By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
ARLINGTON — The Silver Hanger in downtown Arlington has become an entrepreneurial success even without a written business plan or a grand opening, thanks to Jeanne Watanabe’s years of experience with Nordstrom and the marketing experience she gained along the way.
Her stylish women’s clothing consignment store at 437 N. Olympic Ave. begins its fifth year in January, providing an array of items that include jeans, jackets, blouses, dresses — even prom gowns.
“I created the business in a small corner-store location I knew was well located, featuring quality clothing offered through consignment,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be a donation thrift store. With consignment, women get some money for their really nice clothing, in excellent condition, and the clothes are passed on to benefit new owners.”
She only takes women’s clothing and junior-sized jeans, dresses and outerwear, all quality items that she sells for far below their original price. New consignments are taken only by appointment. She’s usually booked about two months ahead and uses a specially designed computer program created by her tech-savvy husband, Toshi, to track clothing, sales and payments. Consignors receive 40 percent of the sales price for each item.
Watanabe also offers wardrobe consulting, personal shopping services, style advice and seasonal wardrobe “tune ups” that she knows will help women look their best at comfortable prices.
That’s a lot to offer for a young, start-up business but Watanabe’s qualifications for offering such a wide-ranging menu of services come from her 19-year career with Nordstrom.
“I believe women love to look beautiful and it makes me happy to help women of all ages learn how to shop and wear clothing that will make them feel attractive,” she said. “But many women don’t know what to buy to do that. I love matching clothes to people, helping them look their best. I also know that you don’t have to have a lot of money to dress nicely, which is another message I have for women as I help them with their clothing choices.”
Her store includes a half-price rack as well as a $5 section, plus a special section for prom dresses.
“It’s really the women in Arlington that make this a success,” she said. “They started coming in while I was still arranging the store for opening, so I just never had time for a grand opening. Now, women just keep coming in as word spreads. Arlington is a wonderful community and people like being part of making new businesses successful.”
She moved to Arlington in 2008 with her husband, Toshi, who parlayed his computer and technology skills into his own dream realm, working at The Everett Herald, then Microsoft and now with the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation. Their four children include Miya, 7; Kenji, 10; Molly, 18, and Maddy, 20.
“When I was with Nordstrom, I worked with retail sales, buying and merchandising in downtown Seattle, as well as Portland, (Ore.), Bellevue and Chicago,” she said. “Now I’m using my years of training and experience in my own business, along with what I learned in college where I studied art, education and business. It’s in my blood, it’s fun and I love it. This is my best job ever.”
After leaving Nordstrom, Watanabe worked in real estate sales until the market hit a slump, but it was real estate that taught her the value of having the right business location for success.
“When the corner space on Olympic opened up, I realized it had a great location,” she said. “I just hadn’t settled on what I wanted to do with it, so I opened a small realty office there,” she said.
“But when I thought about my real passion, I realized it was to help women feel good about their clothing choices, as I’d done at Nordstrom. I had my business plan in my head but never created a specific one. I just started buying fixtures for the store and gathering consignment clothing from my sisters and friends. It’s still a work in progress,” she said.
When consignments don’t sell, she recommends the owners donate them to the YWCA’s Pathways for Women program that provides attractive clothing for homeless or low-income women who are going to job interviews or work in their community.
She’s involved locally as a past-president and active member of the Downtown Arlington Business Association. She works with Emily Peterson, owner of A Beautiful Addiction Tanning Salon in Arlington, to provide donated prom dresses for students’ homecoming events, which are often too expensive for girls and their families to afford.
For more information, go to www.thesilverhanger.net or call 360-548-3294. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.