January 19, 2012

LC Outlet offers clothing for less

Ruth Machain is learning how hard it is to succeed in a small business, even while really trying.

Ruth Machain is learning how hard it is to succeed in a small business, even while really trying.

Machain, her husband and another couple opened LC Outlet on North Arkansas in November, betting a store that sold discounted name-brand clothing would do well in that neighborhood.

“We have a lot of low-income families," said Machain, who lives a few blocks from the shop. "They can’t afford to go out to the department store and pay full price."

But she said they got shorted on a shipment from one supplier, and customer traffic hasn’t been as good as they had hoped. Machain thinks the winter may be to blame. The area’s many construction workers don’t work as much in cold weather, so they have less money to spend.

“In hard times, it’s hard for anybody to get started," Machain said.

Machain thought the store’s prices would be enough to lure shoppers. LC Outlet buys clothing from liquidators who get overstocked items and shelf pulls from large retailers such as Kohl’s and Sears.

LC Outlet sells the clothes for half the original price or less. On many pieces the original price tags are still attached, so shoppers can see the discount.

Items on the racks this week included a South Pole girl’s hoodie for $10, a paisley Jordache knit top for $12.50, an Old Navy thermal sleeve shirt for $12.50, and a Simply Vera Wang woman’s top for $20. Boys’ hoodies hawked by skateboarder Tony Hawk have been one of the store’s biggest sellers at $12.

Ralph Lauren Polo, Sonoma, Arrow, Wolverine and Columbia are other brand names carried by the store. It also handles infants’ clothing and a few hats, gloves and other accessories.

Machain said she and her husband, Ramon, a Wichita police officer, had been looking for a business they could run when he retires. Their partners are Blanca and Manuel Lopez, longtime friends who live in Haysville.

Machain said they got a good deal from their landlord on the 1,200-square-foot space, put in dressing rooms and did "a lot of research" on the discount retailing business before opening. They’ve driven to Dallas and Houston to pick out items from liquidators.

Ruth and Blanca staff the store together during the mornings. The Machains’ daughter, Lauren, sometimes helps out during the afternoon. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday.

On a quiet afternoon at the store this week, Machain joked that perhaps some of her husband’s colleagues could pull over people in the store’s parking lot to generate customer traffic. Some people who have visited the shop did so under the impression that it still housed the previous tenant, a cellphone business.

LC Outlet is Machain’s first business.

"This is my one-time leap of faith," she said. Asked how long she’ll stay aloft, Machain said, "We signed a one-year lease."

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