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Sold on consignment

Sold on consignment: Shopping at consignment stores can be like going on a treasure hunt.
Nzong Xiong. McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Washington: Jun 4, 2008.

Abstract (Summary)
With gas prices skyrocketing past $4 a gallon and budgets tightening, dreams of changing your home decor may be on hold for a while. Interior designers, real estate agents and even stage designers for theater productions occasionally will come through looking for special items, consignment store owners say.

Jun. 4--Three years ago, when one of Merryanne Bauer's sons divorced and refurnished his home, she stepped in to help.

She went shopping. However, she didn't shop at only retail furniture stores for all new pieces; instead, she also went to consignment stores.

"I bought two complete bedroom sets from Consignment Cottage" in Fresno, says Bauer, 77, of Fresno.

Then, when a grandson decided to move into his first apartment two years ago, she found things for him at the store, too: a mahogany bed, a buffet, tables and chairs, a couch and more.

"If you wait long enough, you can color coordinate" the furnishings, she says.

With gas prices skyrocketing past $4 a gallon and budgets tightening, dreams of changing your home decor may be on hold for a while. But they don't have to be.

You just might be able to find the things you need to give your home a new look by visiting consignment home-decor stores -- where the prices can be lower and the products sometimes are new, but more often are slightly used.

"When I was trying to get stuff for my grandson, I was in there at least once a week," Bauer says. "You just have to keep looking."

Like-new furnishings

While you might be able to find items that are new, consignment home decor stores typically carry pieces that are used.

The way it generally works is the consignment store agrees in a contract to sell an item on behalf of the owner for a percentage of the selling price.

"If it's a good item and priced right, it'll sell within the first two to four weeks," says Roseanne Guaglianone, the owner of Consignment Cottage. "But the contract is for three months."

While the terms of the consignment vary from each store, if an item isn't sold after a certain amount of time, the owner typically can take it back.

You can find all sorts of things, and a variety of styles, at consignment home-decor stores.

You'll see mirrors, wall art, furniture, bedroom sets, flatware, lighting fixtures and more. You typically won't see any appliances or clothing, though.

Decorating with consignment items is ideal for a couple of reasons. For newlyweds and recent graduates who are just starting out and tight on money, the prices can be more reasonable, say several store owners and customers.

"For young couples and college students, it's a wonderful way to furnish your home," says Diane Wiens, who lives in Madera and has shopped at consignment stores on and off for 15 years. "It's less expensive. You can find some really nice pieces.

"I know you can go to some of these furniture shops that are inexpensive and are brand new. It's going to last maybe two years, but at these consignment stores, they often get items from estate sales. [These older furniture pieces are] put together really nice and designed really well. You'll have a piece that's functional for the rest of your life."

Items at consignment stores "should be cheaper," Guaglianone says. "The things that are at consignment stores, for the most part, they've been in homes for years, and so you can't find them anymore and can't compare to new products out there."

If the person consigning the item remembers what he or she paid for the item, "we try to price it considerably less than what [the seller] bought it for," she says.

If the seller doesn't remember, she and her staff will check to see what similar items were priced at in the past.

Other people are turning to consignment stores, too, for the uniqueness of the things they might find.

"Some of these items have been in families for 20 to 30 years," Guaglianone says. "They're one-of-a-kind items."

Interior designers, real estate agents and even stage designers for theater productions occasionally will come through looking for special items, consignment store owners say.

With many items coming and going on a daily basis, you never know what you might find.

"If you're really looking for unique items to furnish a room, come often," Guaglianone says. "It's always changing. Just because you don't find something today, it doesn't mean you won't find it tomorrow."

On the prowl

Throughout the years, Bauer has found many things for her home, including a mahogany wall shelf and iron wall art with framed pictures of fruit.

She also has given new life to a lighting fixture that she put in her entryway by having it rewired and adding crystal drops and shades.

She has bought some furniture, including a chair she had reupholstered and a semi-circular couch she plans to have reupholstered.

With a creative talent for crafts, she has added more fake flowers to a bouquet she bought at a consignment store. "I liked the vase and could see the potential," she says. She paid about $20-$30 for the original vase display, then added another $30 worth of flowers.

"It was cheaper that it was halfway done," she says.

Wiens has bought gifts for her children from consignment shops, including a set of chopsticks and a rocking chair.

"Sometimes they're funny, sometimes they're really nice," says Wiens, a 51-year-old housewife.

Wiens enjoys visiting consignment shops for the thrill of the hunt. About once a week, she goes by Consign-It Furnishings Sales in Madera, which isn't too far from her home.

"I look at it as fun," says Wiens, who also stops for garage sales and estate sales. "For people like me, it's like a treasure hunt. What am I going to find when I go in? It's exciting.

"What I like to look for are tables, footstools, mirrors, vases, unusual lamps." Among the things she has found and bought is a footstool that still had its original fabric and horsehair stuffing for $39.

Because most things in consignment stores aren't new, Wiens and Bauer will inspect pieces they like for quality.

"When I look at a piece of furniture, you look in the drawer to see if it's dovetail, see if it smells, see if there are scratches," Wiens says.

If the description says a mirror is an antique, she'll give it a lift. "If it is really old, they're really heavy," she says.

Shoppers and owners recommend that you plug in lamps and other lighting fixtures to make sure they work.

Pat Hall, owner of Consign-It Furnishings Sales, carries lamps but offers ceiling-light fixtures less often because it's not easy to test the latter. "I don't know anything about electrical wiring," she says.

Most consignment items will have detailed descriptions on their tags. If they are slightly damaged, the tags often will say sold "as is."

"I make sure ... that everything's fine," Hall says. "I check out the arms or cushions. They wouldn't have rips. If they did, they'd be [sold] 'as is' or go to thrift stores."

Consignment stores have a vested interest in making sure the things they take and re-sell are of good quality, she says. If they don't sell, the stores don't make anything.

Having some knowledge about the worth of an item is helpful, Wiens and Bauer say.

"You have to be up on it a little bit," Wiens says. "If you're not really positive, you can go back." Go home and do some research online on the item. A lot of times, the consignment stores will do their own research on the things that come in and will have antique books on hand to show customers.

For the most part, consignment stores have a no-return policy, so make sure furniture pieces will fit through doors and their destined locations, Wiens says.

If you're not sure if they'll match the rest of your decor, "ask if you can take a piece of it home, maybe a pillow or cushion," Hall says.

If you find something you like but the price is more than you'd like to pay, you can try waiting a week or two. If it's still there, the price probably will go down. Or make an offer. The owner just might take it.
That's how Bauer came to own the semi-circular couch with feather- and down-stuffed cushions.
"It was $1,200," she says. "I offered them $800, and they came back with $1,000."
And now it's sitting nicely in her den.

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