As women and moms, we wear so many hats, don't we? I am a mother of three and being a mom is by far, the favorite hat I wear. My oldest daughter, Rebekah, is 21 and a junior at the University of Tulsa. My son, Ben, is 19 and a freshman at Texas A&M University serving in the Corps of Cadets. My baby, Leah, is 17 and a junior in high school. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arkansas. I have been married to my college sweetheart for 24 years. Although he is behind the scenes in our company, he plays a vital role. He has Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Degrees from Vanderbilt, and an MBA from the University of Arkansas.
Living in Texas and like many young families with 3 very young children, we continually strived to stay on that "not so fun" family budget. This meant that I could not afford my desire for new name brand and boutique brand clothes for my kids. So, I became an expert at shopping garage sales and consignment stores, always on the hunt for the amazing bargain. Since I always needed extra money, I would hold a garage sale and absolutely couldn't believe that shoppers offered a nickel when I knew it was worth at least $7.50! I was also frustrated with my experience at consignment stores who often lost my valuable items and offered no explanation.
In 1995, we left the corporate world to move our young family from the panhandle of Texas to Conway, Arkansas so that my husband could begin his new job in full time ministry. Over the next 2 years, there was an idea forming in my heart and mind. Wouldn't it be fun to invite some girls to get together and buy and sell each other's clothes? I was afraid of failure so I invited a friend to do it with me. She declined. It was going to be up to me, by myself. What if I fail? What if no one comes? One thing I've learned over the years that I want to pass on to other women, is that it's ok to fail as long as you've worked hard and given it your best shot. But I always tell my kids - you need to try and you need to take calculated risks. That's what life is about - having the courage to step out of our comfort zones. It is only in those times, that we begin to grow personally.
So, in the fall of 1997, when my youngest child was heading off to preschool a few mornings a week, I decided to send out invitations to The Children's Clothing Exchange. My husband told me I could get the bulk postage rate if I came up with a hundred names, so I worked hard to come up with 100 moms to invite. I was tickled when 11 friends actually responded! They brought me their clothes, and I did the rest - I washed, ironed, priced, and tagged everything. My husband and I moved all of the furniture out of our living room and piled it into our bedroom. I rented 3 clothing racks and held our first sale. Thankfully, we even had a few shoppers!
After that very first sale, my husband suggested that we computerize everything so that consignors could enter their items online and we'd have barcoded tags. I told him that he was crazy! There was no way women were going to do that! Please understand that at that time, unless moms were involved in the business community or corporate world, we barely knew how to turn on a computer, much less operate one. We certainly didn't use email or surf the web in those days. I know it sounds archaic, but it's true. As usual, my husband was right and ahead of his time. From that time until now, we have worked hard on developing our unique, copyrighted software and we continually strive to increase and improve its operating functions.
I organized and held consignment sales in my home for the next several years. Each year we added another room of the house. Looking back, it was really nutty. I had piles of clothes everywhere, that I was pricing for other moms. Somehow, my kids knew not to touch them because I've always been a stickler for organization and detail. Eventually, the sale expanded into our entire house - the living room, the kitchen, maternity was in my daughter's room and then we expanded into the garage. It's always been important to me, even in those days, that our shoppers have a high quality experience and that we guaranteed consignors' items. When consignors came to pick up their check, if an item was missing, I always paid them for it. Because that's how I would have wanted to be treated all those years ago when my valuable items were lost by consignment stores.
My neighbors were glad when we finally moved the sale out of our home - the traffic became too much and folks began to disrespect my personal property - it had grown beyond moms who were my friends. Since then, we have learned how to have high quality events in many different venues. Over the years, I kept trying new things, learning more about business, and finding the right formulas with marketing, customer service, establishing systems, and more. And then it all clicked and we realized we had something very special! Two of my favorite memories have been when young dads came to find me at our events and thanked me from the bottom of their hearts for helping their families. Recently, a young military mom with huge crocodile tears in her eyes, did the same. Our events are about loving and serving people.
The last 13 years have been an incredible journey. I never intended to be a business person. I've never sold a product in my life - never wanted to. But I am deeply thankful to God for putting this desire in my heart, pushing me out of my comfort zone, and blessing my attempts in building this business. Just as with any pursuit, there have been highs and lows, victories and challenges. But I was raised to be a hard worker and to never give up. So, even in those days when I was paying my assistant more than I was making and wanted to quit, thankfully, friends encouraged me to keep persevering. I will forever be grateful to friends and family who came and worked a shift at our event, cleaned bathrooms and so much more. Our company would not be where it is today without the unwavering support of my husband and family. They have each had their turn sorting clothes, loading racks, working the computers, listening to the phone ring off the wall, having their computers hauled out of their bedrooms so that I could use them at the event, magnets on the family car, yard signs in our yard, and oh, so much more! My dear father sorted hangers and even painted walls for me so that I could have a "pretty" store - even though my event only lasted a few days. My mom is the only one who worked with me at my house in the early years. She is still our primary door greeter and the most gorgeous 68 year old woman you've ever met!
This business began as a ministry to young families, and in many ways, it still is. It is my heart's desire to add value to the lives of families by providing excellent quality merchandise at affordable prices. And it is also my desire to help women learn to gracefully wear those hats that we all wear - and to mature personally, professionally, spiritually and emotionally. Thank you for reading a bit about our story and may God bless you richly.
Rhea Lana Riner
President, Rhea Lana, Inc.