Louise Wika (left), of Burbank, and Stephanie Ivanjack (right), of Oak Lawn, visit with Now & Again Resale Antiques and Collectibles owner Donna Mufich, of Chicago, at the counter of the store. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:08AM
When Donna Mufich became the owner of Now & Again Resale Antiques and Collectibles in Palos Hills in 1994, she was “initially scared to death,” she said.
Mufich, 55, of Chicago’s West Beverly neighborhood, didn’t doubt her business skills. She had been learning the resale business as a two-year renter and decorator at the specialty store and already had years of management, window dressing and merchandising experience from previous positions at retail stores.
Mufich’s concern was that she might not be able to maintain the level of success Now & Again owner Jolene Demenna had had with the customer and renter base she had developed and nurtured over the years.
Mufich needn’t have worried, and apparently didn’t for very long.
“This was a natural thing, a creative thing and I’ve always been a decorator so it felt as if this was going to work no matter what happened,” Mufich said.
A great deal has happened in 20 years, but despite the fading of a once-frenetic antiquing fad, the challenges that many brick-and-mortar businesses have faced from online businesses and a struggling economy, Now & Again still is going strong at 10714 S. Roberts Road.
Mufich used her business sense to keep business moving forward, holding sales continually throughout the year and keeping costs down by advertising in emails to her customer base, on the website — www.nowandagainresale.com — and with flyers.
And word-of-mouth has been good for business, too.
For most of the last 20 years, Mufich said, an annual fall sale is held on the Saturday closest to Halloween, an event that started small and has grown to “cult status,” according to Stephanie Ivanjack, a longtime renter and “girl Friday” to Mufich.
The store closes at 5 p.m. and the “girls” transform the shop’s ambience and themselves into Halloween-themed creatures, reopening at 8 p.m. and offering refreshments and a 20 percent-off sale.
“Customers line up down the sidewalk,” Mufich said.
Mufich and her renters also work consistently to keep the booths and windows fresh, adding new items continuously and keeping up with trends and fads.
Mufich creates “we windows,” window displays that have never been repeated in 20 years, by using items from every booth, not only as a unique visual experience, but as a deliberate act of unity, she said.
“I think that creates a greater bond of everyone,” Mufich said. “It’s not about me.”
But there is more to the magic of her success than decorating and business savvy.
Mufich said every businessowner needs others to help build a successful business and to that end she began to build her customer base by taking a personal interest in the people who came into her store.
“Our clientele is repeat,” Mufich said. “Over a period of time, I watch them grow up and have children, and those children come here now. I follow each one of their stories.”
Mufich said her goal is for customers to view a visit to the store as “the best part” of their day, something to look forward to.
“Your troubles stop at the door,” Mufich said. “You walk in and you’re in a good mood. Customers say, ‘I just needed this fix.’ ”
Mufich also has made the other half of the equation work by creating strong relationships with her Now & Again “family” of renters, people she has taught about the business and then watched grow into the role, she said.
Ivanjack said Mufich’s “very high standards” have made all the difference for maintaining and growing both a loyal customer and renter base.
A large part of that success is because the renters follow the rules, Ivanjack said, including Mufich, who handles her own booth in the shop.
“You don’t bring dirty; you don’t bring broken; you don’t bring stinky,” Ivanjack said. “You don’t leave your booth in disarray.”
It isn’t about Mufich cracking the whip. It’s about following the first rule of business that “customer service is key,” Mufich said, and everyone adheres to that code.
Mufich leaves nothing to chance, setting her renters and the store up for success before a new person ever comes on board.
“I hand-pick our renters,” Mufich said. “Usually they are customers and I see how they shop and how they buy.”
Her observations tell Mufich a lot about the potential renter’s personality, she said, and that helps her to make a decision about their inclusion.
A nearly 20-year waiting list of potential renters tells the tale of the store’s reputation among dealers. Once a renter is chosen, she becomes part of the Now & Again family.
Louise Wika, a part-time caregiver, is a case in point. The Burbank resident said for about eight years she would stop in at Now & Again every Friday on her way home from work and “bought a lot of stuff over the years.
“It was a nice peaceful end to a busy, hectic week and I’d spend a couple of hours ... just floating around,” Wika said. “It was peaceful, (I) loved the music. ... and it always smelled so good.”
When Mufich asked Wika if she would be interested in becoming a renter, Wika teamed up with her sister, Freddi Barus, and the two have rented a booth for three years.
Mufich humbly gives her “girls” credit for the store’s success.
“The dealers make the store,” Mufich said. “I’m only the creator of how it came to pass. Yes, I taught them as best I knew how, but I’ve watched these girls carry the ball and go forward and be able to handle it. They motivate me now. I’m so proud.”