Bargain hunting is the way to shop these days. The economic downturn has paved the way for the proliferation of resale shops in the lakes area and across the country, and resale shopping is one way to save money while decorating or dressing with panache.
Not only are resale shops thought to be effectively recession-proof, but they continue to thrive. The concept is a win-win situation. Consignees or donors bag up gently-used items and benefit by clearing out closets and/or earning money or credit towards purchases. In turn, customers have the advantage of buying these goods at a fraction of the retail price.
Resale shopping is one sure way to safeguard a budget while satisfying the urge to buy. According to Adele Meyer, executive director of the NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, the world’s largest resale trade association, all demographics are taking advantage of resale bargain shopping during these challenging economic times.
“People who previously gave away clothing, household goods and furniture are seeking other ways to dispose of unwanted items during an economic pinch,” Meyer said. “Some donate merchandise to a not-for-profit resale shop and take advantage of the tax deductions while helping a charity raise money. Others may choose to sell or consign merchandise at a local resale shop … turning their ‘no-longer-needed’ articles into cash.”
The resale industry’s image has changed in recent years. The antiquated thinking that resale shopping yields junk is now passe.
“The slumping economy may draw people in, but once they visit a resale shop for the first time, they are pleasantly surprised with the high quality of merchandise and are forever hooked on a new way of smart spending,” said Kitty Boyce, president of NARTS.
The spike in resale shop sales has resulted in scores of new shops cropping up across the country, at a rate of a 7-percent growth every year, Meyer said. NARTS members report significant increases in both sales and incoming inventory. According to the NARTS 2010 Operating Survey, 2009′s net sales grew 12.7 percent from 2008 figures and respondents reported robust growth rates over the past five years, with 2009 as the strongest. The increase is significant considering that retail sales overall were down 7.3 percent in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
More charities seeking additional streams of revenue are opening up not-for-profit resale stores. Others are seizing the opportunity to augment their space by including specialty items such as bridal wear, sporting goods, or goods for teens and furniture, two of the fastest growing segments of the resale industry.
While all shops that sell gently-used consumer goods are “resale” shops, there are slight distinctions. A resale shop is defined as a store that buys merchandise outright from individual owners. A consignment or thrift shop can also be called a resale shop, but only a store that actually consigns their inventory can be called a consignment store. Consignment shops take in merchandise on a consignment basis, paying the owners anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the selling price if and when the items are sold. The majority of such shops often have a policy of displaying goods for anywhere from 30 to 90 days.
As a new consignment store at 1423 S. Milford Road in Highland Township, Caveman Consignment has staked its niche among the myriad of resale shops in the lakes area. The store, which opened in March, showcases a vast range of specialty items including sporting goods, tools, “man cave” essentials and cottage/cabin decor.
“We have a lot of guy stuff,” said Caveman Consignment owner Richard Landry. “It’s not all male-oriented, but guys have fun here.”
Right now some of Landry’s inventory ranges from alligator skin boots and belts, hunting knives, World War II mementos, and collectible kid toys to animal head mounts, bear skin rugs, tennis shoes, and neon signs.
“We have something for everyone,” he said. “I have fishing and hunting accessories, baseball mitts, golf sets and shoes.”
Landry, a former carpenter, traded his life in construction for retail in an attempt to make a living in a struggling economy.
“When the construction business tanked, I thought this would be the way to go,” he said. “Business has been pretty good. It’s all new to me, but it’s been awful fun.”
My Blessings, an apparel and furniture consignment shop located just a skip down the road, partners with Landry because their inventories are so radically different.
“I send merchandise down to them and they send stuff my way,” Landry said.
He noted that popular items at his store include tools, collectibles, “man cave” essentials and bar taps, or “things people don’t normally find.”
Landry offers consignees 50 percent of the selling price of an item, up to $400. Anything over that amount is negotiable.
“With the market the way it is, it’s good to keep in mind that none of the items go to China — they go to friends and neighbors, people downsizing their homes, widows in the community, or the like,” he said. “Merchandise stays here in our community because that’s where the items come from.”
Only those stores run by a not-for-profit organization are considered a thrift shop, such as those operated by the Open Door Outreach Center and the Salvation Army.
Open Door, located at 7124 Cooley Lake Road in Waterford, is an outreach human services center that has been in existence in the lakes area since 1980. The Open Door resale store was formerly located within the center’s Waterford Township food pantry until last year. Now it has its own nearby storefront that continues to attract foot traffic.
“It’s hard to judge how we’re doing since we’ve only been in the new location a year,” said Open Door Manager Pat Kanners. “We had a terrible July, but business is again picking up because it’s back-to-school time.”
The new storefront draws more regular customers to the bargain hub full of clothing for men, women and children; maternity wear; petite and plus-size apparel; household items; accessories; luggage; and small pieces of furniture.
