May 2010

CHAMPAGNE LIVING ON A BEER BUDGET: Consignment Shopping - A Bonanza For Bargain Hunters

Author: Teresa Fitzgibbons | Photographer: Photography By Anne

A Louis Vuitton handbag, Prada sunglasses, or an Armani dress—as your eyes drift down to the price tag expecting sticker shock, you find another surprise instead: Everything is only half what you would expect to pay.

“This is the best way to shop,” said Dave Spahr, owner of Bargains and Treasures on Arrow Road. “It’s not surprising my wife and I got into this business. We love it. It’s how we shopped when we were first married.”

He’s talking about consignment shopping. Consignment stores are stores that obtain their inventory exclusively from individuals who want to sell it. When it sells, the store owner and seller split the profit. While contracts vary from store to store, sellers can generally expect a 40-60 percent take on their wares and a contract of four months or so. Most stores require sellers to make appointments before bringing items in as they hand select which items they’ll take and go over them with a fine-tooth comb. Most consignment shops have a target audience—ladies’ wear, children’s items, or home furnishings.

“I look for items that are seasonal first,” said Mary Lou Haskell, owner of the upscale The Stock Exchange in Main Street Village, which sells ladies’ wear. “I want things that are current and in style. I try not to go back more than a year in style, and I do look for designer labels.”

At The Stock Exchange, shoppers will find exclusive designers whose labels aren’t available locally. Her shelves are stocked with Gucci, Prada, Chetta B, and Trina Turk, to name a few. My Sister’s Closet on the south end also sells ladies’ wear. They do stock quite a few designer names, but they will accept non-designer and other unique items.

Local consignment stores are the ideal place to visit for quality, high-end, gently used items. You’ll find many things that have never been used, and some things still have their original tags on them. Upscale areas like Hilton Head offer an exceptional consignment shopping experience.

We get beautiful clothes here because people on the island have such great taste,” said Laura Bracken, a co-owner of Simply Kids, the area’s only consignment shop that caters to children, located on Palmetto Bay Road. “You can get a great deal on fabulous items that look brand new.”

Laura sees a lot of notable brands such as Lily Pulitzer dresses and Pottery Barn toys come through her shop. “We get a lot of things that people got as shower or baby gifts that they couldn’t use,” she said. Along with toys and clothes up to size 12, Simply Kids also stocks baby supplies, nursery décor, and furniture. They also sell gift certificates and offer in-store credit. And they rent items for visiting families as well.

Consignment shops offer a boutique style shopping experience. Sales people are more like personal shoppers. Merchandise is organized by various categories into departments with end and floor displays to give shoppers fresh ideas.

“We always have a Wow! Display,” said Haskell, pointing out a striking ensemble in bold colors. “We like the challenge of putting together a whole look—shoes, dress, jewelry— the total package all from different consigners.”

It’s not surprising that tourists have discovered the area’s consignment shops. “Nearly 70 percent of my business is tourists, which is surprising to me,” said Haskell. “There are locals who don’t know I exist but people from miles away that come and see me each year.”

Kevin James, owner of My Sister’s Closet agrees. “I don’t think there are too many ladies up and down the East Coast who haven’t been to My Sister’s Closet.”

“This is a very personal business,” said Haskell. “We really have two clients, the seller and the buyer. It’s such a pleasure pleasing them both. I also get to see nice things find great new homes.”

While some people are shopping for pleasure, others are shopping for business. This is especially true for local consignment stores that sell home furnishings.

“We average a dealer or two each day or a designer or two each day in each of our stores every day,” said Spahr, whose store specializes in home furnishings and other accessories. “Essentially, they’re looking for pieces to take back to their own shops. That’s why you’ll find things here at only half the price you’d pay elsewhere. We’re the only purist in the area.”

Spahr explains that both of the Bargains and Treasures stores (there is also a Bluffton store on Hwy 46) are strictly consignment shops. With the average retiree moving up to three times and a plethora of second home owners and investment properties, this area sees an unusually high movement of home furnishings. He also sees a lot of unique items as Hilton Head attracts residents and investors from all over the world. A Whistler print, antique Edwardian chairs, a contemporary shelving unit, and a hand-painted coal scuttle are among their current treasures.

Furniture Solutions, on the corner of Arrow Road and Hwy 278, also offers high-end furniture and home décor at vastly discounted prices. They have a slightly different way of doing business. While they do consignment, they are also the island’s premiere liquidator and licensed auction house.

“We’re slightly different because we consign a lot of new things from High Point and Hickory North Carolina manufacturers and sell them at a fraction of the price,” explained owner Kevin James. Many manufacturers find they need additional warehouse space or have excess inventory that they need to dispose of. Furniture Solutions also liquidates for estates and others and offers in-home design services.

“The idea of consigning new things is unheard of to many people,” said James. “We like to call it champagne living on a beer budget.”

  1. Enjoyed the article but my name is not Kevin James. It’s Kevin Raymond. Perhaps a follow-up article on our family and “Consignment Corner” ie; My Sister’s Closet and Furniture Solutions would be of interest to your readers…Kevin


    — Kevin Raymond    May 10, 07:27 am   

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