Saturday, September 23, 2000

Consignment buying comes of age

Area shops boast quality furniture, bargains

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the Tristate's best-kept secrets is coming out of the closet — and the living room, the dining room, the bedroom.

        Bargain hunters, always on the lookout for good taste with a good price tag, are having great luck finding treasures waiting in furniture consignment shops.

[photo] On display at Legacies Gallery of Discovery in Hyde Park is a variety of furniture, lighting, artwork and glassware.
(Enquirer photo)
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        “I just happened to stop in the Clothes Call (in Fort Wright), looking for something to replace my son's waterbed,” Jewel Buckley of Union says. “When I decided to redo his room, I was looking for something different. I found a brass bed and dresser there. He loves the new look.”

        Consignment shops selling furniture and home decor items have proliferated the past several years in Greater Cincinnati. Traditionally known for selling never- or seldom-worn clothing, some consignment shop owners have branched into the preowned furniture business. Other furniture and home accessory consignment shops are new; several are fund-raisers for non-profit agencies.

        The secret to success, owners say, is enforcing rigorous standards to ensure quality merchandise is available to maintain the store's reputation.

        How does a consignment work?

        Customers bring in items they want to sell (or pictures of larger items such as sofas) for appraisal.

        The store manager usually sets the sales price, although sometimes an expert is called in, for example, to appraise an Oriental rug. Stores vary on their consignment agreements, but 50-50 is the usual profit split between store and consignee (the non-profit Legacies Gallery of Discovery in Hyde Park receives 40 percent of sales).

        An item is placed on sale for at least 30 days. If it's not sold within six weeks, the item is either donated to charity or disposed of and the store gives the consignee a donation receipt.

        The advantage of consignment-shop buying is finding what you want at a discount price. For example, the Snooty Fox's Furniture Den in Mariemont generally prices items 30-50 percent below retail; Legacies' prices often are 50-70 percent below retail.

        At the Furniture Den, a leather sectional originally valued at $4,000 was sold for $1,600, a $200 lamp sold for $79 and a $3,000 hand-painted armoire for $899. Legacies sold two $400 tables originally bought from Closson's for half price. Sterling silver pieces at Legacies usually sell for 25 to 30 percent of their original price.

        What brings the average customer to a consignment shop? Is it low price or high quality?

        “I love the quality,” says Paula Grueter of Maineville, who bought her dining room table and chairs at the Furniture Den. “There's always something new there and I usually find something every time I go.”

        One of Greater Cincinnati's long-standing clothing consignment shops, the Snooty Fox has eight locations throughout the area, including its new Furniture Den. Owner Donna Speigel opened the first Snooty Fox 20 years ago.

        “We consider ourselves pioneers in high-quality consignment,” Ms. Speigel says. “Our Furniture Den opened in June, in the same strip mall as one of our clothing shops, and by 3 p.m. that day everything in the Den had sold. Our traffic was phenomenal.”

        Ms. Speigel believes the upsurge in furniture consignment is a sign of the times.

        “Some people are downsizing their homes. When they retire, they may move to Florida and not want to take their old furniture,” she says. “Others are keeping their home as trendy as their clothes. For example, anything we get with animal print flies out the door.

        “Mostly, people want to be able to get something back for what they invested in their good furniture.”

        Occasionally, real finds come from unexpected sources. For example, companies will donate props used in a home show exhibit, like the Clothes Call's recent acquisition of an expensive window treatment.

        “Although we do sell some clothing, we mostly handle furniture and home accents. Those items sell very well,” says Pat Saul, owner of the Clothes Call.

        “They purchase home items from here when their old pieces don't go with the new, or they're redecorating and looking for something different. I've never had a piece of furniture that didn't sell.”

        While some customers visit consignment shops hoping to find that right picture frame or single chair, some arrive with the idea of filling entire rooms.

        That's why Ms. Buckley frequents consignment shops.

        “When I decide I want to make a change, I'll call Pat (Saul) first and we'll swap items or we'll negotiate consignment or purchase of what I'm looking for,” Ms. Buckley says. “Either way, I still try to stop in (to Clothes Call) at least once a week.”

        Ms. Buckley's other consignment-shop finds include chairs for her living room and a complete set of everyday dishes.

        An emerging trend involves charities or organizations raising money by operating consignment/donation shops. Just a Second Showroom in Clifton and Legacies are two examples. Proceeds from Just a Second go to Central Clinic while the Wellness Community receives funding from Legacies.

        “We sell furniture, glassware, crystal, antique and eclectic pieces,” says Carol Bunnell, manager of Just a Second. “Our location gives us a lot of traffic and we have been very successful.

        “Our customers appreciate the fact that we have a connection with Central Clinic, a mental health service for children and adults. It makes them feel good to know their money's going to a good cause.”

        Customers also appreciate the Wellness Community-Legacies connection.

        “We have a high turnover rate because people bring their things here to help the Wellness Community, which offers free support for cancer patients, their families and friends,” says Legacies manager Patti Feder.

        “We're closed on Monday to price incoming items but come Tuesday morning people are waiting in their cars when we open at 10 a.m. They know we don't take junk.”


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