Fashion, guilt free

Nancy Kneisel owns Second Glance in downtown Corvallis (photo: Karl Maasdam)

Sitting on a stool in the middle of her downtown Corvallis store, Nancy Kneisel throws back her head and laughs as she banters with a customer who has just entered the store. Kneisel rarely sits, but she always laughs, and her upbeat voice is constantly greeting customers as they walk into Second Glance, the re-sale consignment store she’s owned since 1984. Kneisel knows most of her customers’ names, and quickly remembers the new ones. It’s all part of the special atmosphere she’s always cultivated at her shop.

Wearing over-the-knee black boots and a trim gray dress, Kneisel exudes a no-nonsense fashion sense that is evident in the keen eye she uses to select items for the store. This is no thrift shop. Clothing at Second Glance is selected for its quality, style and brand name, ensuring that no customer walks away feeling like they’re wearing hand-me-downs. It also gives women a place to bring their gently used fashions and get some money back for them.

“Let me help you clean your closet,” Kneisel said. “Let me help you get some kind of return, don’t leave them in your closet. That’s a waste of time and effort and guilt. I’m going to take care of that part for you. I’m going to make it really easy for you to do something good.”

Award winner

Kneisel’s work has paid off. She was given the Robert C. Ingalls Business Person of the Year award at this year’s Celebrate Corvallis awards ceremony. She was also a finalist in the micro category for this year’s Excellence in Family Business Award, presented by the Oregon State University’s Austin Family Business Program. And now Second Glance has been given November’s Orange Spotlight Award, which highlights businesses and organizations either operated by OSU alums and faculty or who employ a large number of Oregon State graduates. These businesses demonstrate a dedication to community service, sustainability and innovation.

Growing up poor had a lasting effect on Kneisel’s life. Not only did her frugal mother teach her how to sew her own clothes, she gave her an appreciation for making the most with the little you have.

That sense has served her business well, and now that the recession is making even the most dyed-in-the-wool shopaholics think twice about spending money on fashion, her extremely affordable yet fashionable re-sale clothing is being noticed by an ever-expanding customer base.

“I saw the economy tanking, and at the same time I saw a huge upswing both in the number of people coming into shop and the number of people bringing their clothes in to sell,” she said.

Jessica Kneisel, left, manages a store owned by her mother, Nancy Kneisel, right, who operates the main branch of Second Glance. (photo: Karl Maasdam)

A family affair

Kneisel graduated from Oregon State University in 1976 with a degree in English, history and art. Her husband is a nuclear engineer who received his MBA from OSU in 1981. They met in school and married shortly after graduation. After living in Idaho for several years, Kneisel and her family returned to Corvallis with their young family. Kneisel, inspired by a friend who worked for a consignment store in Eugene that was more like a boutique than a thrift shop, decided to take the plunge and open her dream store.

“The proverbial light bulb went off,” she said. “It was really, truly a learn-as-you-go experience, and I’ve never stopped learning,” Kneisel said. The business has been a success from the start.

She’s taken small business courses at OSU, as well as consulted faculty members from the College of Business and the College of Health and Human Sciences. OSU has always been one of her most valued resources, both for support and information, but also for high quality students, many of whom are design majors she’s employed at her shop over the years. Kneisel has also invited business and merchandising classes to use her store for class projects and case studies. She gains insight, and the students have a living laboratory in their own backyard.

OSU faculty, staff and students are also her main customer base, and the women who originally began shopping at Second Glance now have grown daughters who are also loyal customers.

Kneisel, who calls herself a “benevolent dictator,” makes sure her student employees put schoolwork first, and she also takes them to conferences sponsored by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, where she’s been a long-time member and frequent presenter (including keynote speaker in 2007). She consults and frequently teaches about creating and running re-sale stores.

Innovating with the times

In the 26 years since Kneisel opened Second Glance, she’s evolved along with her shop. The advent of e-mail and the Internet greatly expanded the way she kept in touch with her customer base, not to mention how she keeps track of her inventory and researches the right prices for her shop wares.

In 2008 she opened the store’s sister shop “The Annex,” just a block away. Her daughter Jessica manages the shop, which is aimed at a teen and college-aged audience. When she opened Second Glance, it cost Kneisel $2,500 to set up shop.

“It was profitable from the day we opened,” she said.

To jumpstart The Annex was a far more expensive proposition, but Kneisel did it without taking out any loans, so the business had solid financial legs from the beginning.

Now, Kneisel has her eyes on opening a men’s version of the store, with a location and details to be announced. She believes that a new-found American frugality, thanks to the economy, combined with a growing awareness that environmental resources are finite and that conspicuous consumption is dangerous, will make high quality re-sale even more important.

“Using something once is not enough. We really need to teach our youth to understand, “You don’t need 30 pairs of jeans,”” she said. “You need two really good pair, and I can help you find them.”

Find out more at the Second Glance blog:

~ Theresa Hogue

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