Salvation Army thrift shops have four locations in the lakes area. Most recently the Highland Township store at 532 W. Highland Road opened its doors on July 30. According to District Manager Mickie Kraatz, business is flourishing.
“All our stores are doing fantastic and Highland’s opening hasn’t affected any of them,” Kraatz said. “Highland is doing just what is expected — it’s community-based and gleaning great donations.”
Each store has its own group of regulars that come in several times a week or are shopping nomads that travel from store to store, according to Kraatz.
Salvation Army stores offer a vast range of inventory, from household goods, furniture, large appliances, electronics, apparel, and shoes to accessories. For most stores, about 60 percent of the clientele is buying apparel — except in Highland, where home goods are the most popular.
To boost business, the organization holds six major sales per year, including a Labor Day sale where clothing is discounted 50 percent.
All proceeds, after overhead and expenditures, benefit the Southeast Michigan Adult Rehabilitation Program in Detroit. The facility has the capability to house 300 men that are court-ordered or voluntarily there for a six-month addiction treatment program. Therapy includes both sobriety and religious components. In tandem, the men are given work detail at store locations during treatment. Upon program completion, some are formally hired.
Kraatz said the Salvation Army is widely known in the lakes area and attracts every demographic.
“We offer something for everyone,” she said.
The Salvation Army, however, is trying its hand at a niche market. In May, it opened an upscale Royal Oak location offering higher-end merchandise.
“We wanted to try another venue,” Kraatz said.
The trend toward resale and consignment shops has prompted Grace Centers of Hope, which is based in Pontiac and has an operation in Waterford, to look into adding another store to its four-store roster, according to Paul DeGrieck, director of business affairs and thrift stores for the not-for-profit organization.
“With Grace Centers, about half of our revenue comes from our four thrift stores, so it’s a very important part of our business. In the last three years, we’ve added three more stores,” he said, adding that the outfits sell a wide variety of gently-used goods.
“You name it, we sell it,” he said.
And the industry is getting more competitive, according to DeGrieck. Grace Centers thrift stores — like the one located at 5919 Highland Road in Waterford — are now competing with not only organizations such as the Salvation Army, but also some major department stores that are offering massive sales at rates of 75, 80, or 90 percent off of some items.
“People are shopping for more bargains,” he said. “They are now going to thrift stores for the first time in their lives. It’s more competitive because the typical thrift store customer has also been hurt by the economy, and they are looking for bargains even more than before.”
And those bargains help the organization serving the homeless pay it forward. At any time, the homeless shelter that receives no government funding has 250 men, women, and children in its care.
“Another benefit indirectly to our customers is that they are helping somebody less fortunate than themselves because, when they buy from our stores, every nickel we make comes back to Grace homeless shelter.”
And Grace Centers of Hope isn’t the only resale shop that touts that. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul resale shop at 2235 Elizabeth Lake Road between Telegraph and M-59 in Waterford also uses the vast majority of its proceeds to help those struggling in the community.
“Ninety-two cents of every dollar goes back into our charity,” said Karen Braden, manager of the Waterford Society of St. Vincent de Paul store. “While that’s benefiting the resale part of it, the people shopping here are benefiting all the people that are in need of help.”
The manager of the store, which has been in that location for six years, has noticed “a lot of new faces” frequenting it, particularly people in the market for children’s clothing.
“We’ve been at this location for six years now, and I’m seeing a lot of new clientele,” Braden said. “I definitely think there has been a definite change in the way people are shopping.”
The store carries “pretty much everything that you would use in a home,” as well as home accessories.
“There’s very little that we don’t carry.”
Resale shops have cropped up all over Waterford Township, including Treasure House Consignment on Cooley Lake Road, which offers women’s clothes, accessories and home decor.
Moreover, there are several specialty resale/consignment shops in town. Dig’s Consignment Studio, located on Sashabaw, is a purveyor of furniture and household goods; Chi Chi and the Greek, located on M-59 near Cass Lake Road, is a vendor of vintage women’s clothing, meaning the apparel hails from between the 1920s and 1950s. Modern Exchange, located at 4539 Dixie Highway near Frembes, offers upscale women’s, children’s, career and designer wear.
Modern Exchange opened last year with a variety of merchandise. Owner Marilyn Henney said business is booming, but she hesitates to attribute that to a challenging economy. She has simply come to understand her customer’s purchasing philosophy and changed up her inventory.
“I turned the store into a high-end, brand name shop,” she said. “People are not over-shopping, but buying specifically for that ‘I love it’ type item. They are selective shoppers who walk out with the best piece in the store, no matter the price.”
Henney added that the middle class has been hit the hardest in the economy and still covets high-end items at a reasonable price for a guilt-free shopping experience.
“Their lifestyles had to change so they shop here and find cool things at a lower price,” she said.
Henney and her staff check out the retail stores’ stock to keep up with what’s in style and what’s selling. Unlike other resale shops, she offers her services as a wardrobe consultant to bring back old-school customer service.
