MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Married with children, a local man thought it was his destiny to be a social worker. When that career ran its course, he started antiquing, eventually running his own Estate business.
But now many Minnesotans know Lyn Opitz for his clothing stores, Opitz Outlets, where you can find discounts on designer brands up to 70 percent. How he does it is what makes him a Minnesotan to Meet.
When WCCO was invited into the outlet store’s two warehouses, there were 5,000 dresses and 150,000 pairs of shoes.
“We buy from many sources and many department stores. The product in here, 80 percent of it comes from people I met more than 10 years ago,” Opitz said.
It’s those relationships with Opitz that has fans of his outlets coming back week after week.
“Sometimes we put limits on things … we put limits on how much someone can buy,” Opitz said. “Kind of weird, isn’t it?”
There are three stores. The original is in St. Louis Park, and the newest one is in Minnetonka. The Annex is next door to the St. Louis Park store. There you can sometimes find merchandise for a buck.
“The product we have here is stuff that’s 99 percent perfect, and the Annex is stuff that doesn’t make that scale,” Opitz said. “One of our biggest challenges of all is keeping inventory in stock.”
In the beginning, times weren’t always so successful. Opitz said it was because he didn’t initially know how to run a business that grew as his did. Opitz said he stumbled his way into merchandising. After graduate school, he worked as a social worker.
“I got interested in antiques and just started puttering around in stores and so forth,” Opitz said.
That eventually led to four antique stores, where he started shopping estate sales in the 1980s.
“I was always in line at estate sales and I started thinking, ‘Why don’t I go on the inside,'” Opitz said.
Sixty employees later, and with banks asking him to liquidate businesses, came another new idea. His friends told him about places trying to sell off their apparel in large quantities. So, he tried it.
“We were a lot younger and thought about things differently,” Opitz said.
The first sale they ever did involved shoes. It had people lined up down the block. He eventually closed the estate business and focused strictly on the discount store in 1989.
“I think it was exciting in a lot of ways,” Opitz said. “I think we thought we could do it, even though there wasn’t evidence of that.”
By 1992, the bank was getting ready to close up shop, but Opitz worked on relationships on the inside, bringing in local consultants from the University of Minnesota who taught him how not to sell all his good inventory at once. Then he started working with new partners from New York. Much of the inventory comes from stores in that state, as well as California and Texas.
With his business growing every year, Opitz spends eight hours a day on the phone searching for new designers and stores looking to unload goods up to four times a week.
“Whatever business you want to be in, find people who have done it before who have been successful and then listen to them,” Opitz said.
He now has nearly 100 employees, which includes one of his three kids — his son Scott runs the shoe warehouse. Opitz said his daughter no longer lives in state, but still shops the store from Texas.
Word of mouth has also spread across the country; Opitz said a number of visitors to Minneapolis will come to his stores directly. Because who doesn’t love finding a bargain?
Opitz said his stores are different from T.J. Maxx and Marshalls in that those stores now have contracts with designers to make merchandise for them, whereas he buys up extra inventory or inventory that’s being liquidated directly from stores or labels.
How do you know what they’re carrying? They’ve become very dedicated on social media, often announcing surprise shipments, such as a recent batch of Coach shoes.
As an FYI, you can’t return anything, but can get a gift card for the amount of purchase.