Row upon row of glistening silver racks of clothing, each lined with blouses, skirts, shirts, jackets and jeans, in every color and style imaginable. For the avid shopper, this is paradise. Yet for 19-year-old Ali Witman, these aisles of clothing are not part of a shopping expedition, but her future.
Witman, a graduate of Manheim Central High School, is working to take over her family's 30-year-old business, Witman Consignment, which is one of the county's oldest and largest consignment clothiers.
After graduating from high school, Witman enrolled at Penn State Altoona as an English major. She enjoyed her studies, but tuition was expensive and she didn't like the college environment. She moved back to Lancaster and tried working a 9-to-5 retail job at a local merchandise chain for several months. Soon she decided that it was not what she was looking for, either. She wanted to find a job that was a balance between the freedom of college and a "cut-and-dry" job, according to Witman. Learning to run the family business, Witman Consignment & Clothiers, near Lititz, proved to be a good fit.
"My dad started talking about it as a maybe. And I was thinking, 'I could maybe,'" said Witman.
Witman's father, Ron Witman, started Witman Consignment 31 years ago with Ali's mother, Susan. At its height, they had three stores throughout Lancaster County. Ron and Susan shared the responsibility of running the stores until 2009, when Ali's mother, Susan, died. Ron then consolidated the businesses to the family's original store location near Lititz. Last winter, with Ali doing well in her retail job, but looking for an opportunity to innovate, Ron and Ali began to seriously discuss the possibility of having her learn the ropes of the family business to one day take the reins from her father.
That's when Ali began to see the family business in a new light.
"I frankly wasn't even thinking in the mind frame of running it a few years ago. You know, you're young and you just come here and if you have to work it's like, 'Ohhh, I've got to work.' But now it's fun to come into work because I know it's going to be mine someday and I'm going to be able to do whatever I want to it," she says.
"I've always enjoyed clothes. I'm kind of my mother's daughter in that way. (I) like shopping and stuff like that," she says.
Witman began working with her father in March 2012. In addition to helping out at the store in the past, she had worked at the family business fulltime over the summers during high school, so the skills that she has needed to manage Witman Consignment were not foreign.
On the organizational side of running the business, she needed to learn how to use the bookkeeping software. Pricing is another essential skill that she had to learn.
"The prices also have to be just reasonable enough that the customer is pleased, (and) the consignor is pleased," Ali says. She also keeps on top of current clothing styles and prices to ensure that she prices the store's inventory accordingly.
Another challenge has been learning how to manage a consignment system. There is a process to a consignment business that is different than typical retail, Ali says.
Working with the customer during an appointment, Ali or her father will personally inspect each item for imperfections. The accepted clothing will then be priced and entered into the store's inventory with the consignor's information.
The clothing is then organized on the store shelves and tracked. Once it's sold, the consignor receives a check for his or her merchandise.
Witman said that one of the biggest challenges of learning how to run the business has been learning how to process new items quickly, and being able to multitask. In the Witman's busiest seasons, fall and spring, they'll take in between 1,000 to 2,000 new items every week.
"That helps me, too," Ali said. "Doing that repeatedly over and over again. It just becomes second nature and faster every time. You've gotta deal with the phone, you've gotta deal with the customer checking out at the same time."
Learning how to run the family business has been a rewarding experience for Witman, who describes herself as "personable."
"I always try to give everybody a smile when they come in. I'm a very happy person so that kind of helps me," Ali says. "Even if I'm having a bad day I just come out to work and I pretty much forget about it. It gives me a good feeling when I organize a whole section or when somebody comes out and says, 'Hey, you're doing a really good job at organizing.'"
Ron is confident in his daughter's ability to run the family business after he retires.
"Ali is very bright and has the charisma with people that's necessary to succeed," Ron says. "And I don't even have any hesitations about her ability to run this business and make it thrive and go forward."
Ali loves what she does, and said that she's always thinking about ways to improve the business. This year they're making some big changes - changing the store hours and renaming the business "Ali Witman Consignment & Clothiers."
"It's cool to see your name on 1,500 cards. And I know we're not like a big business or anything, but I like it this way," Ali says. "It's an exciting thing to be honest, because I'm 19 and that's just not old enough to own a business sometimes. But I do feel like I'm ready to do it because I've been witnessing my parents doing it."
And her hope for the future?
"I want to say that I hope I can bring (my customers) the same great quality and variety and affordability that has been here for the past 31 years.
"I'm motivated," Ali says.