Cartier watches and Hermès scarves aren’t the sort of “investments” Leslie Frécon was accustomed to handling as chairman and CEO of Minneapolis-based LFE Capital. But she was keenly aware that Birkin bags weathered the financial crisis better than many stocks. So when luxury resale website portero.com went up for sale, Frécon bought it. And a vintage Yves Saint Laurent wool shawl, for good measure.
Most items on Portero are priced 10 to 70 percent off retail. Frécon brought in Susan Engel, former Department 56 CEO and a regular at Edina designer resale store Fashion Avenue when she lived in the Twin Cities, to run Portero from New York. The website serves as a distribution channel for pre-owned certified luxury goods from small third-party retailers and larger dealers. Thus the name, Portero, which means “gateway” or “portal” in Spanish.
Customers deal only with Portero, which streamlines the experience. And the website guarantees authenticity. Frécon likens Portero to buying a certified pre-owned car. It takes the guesswork and apprehension out of shopping online—especially in the designer sector, where knock-offs are rampant. “Consumers are looking for something of enduring quality,” says Frécon, who makes a point to invest in women-led companies that serve a largely female market.
It doesn’t have the name recognition of eBay or Amazon, but Portero is distinguishing itself as a luxury alternative. While some shoppers come to browse, Frécon says many know exactly what they want, and Portero’s search engine can locate it in seconds. If the item isn’t available, Portero will try to find it. What you want, when you want it is key, says Frécon, who senses that shoppers are growing weary of flash sales and auctions that require shopping at specific times and grabbing whatever is available.
Used Is the New New | Pre-owned luxury appeals to shoppers who can’t afford a new Chanel bag, as well as the fortunate few who can but prefer the thrill of the deal. Plus, resale is recycling, Frécon points out, which adds to the appeal these days. “No one would ever know if I had my Louis Vuitton bag for two weeks or two years,” Frécon says. “I think there is a growing acceptance for pre-owned goods—even baby boomers are getting over the stigma. There’s a lot of appreciation for the value of it. A Hermès scarf is always going to be in fashion. You can trust that.”
The average Portero purchase is $1,200. Merchandise ranges from $200 all the way up to $60,000 (for a Birkin crocodile bag). And while it could be argued that no one needs a designer bag, demand did not wane during the recession. “The luxury market is huge, but the pre-owned luxury market is even bigger,” Frécon says. “It’s the kind of business that can survive the peaks and valleys of the economy.”