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If you have an interest in fashion or like a strongly customer-facing business, then apparel and accessories retail has a huge market with lots of interesting niches. And while there are some uncertainties ahead, it’s been doing well for years, as the range of franchises in this list shows.
The Economics of Clothes Sales
Clothes sales are undoubtedly big business, especially in the US, which has the biggest apparel market in the world. Fashions change faster than ever, while shifts in the quality of construction means that many modern garments don’t last, and these trends together have been driving high sales. And while online shopping has taken a big bite out of the market, many people prefer to buy their clothes offline, where they can get a better feel for the fabric and try them on for size. As a result, clothing stores have stayed busy, employing 1.03 million people in the US, including sales staff, managers, and cashiers.
Clothing and accessory store sales were worth $26.11 billion in November 2023, 1.31% up on a year before – not the highest they’ve ever been in a single month, but not far off. The industry’s post-pandemic recovery saw it not just catch up with its position from before Covid kicked in but surpass it. For most of the past two years, monthly sales have been above $25 billion, and often above $26 billion. Few industries can match it.
There are some signs of trouble ahead. The fashion industry, which is closely related to apparel retail, saw slow growth in 2023, with the impact of inflation and weaker demand near the end of the year. Uncertain economic growth and consumer confidence could hit the industry, depending upon how well the economy does. Outside of luxury fashion, growth of 0-2% is predicted in the US in 2024 – not dramatic, but enough to maintain the industry’s current course.
Standing Out in Apparel Sales
In such a busy market, it’s important to identify the niche you’re in and market to it. This isn’t as limiting as it might sound, thanks to the scale of the industry. Family clothing store sales alone are worth $192.7 billion per year, and the franchises in this list have found distinctive niches in a variety of different ways.
Catering to a particular demographic, like family stores do, is one way to stand out. That can mean supplying clothes for younger or older generations, or that fit the tastes of your neighborhood. Gender differences are still big in apparel sales – in 2021, the men’s and boys’ market was worth $82 billion, to women’s and girls’ $134 billion.
Pricing and quality are also distinguishing factors. For some stores, that means going high quality and high price, to attract consumers with full wallets. For others, it’s about providing decent quality clothes at a low price point for the bargain conscious. Secondhand clothes fit this cheaper bracket, but can also be marketed in other ways, whether through the implied quality of labeling something as “vintage” or the environmental benefits of reuse.
Sustainability is a big issue for clothes and fashion, going beyond reusing old clothes. Environmentally conscious production can attract certain groups of customers, as can a wider focus on ethical supply chains. The industry hasn’t yet faced the contradiction between growing sales and lowering its environmental footprint, but in the meantime, this is a strong way to stand out.
Then there are the distinctive styles, whether it’s quirky boutique, sports casual, or perhaps outdoor gear, a trend that’s expected to grow in 2024. What sorts of fashion you present will make a huge difference to which customers you attract, so this is fundamental to making a store succeed.
The Future of Fashion
Aside from shifts in fashion itself, several trends are lining up to shape this industry over the next few years.
Supply chain volatility continues to be an issue, creating uncertainty for customers and for stores. This is especially notable in fast fashion, where quick turnover is important and bottlenecks can create significant disruption. Both globally and within the US, there’s enough uncertainty politically and economically for this pattern to continue, for a while at least, and businesses are having to adjust their approach to inventory. That’s less of a problem for used clothing stores, whose position might improve as a result.
A long-term shift toward more casual clothing has played a part in which stores have flourished and which have declined. The suits and smart dresses worn almost full-time two generations ago are now seen almost exclusively in the office and on formal occasions. Casual clothing keeps growing in importance, and becoming more casual, as well as more varied.
As with any industry, technology is playing a part. But the big trend of the past year, AI, is likely to affect the design side of clothing, not the way that it’s sold in stores. While apparel sellers need to keep on the latest digital marketing trends, cutting edge technology will largely leave their customer-facing work in peace.
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If you can find the right niche, then apparel franchising could take you into a large, growing industry.
The Top Apparel Retail Franchises of 2024
1. Plato’s Closet
Plato’s Closet is a buy-and-sell chain for gently used brand-name clothing, shoes, and accessories, but maintains strict buying guidelines squarely aimed 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 owned by 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 continued to slowly climb in recent years from 408 in 2014 to the current total of 502 (up from the previously reported total of 497), of which none are company-owned, and 41 are located outside the US.
2. Pro Image Sports
Pro Image Sports occupies a niche spot on this list by providing customers with the opportunity to buy authentic, fashionable, and 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 local and regional markets because 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 100 in 2013 to the current total of 160 (up from the previously reported total of 150), of which none are company-owned, and three are located outside the US.
3. Uptown Cheapskate
Uptown Cheapskate offers brand-name clothing, accessories, and shoes, all geared toward teenagers and young adults through a buy-and-sell franchise concept similar to others on this list. It has carefully calibrated its stores for an upscale, chic vibe that its target market loves. No appointment is needed to sell like-new clothes, resulting in immediate payment by cash or store credit. The company also has a significant charitable commitment to building schools in underdeveloped nations through the non-profit organization 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 from 43 in 2014 to the current total of 122 (up from the previously reported total of 102), of which 13 are company-owned, and all are located in the US.
4. Clothes Mentor
Clothes Mentor is another 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 peaked at 147 in 2017 and has since declined to the current total of 120 (down from the previously reported total of 123), of which none are 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.
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