Domenica Groulx knows what it’s like to shop for children as they sprout up seemingly almost overnight.
She and husband Mark Groulx, owners of recently opened Once Upon A Child in Ahwatukee, have boys, 4 and 5, and a 6-year-old daughter.
Since moving to the East Valley nine years ago, the couple quickly learned of the value of Once Upon A Child resale stores and how it could outfit their children with name brand quality clothes and shoes while providing gently-used furniture, books and toys to help them stick to their budget.
So sold were they as regular customers at the Once Upon A Child stores in both Scottsdale and Mesa/Gilbert, Domenica and Mark – a chemical engineer and a mining engineer, respectively – made the leap to owning their own franchise.
Originally, the couple planned to open their franchise in Chandler, but when they found the 6,400 square-foot retail space at 5009 E. Ray Road, they snapped it up.
“We had shopped in Ahwatukee so we were aware of what a great community this was and when this became available, we knew it would be a perfect place to open,” said Domenica, pointing out their proximity to AMC Theatre Ahwatukee 24 and JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts.
“This is our first experience in retail and we’re the fifth location for Once Upon A Child store in Arizona,” she noted.
The store’s 5,800 square-foot sales floor make it one of the largest west of the Mississippi and offers the organization the franchise is known for.
Once Upon A Child, founded in 1984 in Columbus, Ohio, and offering its first franchise in 1991, now has more than 390 stores in the U.S. and Canada. In 2018, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked it North America’s #1 Children’s Resale Franchise.
Though the space was larger than they’d planned on, it meant they wouldn’t have to move once their business grew.
“We didn’t want to move for expansion. We wanted to get our store together and settle in. This site was just too good to pass up,” said Domenica.
Retail was a far cry from the mining industry the couple had labored in professionally, including a stint at the Grasberg Mine in Papua, Indonesia (cq). The mine is owned by Freeport McMoRan, based in Phoenix and its primary metal is copper.
The couple met while working at an automobile manufacturing company in Canada.
“I was still in school at the University of Toronto and he’d graduated from Queen’s University in Ontario. When he got into mining and I finished school, I decided to follow, initially to Northern Ontario, then abroad. That’s when we lived and worked in Indonesia. We arrived in Arizona in 2011,” she said. “We’ve always worked together.”
After years of travel, they started their family. After relocating to Mesa, Domenica opted to leave her career. Mark was also ready for change.
“I was a stay-at-home mom with three children and we decided we wanted to start a business, but not from scratch,” Domenica explained. “We preferred a franchise.
“We were accustomed to Once Upon A Child because of our own children and Mark was the one who suggested it and I said yes, that’s what I want. Being a customer, I felt I could relate to our customers, and of course, being a parent, too.”
Running a business that is open seven days a week is a challenge for parents with three children.
“It was especially hard last year during our grand opening,” she confessed. “We’d hoped families would come in as we finished our build-out and got ready to open but with COVID, we didn’t have any visitors.
“We take turns watching the kids and sometimes we have them in the store but they treat it like their home so we tend to have them there only when we have to bring them.”
Looking around the Once Upon A Child store, it’s easy to see how the youngsters would view it as a fun play space.
There are rows of infant and child development toys, a plethora of strollers and gaily decorated ride-on toys and infant walkers.
Most items in stock have been purchased from area families. The franchise does not accept anything on consignment.
“We buy gently-used clothing, shoes, toys, furniture and more every day,” explained Domenica who, like her husband, was born and raised in Canada. “We buy all day, everyday, with no appointment necessary, and we pay cash on the spot.”
Ahwatukee’s reception to Once Upon A Child has exceeded the couple’s imagination.
“The community has been highly supportive of our venture and there was a lot of excitement as soon as our signs went up roughly eight months ago,” said Mark.
“The Chamber of Commerce has been highly engaged in our business right from the start and has made us feel very welcome. They’ve done a fabulous job supporting us in addition to the other small businesses within the community. We love Ahwatukee and hope that our store will be a staple within the community for many years to come.”
At Once Upon A Child, it’s often difficult to remember this is a resale store.
Name brand clothing for preemies through size 20 in boys and girls are easy to locate in well-defined and marked racks.
Besides trending clothes for kids, there are local sports team jerseys, and even infant onesies, bearing ASU, Arizona Cardinals and Diamondback logos.
There are both frilly and practical dancewear selections, and Disney character clothing and costumes. Gently-used shoes including top-name brands like Nike and Vans are available for all ages, and are binned according to size.
The new and used children’s clothes and shoes are augmented by toys, books, children’s books and games.
The couple makes good use of social media - especially Facebook and Instagram where they regularly display trending outfits for children gleaned from their own inventory. The newest furniture items, like cribs and bookcases, are showcased daily.
The Ahwatukee franchise also offers special promotions like this month’s Tote Bag Tuesday in which customers can fill a Once Upon A Child tote bag with apparel and shoes, all discounted 20 percent.
“Customers can bring in Once Upon A Child tote bags from other stores, or buy one here for $3.99,” said Domenica, adding the tote bag promotion may be repeated in future months.
Another special the Groulx’s have started is the New Mom Club for expectant and new mothers – and new fathers, too.
“When customers sign up to be a member of our New Mom Club, they receive texts about our monthly promotion. In January, the promotion is one free pair of shoes size infant 0-4, up to a $5 value.
“The promotion is different each month, however,” Domenica continued. “Anyone can join if they’re shopping for a baby 0-18 months old. The idea is to gain loyal customers who love shopping at our store right from the newborn stage. Our customers can also join our Five Stars Loyalty Program.”
One local, loyal customer is 21-year-old Mikinzie Grathouse, who shops for her younger siblings, ages 9 and 11.
“I find Once Upon A Child just a warming environment to be in. It’s a very clean and organized store; not cluttered and that makes shopping more enjoyable. Selling is easy and all the employees are super sweet and helpful,” the Ahwatukee resident and Cracker Barrel employee said. “I also have many friends who I look for when I go and often buy clothing for them too.”
Besides saving up to 70% of retail on some of the brand name items, the couple point out buying gently-used clothing, shoes, furnishings is more eco-friendly.
For more information and photos of inventory, see their webpage at OnceUponAChildAhwatukee-Phoenix.com or find them on Instagram and Facebook.