By Ashley Mitchell
Owners: Keijeo and Sirba Halmekangas
Start Date: Nov. 1, 2009
Square Footage: 6,000
Address: 405 E. Holly St., Bellingham
Phone: (360) 933-4647
The large building that holds the Better Than New clothing store sits so comfortably off Holly Street, it’s almost easy to miss. In fact, the only advertising method the store utilizes is a small trailer truck equipped with a large sign posted on the side: Better Than New, Fashionable Apparel for Less.
The owners Keijeo and Sirba Halmekangas, who have been involved in discount retail since 1976, opened shop in early November. This is the sixth store they’ve owned since moving to Bellingham in 1991.
“I got involved in this business to give people good deals,” Keijeo said. “People always like to get a deal. It’s human nature.”
Despite being a new business with plenty of local competition, Better Than New doesn’t take advantage of advertising opportunities. The business works by word-of-mouth. Keijeo said he strongly believes a business should advertise itself; if a customer is happy then they will tell others about the business.
“I opened this store mostly for my wife’s amusement,” Keijeo joked. “We strive to make friends, not money.”
The store also strives to sell quality materials for less. It isn’t a consignment store and doesn’t accept donations. They purchase overstock from both department stores and clothing manufacturers, and sell it at their own designated prices. The entirety of the 6,000-square-foot building is filled to the brim with racks of everything from jeans to shoes to winter coats.
Keijeo said he doesn’t want the name of the store to mislead customers. While most of their product is new, they do purchase and accept customer returns from department stores that have small stains or rips in them. This product is sold for less, and most of the time is completely repairable by the customer. Keijeo said he believes if they are open about the product at the time of the sale, problems don’t arise and the customers trust them.
The Halmekangas have owned multiple businesses in different countries, are involved in real-estate construction and import and export clothing to and from other countries. This varied background has given Keijeo confidence in his tried-and-true business technique.
“It’s important to be on the same side of the counter as the customer,” he said. “Most businesses are struggling or closing, but it’s a matter of making the customer enthusiastic about your store‚ and letting the customer advertise for you.”