Offering brand name clothing successful strategy for La Grande business owner

June 08, 2011 07:37 pm
Chelaine DeJesus, owner of Outlet Depot at 1206 Adams Ave. in La Grande, believes that location and assessing the needs of the community are the driving forces behind a successful, profitable business.


Her discount clothing store, which specializes in brand name clothes and shoes for young adults, has exhibited consistent growth and sales since August 2010 after a rocky start at a previous location.

Growing up, DeJesus learned about business through exposure to her parents’ multiple ventures, a few of which flourished and became profitable. She never attended college or pursued secondary education of any kind.

Her first attempt at business came out of necessity following a divorce that left her without income or savings while DeJesus lived in Kona, Hawaii. She recognized the value of the real estate on which she lived, which was situated at the beginning point of a famous hiking trail that drew crowds past her house every day.

Drawing on the skills of a high school hobby, DeJesus fashioned hand-made, beaded jewelry — the same ones exhibited in her store today — and sold them in her front lawn to passing tourists. Her simple idea was rewarded with startling success, and it wasn’t long before she accumulated enough money to open a small kiosk in Kona. There her business grew until she was pocketing between $10,000 and $15,000 dollars per month — all without ever taking out a loan.

It was this self-earned capital that allowed DeJesus to open her Outlet Depot store when she decided to move to La Grande in November 2009. Her initial idea was spurred by a Christmas shopping experience — trying to find clothes for her teenaged daughter.

“There was nothing,” says DeJesus, shaking her head. “There was nowhere to buy my daughter something fun and funky. The closest place was two hours away!”

Immediately DeJesus realized the potential success of a clothing store that catered to younger age groups, especially to high school teenagers and Eastern Oregon University students.

The logistics for her discount store were fairly simple: when department stores have overstock, or when seasonal merchandise must be removed, companies buy out the inventory, sort through it by size and brand name and auction it off on pallets to individual buyers for extraordinarily reduced rates. The risk, however, is that potential buyers are often given incomplete or inaccurate information regarding the content of the pallet, so every purchase is a surprise.

DeJesus’s original store, located at 1700 Portland Ave. in La Grande, was not the popular, thriving business she hoped it would be. She had distanced her merchandise from her original idea, opting for a more diversified inventory including kitchen utensils, beds and other furniture.

After a year of struggling sales, DeJesus decided it was time to alter her business plan, returning to her previous strategy — clothing and shoes for young adults — and downsized to the Outlet Depot’s current location, 1206 Adams. The store touts brand name clothing like Aeropostale, Lucky Jeans and American Eagle, affordably priced at a fraction of retail cost. After nine months of decent sales, DeJesus feels she’s found her niche, targeting what she deems the “35 and under age group.”

Revenue growth has been steady and consistent for the Outlet Depot, as DeJesus closes in on her first year at her new location. She has been able to employ two part-time workers, adding to the store’s value to the community. Business is seasonal and unpredictable, but she expects sales to increase as summer nears.

DeJesus’s biggest day-to-day question is how much she is willing to invest in her store. Her sales gradually decline without fresh merchandise, so new inventory is a necessity, but every purchase is risky with no way to know what her next shipment will hold. She cites one specific occasion where her pallet was advertised to contain American Eagle and Hollister clothing, but instead was an assortment of Faded Glory jeans — a cheaper, less popular brand.

 “Knowing the merchandise and having a friendly personality goes a long way when you’re trying to sell something,” DeJesus says. “I say hello to everyone I pass when I walk to work in the morning.” 

DeJesus designed the atmosphere of her clothing store through trial and error, taking lessons from popular businesses such as Abercrombie and Hollister. DeJesus believes that music also has a profound impact on her business, noting that on occasions when the music system wasn’t working, her sales dropped to nearly zero.

“Silence makes customers feel uncomfortable and rushed,” she claims.

DeJesus’s husband handles products that don’t sell after an extended period, transporting them to the Tri-Cities to the Swapmeet, where the articles are sold for a dollar apiece. She also donates merchandise to charity to make room for incoming inventory.

A final tip she offers is to consider different types of advertising.

Outlet Depot is DeJesus’s primary investment, as she doesn’t have a stock portfolio or IRA, but she does put away money for retirement through her Whole Life Insurance policy. Always thinking of fresh business ideas, she hints that she recognizes other business niches in the La Grande area — merchandise which she may choose to include in her store in the future.

Arden Perkins of La Grande is writing Other People’s Business monthly for The Observer.