FLINT TWP. — A new store opening in Genesee Valley Center is all about the experience – a unique shopping experience for customers and the opportunity for area students to gain experience running a business.
Allen Ryckman, owner of Community Threads of Fenton, is opening a second location, Experience Community Threads, in early February in the former Forever 21 space next to Macy’s. The new thrift store will sell new and gently used merchandise, from clothing to furniture and household goods to toys and back-toschool items.
“We’re promising our customers an incredible shopping experience when they come in the store,” Ryckman said. “We’ll have a good mix of new and gently used merchandise at an exceptional value. Our inventory is constantly changing, so you come in on a Tuesday, and who knows what we’re going to have when you come back on Saturday.”
Ryckman already partners with Fenton and Lake Fenton schools to bring in high school students to learn all facets of how to run a business, including exporting goods to other countries. Ryckman leased a pop-up store over the summer in Grand Blanc that employed high school students, and a conversation with a Grand Blanc school board member coupled with the desire to open a second location evolved into the model that will be Experience Community Threads.
“We talked about students today and how they learn and what they need,” he said. “My wife is a teacher, and we see schools as the foundation of the community. We want to do something a little different and help a kid get excited about something they maybe saw in a textbook and help them get some experience.”
The business’ three-year plan calls for 33 percent of the staff to be students by the end of the first year, 66 percent at the end of the second year and 100 percent student run by the end of the third year. A teacher or licensed educator will be hired to supervise the students, but the kids will run the operation.
Ryckman wants to work closely with schools to be in compliance with student hours and provide a good work environment for them. He is looking for students of all skill levels and said no job will pay less than $10 per hour. Students also will earn benefits such as paid vacation time and paid holidays. While he doesn’t have any formal arrangements with Flint Township-area schools yet, he hopes principals, teachers and guidance counselors will reach out to him so he can tailor a program that will fit their students’ needs.
“Traditionally, placements have been for special ed students only, and college prep students find their own way,” Ryckman said, “This environment is going to cover the entire cross section of students. There will be jobs that are a oneor two-step process that anyone can handle, and there will be very complicated jobs. It’s not easy arranging for an ocean shipping container to go through customs and the logistics to be shipped to the Sudan or Egypt. That’s going to take a college-bound student to help us with that.”
Ryckman learned the nontraditional thrift and salvage side of retail by working for Goodwill Industries. His stores accept donations, and he’s even found a way for those donations to help schools. He partners with those that have a project that needs funding, and students gather donations of clothing and shoes from friends and family members, then he buys the items. He also buys close-out, endof season and overstock merchandise from major and small retailers, independents and right from the manufacturer.
“That’s my treasure hunt,” he said. “Right now, we’re selling furniture in the Fenton location. You can buy a brand new $300 or $400 couch for $75. People ask, ‘Why don’t you sell it for $300?’ I don’t need you to spend $300. I need you to come in here and spend $75 and get excited about it and call 16 friends and family members and tell them what you got at Community Threads of Fenton.”
The inventory at the stores will be changing constantly. Ryckman said the store will stock 60 percent clothing and 40 percent other items. In the past six months, he’s bought furniture, toys, women’s designer boots, new jackets, bean bags, summer pool toys and woven bracelets. Not all the items Ryckman purchases are the level of quality he wants to sell in the stores, so to keep the items from being dumped in a landfill, Ryckman has used his contacts to sell and export the items overseas.
Ryckman doesn’t plan to stop at two stores. He opened the Fenton location in November 2017. The store was only open 30 days when a new rooftop heating and air conditioning unit caught fire, causing him to have to replace every item in the store. With that experience, starting anew is something he knows he can handle, and he hopes to follow up Experience Community Threads with a third store in Davison as soon as 2021.
Anyone interested in jobs or creating a partnership with Experience Community Threads can contact Ryckman at his website, www.ExperienceCommunityThreads.com; by email, info@ ExperienceCommunityThreads.com; or on Facebook, www.facebook.com/Experience-Community- Threads-119330066136082/