Manager enjoyed leading store with special mission

Marna Slawson was driving into her job as manager of The Courtyard a little over two years ago when she got a call.

"We're going to have to shut it down," said voice on the other end, as the curtain of the pandemic closed operations at the Hinsdale furniture resale shop.

"Me and volunteers went ahead and looked at what our options were," she recounted.

The shop, after all, was an important source of financial support for Wellness House's programs for cancer patients.

"They count on us. It's a steady stream of money," she said.

So over the ensuing three months, Slawson constructed a new website that allowed online purchases for the first time. Even now with the store back open, online sales remain strong.

"I've made some good changes," reflected Slawson, who retired last month after 15 years running the operation.

It was actually her second stint with the organization, having previously served as Wellness House's director of administration from 1996-99.

She left for another job, but would come to appreciate Wellness House's mission as a patient.

"It was later on that I had my lung cancer and went to Wellness House for support group, and my husband went to the support group for caregivers," she said. "I always thought they did amazing things, but I was never on the patient side. The counselors are just so skilled at helping people through the process.

"When the job opened up there at The Courtyard, I was not working at the time and it was perfect," she continued.

A former nurse, Slawson went back to school to get her MBA.

"I knew I wanted to work in a not-for-profit and give back in that way," she said. "I always liked the business side, and when you're working for a nonprofit, you can get that double benefit of helping people and growing as a professional."

She was well-versed on The Courtyard operation from when it was under her purview as director of administration. The loyal customers and volunteers lend the shop a family-like atmosphere, Slawson said.

"I would say a good 80 percent of the people who come in are frequent shoppers. It's pretty much first-name basis," she said. "It's the reason the volunteers stay and people go shopping there."

There was talk of expansion at one point, but Slawson knew the value of maintaining an inviting, charming space.

"We stayed where we were and tried to enhance it in other ways with thoughtful decorating and creative vignettes," she said.

Slawson also accelerated the inventory turnover time from 90 days to 60 to ensure items didn't get stale.

As new furniture has become harder to obtain during COVID, the shop's business has boomed. And other consignment or resale shops have copied The Courtyard's approach.

"I've talked to businesspeople in different meetings, and they're kind of amazed at the model and how well it works

In retirement, Slawson aspires to learn to play the piano and learn to weave. She also intends to return for the Walk for Wellness May 1.

"There are people weekly who come in the store and go, "I've lived in Hinsdale 15 years and I didn't know you were here,' " she related. "Go check it out."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo provided

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean