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Second-hand specialist plans expansion in Mass.

Says the state is the right place to expand

Kristen Ternullo, 18, of Billerica, tried on and later purchased a pair of used inline skates at Play It Again Sports in Chelmsford.
Kristen Ternullo, 18, of Billerica, tried on and later purchased a pair of used inline skates at Play It Again Sports in Chelmsford. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

A national company that specializes in stores selling used goods is planning a major expansion in Massachusetts, saying the state’s high number of families with young children and large student population make it a prime market for second-hand merchandise.

Winmark Corp., based in Minneapolis, already has seven Play It Again Sports stores here, as well as a Music Go Round shop in Natick, which features used instruments.

In addition to adding six Music Go Rounds over the next three to five years, the company said it wants to open 11 Once Upon a Child stores, specializing in used children’s clothing, furniture, and toys. Winmark also plans to open nine Plato’s Closet shops, which sell used clothes for adolescents and young adults.

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Steve Murphy, Winmark’s president of franchising, said there is a lot of potential for the company to grow in Massachusetts. “It’s one of the areas we haven’t penetrated yet,’’ he said.

Nationwide, Winmark runs about 905 locations, including 330 Play it Again Sports, 240 Once Upon a Child stores, and 300 Plato’s Closet shops.

About 60 percent of items are used, according to Bob Holden, who opened Play it Again Sports in Chelmsford two years ago.
About 60 percent of items are used, according to Bob Holden, who opened Play it Again Sports in Chelmsford two years ago. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Murphy said the company hasn’t yet reached any deals with franchisees for the new stores, but mentioned Braintree, Brockton, Cambridge, Waltham, Peabody, and Saugus as possible locations. The biggest challenge, he said, will be to find the right people to open Once Upon a Child and Plato’s Closet stores, since those brands are unknown in Massachusetts. “We grow very fast when we’re in a market, but when we enter, you have to work to get that first one,’’ he said.

Typically, Winmark stores accept new and “gently used’’ items from customers. Store owners evaluate the merchandise and offer sellers cash or credits toward the purchase of other goods.

Ani Collum, a partner at Norwell consulting group Retail Concepts, said the timing may be good for Winmark. “In general, when the economy’s not as strong as it could be, there’s opportunity for consignment,’’ Collum said.

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But Bob Hudson, who opened a Play it Again Sports in Chelmsford two years ago, said he believes the additional Winmark brands will thrive even if the economic outlook improves dramatically. “The spend-free days of the late ’90s and early 2000s are done,’’ he said. “People are more cautious with their money.’’

At the Chelmsford store, a new boy’s lacrosse helmet can cost up to $115, while second-hand ones are offered for $49 and $59. And previously owned baseball and soccer cleats start at $11.99, while new shoes cost $39.

About 60 percent of the store’s items are used, according to Hudson.

Scott Millin, president of the Chelmsford Hockey Association, which runs a hockey league and clinic for children ages 4 to 17, said outfitting a player with new hockey equipment can cost several hundred dollars, a major commitment, especially when children are not sure they want to play the sport long-term.

“Thirty years ago, town programs had equipment swaps,’’ Millin said. “We’ve sort of gotten away from that, and Play It Again is an option for parents who don’t want to sink tons of money into the sport.’’

Hudson, who signed up with Winmark in 2010 after the software company he worked at was sold, said the demand for used goods is high.

“The beauty is it’s a sustainable inventory,’’ he said. “You’re always going to have people with used stuff. It beats letting it sit in the garage not making any money.’’

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Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gail.waterhouse@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly named a source. Bob Hudson is the name of the person who opened a Play it Again Sports in Chelmsford, not Bob Holden.