Much of her stock is comprised of women’s and junior’s items, but she carries lines in maternity, plus-size, and mature clothing, along with household items and accessories.
“My highest-selling commodity is purses, shoes and jewelry,” she said. “Coach is very popular. It’s usually gone in a day.”
Still, not every resale shop in the community has fared well. Several have closed their doors in recent years.
“The ones that niche themselves continue to do well,” said Waterford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marie Hauswirth. “They use discrepancy on what they take in. People don’t want to buy junk.”
Henney carved out her niche and has drawn a regular customer base.
“My clients aren’t as concerned with finding as much of a deal but finding something really awesome,” she said.
“Many stores come and go. I attribute those that go to not having the right stock vs. the economy,” Henney said.
Smart Chicks Consignment at 43039 Grand River in Novi is an example of a resale store that’s here to stay. Owner Nancy Solomon opened the store eight years ago after a 17-year stint in a corporate job with Domino’s Pizza.
“They said it would be three to five years until a new business would be successful,” she said. “It’s true. It took three to four years to get over the hump and get the customer base to get through this kind of economy. Business is very good now.
“When I first started, I sold women’s clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories, and jewelry,” she said. “I then added home goods and furnishings. Clothing is still the mainstay and core of the business, but furnishings are picking up. Some of my customers go specifically to the home goods.”
Solomon said her customer demographic is women 30- to 55-years-old with children in school, from a one- or two-income household who like to buy nice things but can’t justify the cost of buying new merchandise. Smart Chicks carries merchandise by Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, Ralph Lauren, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Karen Kane, J. Jill, J. Crew, Gap, Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, BCBG, DKNY, White House, Petite Sophisticate, Tahari, Liz, Tommy Hilfiger, Jones New York, Avenue, Lane Bryant and labels carried by Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and Von Maur. She’s also selling new jewelry — necklace sets, earrings, watches and bracelets — according to her website at smartchicks.net.
“You won’t find anything from Wal-mart, Meijer, or Old Navy here,” she said. “We only carry what an affluent middle-age woman would wear.”
Solomon started the business as a consignment shop. Two years ago she made a change. While she continued to work regularly with as many as 800 consignors, she stopped taking on new ones; but, beginning on Friday, Sept. 16 and each Friday thereafter, Smart Chicks will be paying cash for the right fall/winter items (misses, petites and plus-size clothing that is less than 3-years-old, in very good condition, wrinkle-free, and bearing one of the designer labels listed above).
“I definitely see people come in with their clothing for me to purchase,” she said. “I give cash on the spot, unlike other consignment stores. I’m a little different.
“As far as the shopping aspect … after people come in the first time, they come back after seeing the value,” she added. “I have a faithful group of customers, and a number that shop here every week from all over — Ann Arbor, Macomb, from out of state whenever they visit the area, and even some from other countries.”
Solomon said with some more focused and aggressive marketing, her business will continue to grow. She said she expects to open a second location or expand into a larger space within the next two years.
Smart Chicks offers a 20 percent discount on Wednesdays for seniors 60 and older. On Fridays, customers get 25 percent off their total purchase made with the cash. When a customer racks up a $200 total purchase, they get a 20 percent off coupon.
“Business is very good now,” she said.
Nancy Kunst, owner of Home Again Decor at 435 N. Main St. in Milford, opened her store three years ago; and as such, she said it’s hard for her to gauge whether the tight economy has resulted in a spike in business. However, she notes that she’s survived, and she takes that as a sign that business is good.
“Starting a new business is difficult in any economy, and we opened three years ago in this economy,” she said. “We’re maintaining a steady flow. We definitely have our regulars that come in and have from the beginning. We have more of those people now. We doubled our space last year, and doubled the merchandise available.”
Home Again Decor sells home furnishings such as pictures and lamps, accessories, potters and vases, and furniture.
“What sets us apart is the specialized, painted antique furniture,” Kunst said. “It’s a little different than the average store. Call it shabby chic. It’s really professionally painted furniture.
“We added a boutique section a year ago, and have a lot of jewelry, shoes, and purses,” she said. “Jewelry sells well for us, due to our prices. The jewelry is new — samples from sales reps’ year-end inventory.”
Kunst doesn’t take in merchandise on consignment. She said she finds all the store’s merchandise herself and has people refurbish some of the furniture she acquires.
“I buy from stores going out of business, reps that sell me their samples, and even from a few stores down in Ohio that let me buy on a regular basis,” Kunst said. “I also look for things at estate sales.”
According to Kunst, part of Home Again Decor’s success is based on setting up the store in a decorative way.”
“It’s not just thrown together,” she said. “People enjoy the atmosphere of the store. I try to make it relaxing.
“Business is going to pick up as the economy picks up — that’s to be expected,” Kunst said. “The more people that find out about us, the more come in.”