Good, Better, Best: The Founder of The Vault Tells Her Story
by Lucy Knapp
Everyone knows Sue McCarthy. She's not just locally famous; she has a nationwide and worldwide following. This is thanks to Resale Royalty, a show about Sue and her first store, Women's Closet Exchange, that ran on the Style Network in 2013. It's also thanks to her clientele and suppliers, who are quite literally from all over the world. She has purchased her stock of designer clothes and accessories from all manner of people with an eye for fashion, from celebrities, European aristocrats, and the very wealthy to Las Vegas call girls. Sue has loyal customers who will make a special trip to St Louis to shop at the Vault. There is a group of New York lawyers who fly in every season to update their wardrobes. Why? Because they know they can get better clothing at better prices than they can in New York.
Above all, Sue McCarthy's fame and fortune are due to her talent, personality and drive.
Sue has written her autobiography entitled Good, Better, Best: The Rags to Riches Story of the Upscale Resale Queen. It is truly a rags-to-riches story. She grew up poor, in fact at one time her family was homeless and sleeping in a park. Before she found – or more accurately, created – her dream job, she had been a hair stylist, mortuary beautician, and owned an all-woman painting company called “A Woman's Touch.” That was unusual for its time because it hired only women, offered flexible hours and, most importantly, kept the commitments it made to their customers.
In the 1990s, Sue got into the resale business, first as an employee then as an owner. With her first store, the Women's Closet Exchange, she revamped the resale model, gradually shifting from consignment to purchasing outright, only acquiring quality items in excellent condition, and designing the shop to look and feel like a boutique, not a second-hand store.
In 2014 came the big leap of faith: Sue and her daughters Laura and Diana opened The Vault Luxury Resale in Brentwood. They source clothing from major cities in the U.S. and Europe, specializing in “closet buys,” where they visit the homes of stylish women who have multiple closets filled with designer and high-end clothing and purchase what they deem sellable on the spot. Their approach to buying is not just purchasing but curating: Everything has to be up-to-date, in excellent condition, and be what their typical shoppers will want to buy.
The Vault has been wildly successful. The store itself is 7,000 square feet of luxury heritage brands, they experienced 40% growth in sales over last year, and recently added four new employees. `Sue estimates that they evaluate 1,000 items per day. They also give back, having donated over $100,000 to charities and are working on donating another $100,000.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Sue McCarthy and learn about her philosophy of fashion and her philosophy of doing business.
Her fashion philosophy may seem surprising coming from a style maven and boutique owner, but it is similar to what stylish women have been practicing for years. “The first word I would have to tell you is simplify. There is nothing more confusing than going to your closet and looking at 20 items and you can't decide. If you have items that you've never put it on, get rid of them. Monetize it in a good resale shop.” She also advised investing in basic pieces (LBD, black pants, black jacket) that are high quality and can be combined with a huge number of colorful tops, scarves and jewelry. If you have good quality basics, you can afford to play around with trendy accessories.
Speaking of trendy, Sue is adamant in saying, “Don't sell yourself to trends that do not work for you. Be true to who you are. Just because everyone is wearing something doesn't mean it's right for you. Wear what is comfortable and makes you feel good, because when you look in the mirror and you feel good, you're going to project that.”
Above all, she believes in treating people with honesty and integrity. If you make a promise, keep it and strive to do your best. She attributes this to her father's motto that she heard many times growing up: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until the good is the better and the better is the best.” She says,”That motto would come to define my working ethos later in life. They are the words I lived by—and still do.”