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Family-owned 'Stuff Etc.' business employs 350 in 8 Iowa stores

Sara Sundblad is director of operations at Stuff Etc. Photographed at the company's Coralville, Iowa, location Monday, F
Sara Sundblad is director of operations at Stuff Etc. Photographed at the company’s Coralville, Iowa, location Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Sara Sundblad really knows her “stuff.”

Sundblad started working part-time at Stuff Etc. in Coralville when she was in high school. After graduating from Simpson College in Indianola, she returned to the Coralville consignment store as general manager and has served as director of operations since 2014.

“I love the industry,” she said. “I like the idea of keeping the items out of a landfill, giving them a second life. There’s so many things that come in, there’s nothing wrong with them, so if there’s not an opportunity for them to live on further, would they have gotten thrown away? That would be horrible.”

Stuff Etc. has gone through many transformations since its founding in 1985.

In Iowa City, Sundblad’s mother-in-law, Mary Sundblad, opened a children’s and maternity clothing consignment and country décor store called Kids Stuff and Kountry Kreations.

As the business grew and changed locations, “It became evident that the consignment was the more popular part of the space and that the country décor was on its way out,” Sundblad said.

The business rebranded itself as Stuff Etc. and started offering clothing and accessories for the whole family, household items, furniture, jewelry and toys.

Stuff Etc. now has eight locations in Iowa — five corporate stores and three franchises — and managers from each store meet monthly to share ideas and pool their efforts.

While Sara Sundblad “wears a lot of hats,” her main duties include conducting leadership training and making frequent site visits to check on compliance and to help with anything the stores might need.

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“I really like working in the stores,” she said. “I don’t mind the desk duties in the office, but I love working with the people. If I can get out in the store and get my hands dirty a little bit, that’s my favorite thing.”

Sundblad’s mother-in-law still is CEO of the company and is on the road a lot visiting the stores with her. Sara Sundblad’s sister-in-law, Mindy Lybeck, and Mindy’s husband and daughter also work at Stuff Etc.

While Sundblad’s husband, Nate, occasionally worked at the store in high school, he chose to run his own business and now manages the couple’s rental properties.

“I don’t think people realize the volume that happens behind the scenes.”

- Sara Sundblad is director of operations at Stuff Etc.

“It’s a family business, except for Nate,” Sundblad said with a laugh.

Sara and Nate Sundblad’s three children — Conley, 13, Shay, 12, and Collins, 6 — also have other career plans, which Sundblad is OK with.

“It’s good for them to get out and experience a job somewhere else,” Sundblad said. “As parents, that’s what we talk to them about, like, hey, you need to go out, you need to apply on your own, you need to get yourself an interview. Find out how all that stuff works. I don’t want them to feel pressure to be here.”

Sundblad’s family loves to participate together in the company’s Charity Umbrella events, where each Stuff Etc. store partners with a nonprofit in their city each month or quarter to raise money for that charity or to collect goods, like food for a food pantry.

“This quarter at some of the locations they are working with some animal shelters, so we are working to raise money to either purchase dog food and things of that nature to give to the animal shelter or collect food and different pet supplies that they desperately need,” Sundblad said.

Stuff Etc. staff also volunteer at the organizations they partner with, serving food at a soup kitchen or setting up for events like 5Ks.

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“Samaritan’s Purse is one that’s near and dear to our heart,” Sundblad said. “We usually sponsor them every November, and they pack the shoe boxes at Parkview Church that they ship all over the world. For my kids, that’s our favorite thing to do.”

Sundblad said that even with a staff of about 350 in eight locations, with many long-term employees, every location feels like part of the family.

“The staff are just amazing. We sometimes have to do things that are not super glamorous, and just having people that you enjoy working with every day makes coming to work fun,” Sundblad said. “It’s getting harder as we grow, but I love being able to walk into a location and knowing someone’s first name and a nugget about them, whether they have kids, or they have animals, or what’s their passion — things of that nature. I love that kind of stuff.”

The goal at the larger Stuff Etc. stores in Coralville and Cedar Rapids is to enter 3,000 consignment items a day in the system. Since not every item gets accepted, employees are handling maybe double that amount each day, Sundblad said. Items that are picked are then priced and taken to the sales floor.

“We kind of joke we need to have a Bring Your Consignor to Work Day, just to give perspective,” Sundblad said. “I don’t think people realize the volume that happens behind the scenes that just 45 people keep moving. It’s just an incredible amount of items, and nothing’s the same as the item before it in most situations because of the variety that we take.”

While Sundblad sees possible opportunities for future growth in the Des Moines and Sioux City areas, she doesn’t see the company growing outside of Iowa. “Right now, we just don’t have the corporate infrastructure to support that,” she said.

Stuff Etc. has developed a loyal following from both consignors and shoppers.

“The opportunity to provide that item for somebody else, who maybe couldn’t afford it at retail, it’s a sweet deal,” she said. “Or to save money on kids’ clothing because they grow out of it so fast. I just love everything that it stands for.”

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