The student who built a fashion franchise
By Shanaz Musafer, BBC News, June 2, 2013
"A glutton for punishment" is how 28-year-old Chelsea Sloan describes herself.
Many people are happy to focus solely on their studies (with maybe some partying thrown in) when they are at college or university.
Not so Chelsea, who decided to put what she was learning on her business major into direct practice, and set up a business with her brother Scott at the same time.
But having to juggle her studies with setting up the company, Uptown Cheapskate, was not always easy.
Going to classes for an hour and a half in the morning then rushing back to the office to work on business plans, having to miss classes for business trips—even her friends would ask her how she had time for everything.
But as Chelsea puts it, her motivation was simple: “As an entrepreneur it all comes down to you. The success or the failure of your store is squarely on your shoulders.”
The idea for Uptown Cheapskate—a franchise “fashion exchange”—came about when Chelsea took a year and a half off from her studies to serve a church mission in Alaska.
"While I was there I started talking to my brother about starting a business. There were some [companies] out there doing something similar but not very well and we thought we could do better," she says.
Uptown Cheapskate is a very simple concept—bring your designer brand clothes, shoes and accessories into a store, the staff will assess them and if they think they can sell them on, will offer you cash for them. The idea is to make upmarket brands available to young adults at an affordable price.
On her return from Alaska, she went back to the University of Utah and enrolled in classes, while simultaneously continuing to work on the business idea with her brother.
They worked on it for another six months and opened the first Uptown Cheapskate store in Salt Lake City in 2009.
Chelsea was helped by the fact that her office was just five minutes away from campus but balancing her classes with the business was a tricky challenge.
"I brought a laptop with me. Not only was I doing the franchise side, but was also managing the Salt Lake store and a second store remotely.
"But the school that I went to had a no laptop policy in class, [because] most kids were playing games or surfing the internet. But that made it difficult for me because I don’t like to write when I can type."
Inevitably, she also missed some classes because of work trips and says that her university did not have a very structured work relief policy to accommodate that.
"I graduated cum laude but not magna cum laude because I missed a couple of classes where attendance was mandatory," she says.
But of course, there was one obvious positive element. “I was able to be in business while being in business school. I got a couple of really good business ideas,” she says.
Although it took her around an extra year to graduate, she says it was “totally worth it”.
And her efforts were rewarded in November 2012 when she became the first woman to win the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Award, beating off competition from 1,700 candidates in 20 countries.
"I was tremendously surprised [to win]," she laughs. "But I think the best part for me was it really validated Uptown Cheapskate. We’re not a very sexy company but our owners are making money."
Four years after launching, there are now 30 Uptown Cheapskate stores across the US and 10 more will open by the end of the year.
The Sloans’ original goal was to have 100 stores in the first 10 years, but thanks to their early success, that has now changed to 100 by 2017.