 bins,” says Kim Schmidt. “It took me three hours to go through it all.” Unlike consignment stores, Once Upon A Child franchisees buy the merchandise brought in, using a computer system that tells them what to pay and what the resale price should be.  The carefully arranged racks could contain high-end brands like Burberry and Abercrombie, and current styles from a wide range of labels. You’ll also find new items like car seats, strollers, accessories and Melissa & Doug toys.

Right now, the Schmidts are only buying from the public. If you have something  to sell them, bring it to the store from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Depending on how much you are bringing in, they will either tell you immediately which of your items they will take and how much they will pay for them, or get back to you quickly. Once Upon A Child does not accept stained or torn clothing, or items that have been recalled. “We are very rigid about safety,” says Erin Schmidt. For the record, the former special education teacher never thought she’d be an entrepreneur, despite the prediction of a high school aptitude test. “They kept saying, you’d be good in business, and I’d say, ‘I’m going to get a degree in psychology’.”

In July, the Schmidts will throw open their doors to start selling all the treasures they have accumulated. They are planning tent sales for coats and costumes in the future, and they will be offering customer loyalty cards and discounts to day care centers and nursery schools on books. And perhaps mostly importantly in this economy, the Schmidts are hiring. If you’re interested, drop them a note by e-mail.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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