Cleaning out? Try consignment shops

September 09, 1994|By ANDREW LECKEY | ANDREW LECKEY,Tribune Media Services

Kiss them goodbye.

There may be perfectly good items around your house that you simply don't need or want anymore. Consignment shops, which will sell them in exchange for splitting the profit, offer a painless way to clean house.

Numbering about 15,000 nationwide, such shops have grown by 20 percent during the past two years. There's greater demand for secondhand furniture, clothing and appliances these days because a difficult economy has made Americans more thrifty. Bridal gowns and celebrity items have are also popular.

The cut between the seller and the consignment shop is generally 50-50, or, in some cases, 60-40 in the shop's favor. You're employing the expertise, pricing savvy, bookkeeping expertise and showroom of the shop to get the job done quickly and profitably. When it comes to money, something is always better than nothing.

For example, I made use of two suburban Chicago consignment shops before a recent cross-country move. One accepted better furniture and accessories; the other preferred inexpensive stuff sought by fixer-upper customers.

Two pieces tossed in as afterthoughts were an old set of brass fireplace tongs and an early videocassette recorder, both of which I'd likely have thrown out. You guessed it: Those two items sold the very first day in the shops.

When selling on consignment, talk over proposed asking prices of items and whether there's a charge for pickup. Be sure to receive a written receipt signed by the operator of the shop that spells out the inventory of items, percentage to be paid to you, consignment period and policy on permitting you to pick up items before or after the agreed-upon period expires.

Learn the store's schedule for marking down items that haven't yet sold and what it will do if property is stolen or damaged.

Choose a consignment shop carefully, for they vary considerably in items accepted, approach, professionalism, quality of facilities and, most importantly, results.

"Be concerned if there's sloppy bookkeeping at the consignment shop and you can't find out whether a specific item has been sold," warned Kate Holmes, author of the manual "Too Good to be Threw," editor of a consignment industry news letter and owner of the One More Time consignment store in Columbus, Ohio.

Determine whether you can retrieve items if you have a change of heart.

"Most stores will allow people to come pick up their things before their contract expires, though they'll require a service charge because they've taken the time to ticket, price and put the item on the floor," explained Toni Coleman, vice president of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, based in St. Claire Shores, Mich., and owner of the Gentleman's Closet consignment shop in Houston.

There are some star-studded consignment wares.

"We sold all of Natalie Wood's clothing when she died, and we've also received items that were donated to charity from Elizabeth Taylor, Candice Bergen, Debbie Reynolds and Shirley Jones," said Janet Snyder, owner of Jean's Stars' Apparel in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Celebrities can't be seen too many times in public in the same outfit, so they want to get rid of them, she said.

"We sell everything from furniture to appliances, from jewelry to a Jeep [a 1941 reconditioned vehicle from World War II]," said Bernd Gravenstein, who works at the 37,000-square-foot Repeat Consignment Superstore in Houston, which opened two months ago.

He encourages customers to test items to make sure they're in working order, because there are no returns or warranties. Not all sell quickly or hold their value.

"Wooden pieces tend to hold their value best, while upholstered goods go down in value," pointed out Pat "P. B." Gaubus, owner of the Precious Cargo shop in Nashville, Tenn.

Many people prefer consignment shops to selling outright because they don't want strangers coming into their homes to look at items, she believes.

"Because consignment is considered a private contract, there really aren't any federal laws covering it, and in all the years I've been here I haven't heard a complaint," added Nate Owen, senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. "My advice to consumers is to make sure you have a contract that carefully explains pricing procedure and the length of time items will be held."

Other popular avenues for unloading unwanted items include garage sales, estate sales and donations to charity. While I've aimed this column at those seeking to sell, consumers should also be aware there are plenty of bargains available for purchasers who do their homework. Just check the prices of brand-new pieces and you may quickly get the bug to browse for similar or more unique consignment merchandise at a fraction of the cost.

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