Small business spotlight: Sort & Pack

Kitty McConnell
J. Reneé Claxton

Entrepreneur finds her niche by refining out-sourced operations in the clothing merchandising industry.

Fashion merchandising is a complex international business. J. Reneé Claxton spent several years in Hong Kong during the mid-1990s managing overseas production for the Limited. Her work for the Fortune 500 retailer gave her an insider's understanding of all that can go wrong in a garment's path from factory to store shelves.

Components of a single dress or jacket can come from several different countries. One mismatched trinket or an inconsistent dye can keep an entire order from meeting the brand standards of a major fashion retailer. That's where third-party inspection, fulfillment and liquidation companies come in.

Claxton saw a tremendous opportunity to raise quality standards in that space. "I thought, I could do that, and I could do it better."

So, in 1996, Claxton started Sort & Pack. The company provides fulfillment, warehousing, direct shipping, packaging, knitting, gift-set assembly and related services for national and international retail brands. A sister company, Catch of the Day, liquidates excess or below-quality items in the secondary retail market.

"For a while I would go to the Limited all day and work. At night, I would go to the warehouse I had leased and work until midnight," says Claxton. She built her company on long hours, a good reputation in the garment industry and strong relationships with fashion manufacturers, vendors and buyers.

"Meeting these factories and making these contacts was instrumental in me being able to start this business," says Claxton. "Once I started the liquidation part of the business and reached out to all the factories I know overseas, suddenly everyone had merchandise they wanted me to sell for them."

Before the Limited recruited her, Claxton was a senior production coordinator with Liz Claiborne and Land 'N' Sea in New York City.

"I loved the fashion scene in New York, I love the shows and the designers and market week and everything," says Claxton. The Limited was too good an opportunity to pass up, so Claxton left New York City for the Short North.

Her new home provided the startup capital she needed to grow Sort & Pack into the business it is today. Claxton took out a home equity loan for the equipment she needed, "knowing if I lost it I would probably be homeless."

In the beginning, Claxton and her staff worked from a rented warehouse, loading and unloading trucks by hand. She used the loan to purchase a pallet jack, then a forklift.

"They were things we just couldn't live without. I figured, well at least if I'm homeless I'll have a forklift I can drive," Claxton remembers.

Her business is still growing. Claxton counts leading retailers among her clients, including Victoria's Secret, Eddie Bauer and Pier One. Her companies also work with other small and medium-sized suppliers. Reynoldsburg-based Fast Innovations has been a Sort & Pack client since 2010.

Fritz Hoefer, Fast Innovations president, says he appreciates that Claxton is fair and trustworthy and that her employees are inspired to care about the quality of their work. He adds, she has a "willingness to cooperate to get things done quickly at a fair price."

Diversified services and product variety, along with Claxton's industry expertise and connections, have kept her company competitive.

On a regular day, 40 to 45 associates handle orders at Claxton's warehouse. She has a list of "flexible associates," 30 of whom who can be called in quickly to handle large orders. She owns the company's Gahanna headquarters, which is large enough to accommodate future expansion and rent space to tenants. The area is a prime strategic location for a third-party merchandising business like Claxton's.

"Being in Columbus, we are central to a tremendous amount of large retailers and, primarily, their distribution centers," she says.

Claxton, like a true entrepreneur, is driven by the pace and variety of her work. "It's an interesting business," she says. "Every day you feel like you're reinventing the wheel."

Kitty McConnell is a freelance writer.

Sort & Pack and Catch of the Day Clothing Co.

650 Taylor Station Rd., Columbus 43230

(614) 868-7678

About: Provides fulfillment, packaging, sorting, relabeling, warehousing and merchandise liquidation for wholesalers and retailers, primarily in the fashion industry.


Founder: J. Reneé Claxton

Employees:40 to 45 associates per day (average).

2015 revenue: wnd