This annual list of the best apparel and accessories retail franchises was revised and updated on February 10, 2021.
Clothes and accessories are among the big success stories of modern retail. While they provide a vital service in letting people stay clothed, they also give consumers a chance to express themselves, through the adoption of distinctive styles and the latest trends. This has created a massive industry, employing over a million people in the US and generating trillions in revenues around the world. Sales in the US were worth $22 billion each month in 2019.
While the clothing store market is dominated by big name chains, most of them are not operated on a franchise model. That’s starting to change, as franchised outlets slowly eat into a highly popular and profitable section of the retail market.
Apparel and accessories outlets have a lot of ways to make themselves distinct. One is the choice between new and used clothes: some of the companies listed here offer trendy fashions from hot brands and designer labels at a better-than-normal price, while others offer gently-used brand-name fashion in a buy-and-sell model. Unlike traditional consignment, most allow consumers to sell for cash or store credit on the spot.
Outside of the new or used division, stores can stand out through the sort of clothes they stock. This might mean catering to a specific market segment, like focusing on clothes for women or teenagers. It can also mean selling a particular style of clothes, such as sports-themed items or affordable versions of the latest trends. Chains can even focus on specific items of clothing, like footwear or beachwear. A narrow focus can favor a smaller store, which offers different challenges and marketing opportunities from something larger and with broader appeal.
While staying clothed is essential, buying new clothes isn’t, and so clothing stores were initially hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and consumers’ wariness about going out to shop. US clothing store sales fell from $22 billion in February 2020 to only $3 billion in April. Where they were able to stay open, stores brought in improved hygiene measures and click-and-collect sales to reduce the risk of infection, letting them keep the lights on.
The industry bounced back over the summer, hitting $20 billion in September. Sales in December were down 16% on where they had been the previous year, but that represented a huge recovery from the spring.
The next few years may represent a more mixed picture for these stores. The economic recovery will lead to more people buying clothes again, but experience of shopping during lockdown may lead to more online shopping habits. On the other hand, most franchised retailers tend toward inexpensive or used clothes, which are likely to be more popular during economically difficult times.
In the long term, a shift toward more socially conscious shopping and rental models may create opportunities for new, distinct brands, and so for franchises to increase their relatively small share of the clothing retail market. For now though, it’s their status as an inexpensive option that will let these franchises grow in strength.
The Top Apparel and Accessories Retail Franchises of 2021
1. Plato’s Closet
Plato’s Closet recently made headlines when an employee found $7,000 in cash in a coat a customer dropped off to be sold – and made sure the money got to the rightful owner! This is a buy-and-sell chain for gently-used brand-name clothing, shoes, and accessories, but maintains strict buying guidelines aimed squarely at current fashions for teens and young adults. People who want to sell their clothing to a location don’t need an appointment and will get a fair offer on-the-spot.
Plato’s Closet is part of the Winmark family of brands that includes such resale franchises as Music Go Round, Once Upon A Child, Style Encore, and Play It Again Sports. Founded by Lynn and Dennis Blum in Columbus, Ohio in 1998 and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has plateaued in recent years at the current total of 481 (up from the previously reported total of 479), none of which are company-owned and 30 of which are located outside the US.
2. Clothes Mentor
Clothes Mentor is a chain that buys and sells second-hand designer clothing, catering to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes (including maternity clothing). Like similar companies, it only buys clothing that fits current trends and is as near-to-new as possible. Unique specialty services offered at some locations include Girls Night Out group shopping events or free Personal Shopper services for women who are too busy to spend time browsing.
Founded by Lynn and Dennis Blum in 2001 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations currently stands at 135 (no change from the previous year), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
3. Pro Image Sports
Pro Image Sports is a niche chain that provides customers with the opportunity to buy authentic, fashionable licensed professional and collegiate sports apparel and novelty items. Professional sports leagues it covers include football (NFL), basketball (NBA), baseball (MLB), and hockey (NHL). College-level sports coverage includes NCAA sports teams. The company takes a smart approach in allowing locations to tailor the products carried to cater to local and regional markets where most people are fans of specific teams in their area.
