(L-R) Plato’s Closet Manager Jessica Clark, Renee King & Kira Shutowich

For 15 years, Renee King was a marketing manager for a calendar company, another face in corporate America with a great salary and what seemed to be great financial security.

Then, in 2011, she was laid off.

The Vestal resident floated around for a few years, trying to find a job she could take on that would pay comparably to the living she had made before. That effort didn’t go so well, she said, and one day she stopped searching. That’s when, she said, she began to look at opportunities she could make for herself. King began looking into the realms of the entrepreneurial world, seeking a business that she and her husband could invest in and use to help make a new living where King could both pursue her passions and make a decent wage while she was at it. She found it in the aisles of one of her favorite haunts in Vestal: Plato’s Closet, a chain for gently-used name brand clothing the former GAP manager often frequented.

In spring 2014, she opened up shop in Ithaca and today, the business is still going strong.

“We’re not going anywhere,” King said. “Obviously, your first couple years are tough and you have to make a place for yourself in the community. I feel very good about the future.”

With a proven platform to build on with Plato’s Closet, the business was set up for success but, as with anything, success was not necessarily guaranteed. Staffing is the toughest thing, King said, the first few years marked by a need to find the right mix of people to staff the store. Over the years, the store has had a lot of staff turnover, sometimes due to the hectic environment of the shop or the chemistry between the employees. 

Usually it’s the pace of the operation, manager Jessica Clark said, because at times the turnaround of clothing from the intake to getting it on the floor can often resemble a factory line in how quickly inventory can get turned around. How the business works, she explained, is to take in used clothing and, almost immediately after evaluating it, get it tagged and get it on the rack. They get quite a lot coming in (up to 1,000 pieces in a day, Clark said) and inventory needs to constantly be monitored, as pieces can usually only stay on the rack six months at a time. When those months are up, the staff is responsible for finding those pieces and getting them on clearance.

But it’s reaching out to the community that’s become one of their strengths. As a former marketer, King knows the importance of constantly pushing a product into the public’s eye and projecting a warm demeanor. At Plato’s Closet, it’s about two things: an aggressive presence on social media (managed by two employees whose jobs are completely geared to the role) and a kind-eyed staff to greet you.

“Friendly faces only,” King said. “If you’re shy, you need not apply.” 

Their investment has paid off. King now boasts a staff of 14 full and part-time employees and business after almost three years, she said, is humming right along, even in the demanding business climate of Tompkins County’s miniature metropolitan center.

“Monetarily, it’s hard to start a business,” King said. “It’s not inexpensive to do business in Ithaca. Rents are high and startup financing is hard. But we’re doing okay.” •

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