Recycling, reselling and franchising

When Mary Sundblad started Stuff Etc in Iowa City in 1985, she had no idea that after nearly 35 years the business would grow to eight locations and she would franchise the concept of owning a consignment resale shop.

“I graduated from the University of Iowa X-ray technician program, but never worked a day as an X-ray tech,” Sundblad said. “Deep down I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I helped my husband run his construction business until I opened Stuff Etc.”

Stuff Etc is a department-sized quality consignment store that carries previously owned clothing from infant to adult-sized, accessories, furniture, appliances, books, home decor, sports equipment, seasonal items, vintage and collectible items and more. Customers — also known as consignees — bring their items to determine if it can be sold there. Clothing no more than two years old is requested.

An appointment is not needed to drop off items. Customers can drop off one 15-gallon bag or one box per day, Monday through Saturday. Furniture is accepted every day and you can drop off as much as you like. The website provides information on what items are accepted and what is not accepted:

Sundblad was ahead of the reuse, recycle trend in 1985 as consigning is a way to recycle unwanted but usable items. Get the items out of your house, and earn money by consigning them for sale through Stuff Etc.

Sundblad got into the business when the owners of a children’s consignment shop in Iowa City decided to move on to something new.

“I was in the right place at the right time. The resale industry appealed to me and I was excited to put my own ideas to work. I purchased their consignor list, changed the business name, moved to a new space and the rest is history.”

Sundblad did indeed put her ideas to work. After 20 years and three corporate locations in Iowa City, Coralville and Cedar Rapids, she decided to explore franchising the concept of consignment resale shops.

“After fine-tuning our processes and procedures, we believed we had something that others would be able to buy in to.”

More than 300 people are employed at the five corporate locations in Iowa City, Coralville, Cedar Rapids, Clive and Dubuque, and three franchise locations in Waterloo, Davenport and Ankeny. The Dubuque location is at 2095 Holliday Drive.

Husband and wife team Scott and Carla Seele opened the Davenport franchise in August 2011. Prior to that, Scott worked as a printing salesman. He found the process to becoming a franchisee very simple and was motivated by seeing the tremendous growth and obvious success of the company.

“We met and discussed the general ideas of the possibility of franchising, then narrowed down the specifics,” he said.

He added that “I have a simple approach to life, and Stuff Etc did the best job by far in showing me that becoming a franchisee with the company was the best option for me. I also learned the importance of assembling the right management team and staff that is willing to put in the extra effort that is required to be successful. Extra effort equals profit.”

A monthly meeting is held with store managers and owners at the Coralville corporate office during which sales results are discussed. It’s an opportunity for franchisees to share what’s working in their store with others and to raise concerns.

The management team of Mary Sundblad, Sara Sundblad — Mary’s daughter-in-law and director of operations — and Jody Haggerty, marketing director, visit the franchise stores each month. They look at the overall store appearance and discuss sales results.

“Franchising has given people an opportunity to own a business with a proven successful model,” Sundblad said. “The franchisees don’t have to re-create the wheel. They receive support and guidance from us and we always learn new things from them. They have become friends and we enjoying helping them grow their businesses.”

Stuff Etc is committed to giving back to the communities where the stores are located.

“Each month our stores select a local charity to sponsor through our Charity Umbrella project. We provide a weekend for employees to hand out vouchers to our stores. When a customer uses the voucher during their purchase the charity or organization will receive 10% of that total customer sale,” Sundblad said.

More than 25 charitable organizations received funds in 2019, including the Brain Injury Alliance, National Kidney Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, Everybody Wins! Iowa and the Veterans Liberty Center.

“We also have many charitable accounts in our stores. Anyone can drop off consignment for a charity and we sell those items for that charity and they receive 50% of what it sells for. The charity can decide how to use that money, either receive a payout or allow their patrons to come in and purchase items they need for their families.

“The people in Iowa have been very supportive of Stuff Etc and our concept, Sundblad said. They believe in recycling and our values as a company. We enjoy giving back and partnering with our communities.”