Founded in 1985 by brothers Chad and Kevin Olsen in Salt Lake City, Utah and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 75 in 2010 to the last known reported total of 131 in 2018, of which none were company-owned and three were located outside the US.
4. Uptown Cheapskate
Uptown Cheapskate is a chain of buy-and-sell retail stores offering brand-name clothing, accessories, and shoes all geared towards teenagers and young adults. It has carefully calibrated its stores for an upscale, chic vibe its target market loves. No-appointment-needed selling of like-new clothes results in immediate payment by cash or store credit. The company also has a deep charitable commitment to building schools in disadvantaged nations through the non-profit organization called buildOn.
Founded by siblings Chelsea and Scott Sloan in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2008 and franchising since then, the number of locations has risen quickly to the current total of 85 (up from the previously reported total of 73), of which four are company-owned and all are located in the US.
5. Mainstream Boutique
Mainstream Boutique is a chain of women’s clothing and accessories retail stores operated on a franchise model offering products sourced from a variety of makers, as well as its own fashion line called Mac and Me. It is committed to a very personalized approach to excellence in customer service where the goal is always celebrating, empowering, and strengthening women. In other words, helping women make great fashion choices is more important than making a sale.
Founded by Marie DeNicola in Apple Valley, Minnesota in 1991 and franchising since 1998, the number of locations grew quickly from 14 in 2010 to the 2019 total of 86 but has since fallen to 79, of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
6. Apricot Lane Boutique
Apricot Lane Boutique is a “unique boutique” concept for women who want to follow the latest trends in apparel, handbags, jewelry, accessories, and gifts at more affordable prices. Every physical store has a corresponding online store to take advantage of eCommerce opportunities, and both real-world and virtual stores are tailored to the vibe and look of the local community. Company stylists and buyers are in charge of creating unique mixes of inventory at each store, and items are offered only for a limited time to avoid saturating a market with too many of the same item.
Founded in 1991 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 88 in 2013 to the current total of 70 (up from the previously reported total of 65), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. Style Encore
Style Encore sums up its approach with the tag line “consume less, express more.” It emphasizes how its approach to reselling gently-used women’s clothing is a more environmentally-responsible way to shop than buying brand-new clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry, and accessories. Customers who come in to sell clothing get an on-the-sport cash or store credit offer for items that meet the chain’s standards.
Style Encore is one of several different resale franchise concepts of Winmark, along with Plato’s Closet, Music Go Round, Once Upon A Child, and Play It Again Sports. Founded in 2013 and franchising since then, the number of locations currently stands at 67 (down from the previously reported total of 69), of which none are company-owned and nine are located outside the US.
8. Flip Flop Shops
Flip Flop Shops has a very narrow focus as a chain of retail stores specializing in flip flops, sandals, and other casual footwear for the beach and beyond. The brands carried include Olukai, Birkenstock, Cobian, Crocs, Reef, and Bearpaw.
The company is now owned by the parent company of Bearpaw called Romeo & Juliette, Inc. Founded by Sarah Towne and Todd Giatrelis in Boston, Massachusetts in 2004 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations has been declining in recent years from a high of 96 in 2014 to the last known reported total of 57 in 2018, of which none were company-owned and 14 were located outside the US.
fab’rik is on a mission to offer women stylish clothes, shoes, and accessories in a luxury boutique setting but at affordable prices without sacrificing quality. In addition to seeking out on-point products from all kinds of designers, the chain also has its own fashion line called the Asher Collection, available only its own stores. Women in need are sometimes invited in for a free fab’rik session to improve their wardrobes without worrying about the money.
Founded in 2002 by Dana Spinola in Atlanta, Georgia and franchising since 2006, the number of locations stood at 39 in 2018 (a loss of three units from the previous total), of which five were company-owned and all were located in the US.
TaylorMarie’s is the only company on this list that takes the on-site shopping approach to selling women’s fashion and accessories. This mobile pop-up retail franchise concept can include fashion shows held for auxiliary groups, residential communities, senior centers, churches, synagogues, country clubs, and other groups and places with enough space to set up multiple clothing racks and tables for accessories and jewelry.
Founded in 2003 and franchising since 2009, the company website currently lists six locations, of which one appears to be company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.