In the 1950s and 60s, Zelda Zonk was Marilyn Monroe’s alias for when she went incognito. Today, Zelda Zonk is a consignment store in The Admiral District owned by Jennie McLaughlin.
“I like to look at it as a neighborhood gathering place,” McLaughlin said. “I’m super lucky because the West Seattle neighborhood is so engaged with their community.”
After helping a friend get the shop up and running two and a half years ago, McLaughlin took the store over last February when her friend returned to a corporate job.
“I had had a consignment store with my sister for a couple of years in Eastern Washington,” McLaughlin said. “I ran into Carrie and she said that her dream was to open a consignment store. I had just closed my other one, so I told her, ‘Hey, been there, done that. Any knowledge I can give to help things run a little more smoothly for you, I certainly want to share that.’ She took me up on that, as any smart business woman would.”
Since she wants her store to be a gathering place for all, McLaughlin says she carries something for everyone. She wants her customers to leave feeling good about their experience and purchase.
“The brands that I carry are anything from Chanel and Gucci, your really high end designer brands, down to Old Navy, H&M, Eddie Bauer and anything in between. For me, it’s trying to have that fit where anyone can walk in and find something that will work for them at a price that will work for them,” she said.
McLaughlin said part of her always wanted to be a business owner. Her dad had his own business, so from a young age she could see all the work it took.
“There was a part of me that was really intrigued by that and by being my own boss, where I can make my own choices, and that those choices would inherently affect me and my life,” she said. “So it’s not something taken lightly. You really have to invest your time and energy and make it a priority. If I don’t come through, no one else is going to do it.”
McLaughlin said her dad raised her with a strong work ethic and the mindset of “do or do not, there is no try.” Aside from giving her the opportunity to be her own boss, Zelda Zonk has also provided McLaughlin an outlet for her creative side.
Throughout the years of working with her sister, friend, and owning her own store, McLaughlin said taxation and the overall hiring process have changed the most.
“It’s not as easy as it used to be,” she said. “Finding the right person is difficult. I take a lot of pride in my shop, and whoever’s going to be working here, I want my vision to really exude through them.”
Raising minimum wage has furthered that plight.
“Granted, I’m all for paying people a reasonable amount so that they can make a living,” McLaughlin said. “But also, again, paying someone that is not working to their capability is a hard pill to take as a business owner.”
On a broader scale, McLaughlin said marketing has changed immensely, especially in the last couple of years.
“Social media, obviously, is huge now,” she said. “A marketing plan is not the same as it used to be and I’m going to say right now, I’m probably not up to speed as much; I just don’t have time for it. I’m lucky because the West Seattle community is so behind the shop. I have the most amazing customer base.”
McLaughlin said she has loyal customers who stop by to bring her lunch and flowers. It is clear, however, that McLaughlin looks out for them as much as they look out for her.
“I feel lucky to have this shop,” she said. “Everyone has their own story, as far as why they’re consigning their things. Many times, it’s that they have emotional baggage in their lives and they need to get rid of it. It’s a therapy for them to clean out their closet and get rid of these things and be able to get something in return is an extra bonus, and for things to find a new home and perhaps for someone to love them as much as they did at one time is a beautiful thing all the way around.”
McLaughlin also donates to Children’s Hospital and The Assistance League of Seattle, both of which have thrift stores.
“The Assistance League has Operation School Bell. All the proceeds from their thrift store goes towards clothing and supplying school supplies for homeless kids. There are over 4,000 homeless kids in Seattle,” she said. “For me to be able to take the things that either didn’t sell in the store or I couldn’t take and put them in another location to help people, it’s amazing.”
To other retailers in Seattle, McLaughlin said don’t give up.
“Make your dream happen,” she said. “There’s the Three P’s: people, product, and procedures. In any small business, if any of those is broken, everything is broken.”