Inside The $17.5 Billion Consignment Industry In The Palm Beaches
“I’m so passionate about designer because it’s so well made,” says Jennifer Loiseau, owner of Jennifer’s Designer Exchange in Palm Beach Gardens. “Whether it’s a jacket, shoes or a dress that’s 20 years old, what you need to know about buying designer is it’s going to last you.” After holding enviable titles like national retail director for designers during 13 years at Nordstrom, the Connecticut-born businesswoman opened her boutique in 2011 and sells hard-to-find and less saturated luxury labels and recent runway designs.
Size does, and does not, matter: Women’s sizes may not be universal but knowing the manufacturing location can offer clues about its fit. American and French sizes tend to be more generous, but Italian silhouettes skew smaller and are more fitted. For those on the fence, she’ll recommend a customer buys the piece and has it hemmed or altered. “A good seamstress can add panels to the waist and turn a size 6 into a 10.”
Better to buy a complete ensemble: Purchasing a single garment with the hope of finding something to complement it later isn’t a good practice. “[Clients] usually bring it back to re-consign because they never found anything to go with it,” she says. She recommends building an outfit and skipping the re-consignment remorse.
Condition and quality are important: Loiseau sells new condition and gently pre-owned, and she won’t accept anything with evidence of damage, like a missing heel or a broken handle. Since the majority of her clientele wear their purchases that day or the next, items must be in excellent shape. Also, clothing without new tags attached should be dry-cleaned before drop-off or she can provide the service and deduct the amount from the commission check.
Some designers are worth more than others: It’s not a mystery why some designer secondhand yields greater returns. “You have fashion houses like Hermès and Louis Vuitton that really protect their brand and don’t go on sale ever,” she says. “It makes their resale value much higher than other designers that do have sales.”
Sales are final: Unlike department stores, once purchases leave the consignment shop’s premises they cannot be returned. One reason is that Loiseau pays the consignor immediately after the transaction. That way, she says, they can come to the store on the same day if they want to use their money as shopping money.
She won’t say no to: Belts, especially Gucci. “It’s hysterical how everybody wants a Gucci belt right now,” she says. “I think a lot of women keep them for a lifetime, then pass them down to their daughters or nieces.”
“Some people don’t like secondhand,” says Dina Capehart. “But for someone who’s savvy and knows they’re only paying 10 percent on the dollar of what its value is, it’s like treasure hunting.” In 2009, the West Palm Beacher conceived Dina C’s Fab & Funky Consignment Boutique as a rescue agency for the vintage and retro-centric designs she loves, as well as hard-to-find couture labels like Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne. In October, she moved her luxurious inventory to a 2,700-square-foot storefront in West Palm’s SoSo neighborhood.
Where you’re selling is important: Shops often have a specialty or niche, so finding one with stock similar to yours is a recipe for success. “There’s a place down the street that only carries stuff from the past 10 years,” she says, “while I sell fashions between the 1940s and 1990s.”
Use the seasons as a guide: Selectivity can be seasonal. If it’s fall, no one’s going to want your summertime togs, she says. Bring in your fur, cashmere and wool instead. Come February and March, she’s looking for whites, pastels and cotton to vend in spring and summer.
“No, thank you” isn’t an insult: “I tell people if it’s not for me, don’t take it personally,” she says. She accepts less than half of what walks in but recommends others who sell the things she doesn’t. This is a standard custom at trustable consignment stores.
Won’t say no to: When it comes to jewelry, especially clip earrings, Capehart considers herself somewhat of a hoarder. She has 1,000 pairs for sale from Givenchy to Kenneth Lane. “I’m always apprehensive about pierced earrings because I don’t know where they’ve been,” she says. “With clips, they’re most likely vintage and they hang better.”
Web or reality: Online consignment has its pros and cons. While consignors can receive a 60-percent kickback, web-based companies often will price merchandise next to nothing to keep it moving. Capehart offers a 50-percent return but prices higher. Buying from a brick and mortar also has its perks. “You’re touching it and trying it on,” she says. “We provide that hands-on experience.”
She won’t accept: “The minute I see that ‘Made in China’ label, I’m like nope, no thank you,” she says.
Coolest consignment she’s sold: A chain belt with hanging anchors by Micmac Saint-Tropez, a company founded by Brigitte Bardot’s late-husband, Gunter Sachs. “That’s what’s so fun about South Florida,” she says. “With so many retirees, it’s a goldmine of fabulous treasure.”
Laura Kofski founded Kofski Antiques in 1939. After her son Gordon’s death, the octogenarian’s company was sold to its current proprietors, Chris Hill and his wife, Melanie, who expanded Kofski’s footprint. In addition to the flagship store on Palm Beach Island, the couple added a sister store on Antique Row and a marketplace along Georgia Avenue in West Palm Beach. Across the street, they have a 12,000-square-foot showroom stocked with antiques, fine home furnishings, lighting, crystal, china and silver, and conduct monthly consignment estate sales between December and May. The Hill’s sales are so popular they attract designers and collectors from around the state who wait in long lines to look inside.
Make a shopping list: Hill recommends jotting down everything you want and keeping it with you when you’re hunting around. If you have a floor plan, bring it along with dimensions of entryways so you know how much space you have to work with.
Save money by reupholstering: If fabric is keeping you from buying a vintage sofa, chair or headboard, Hill suggests having it reupholstered. Newer decor may not be worth the reboot, so consider getting a quote from a professional upholsterer either way. If your budget allows, refresh pillow stuffing with down feathers or rounded foam.
Become familiar with markings: Knowing when, where and who was responsible for the design adds a narrative and value. Older models will often have markings in the form of a tag, stamp, label or, in rare cases, a handwritten signature. “A quality piece will normally bear a manufacturer’s label,” Hill says. A label may cite a city name, guild, association or retailer like Sears, Roebuck and Company. Check out trade publications, like Miller’s Antiques Handbook & Price Guide and Antique Trader Furniture Price Guide, that can help bring a design’s mysterious past into pristine focus.
Get on the list: Hill keeps a detailed want list of customers’ requests. “If you come in and say, ‘I’m looking for a sofa with rolled arms,’ and I don’t have one, I’ll add it to the list,” he says. “One comes in, I’ll shoot you a picture of it.” Want to know about a shop’s new treasures before the general public? Add yourself to an email or mailing list so you can be notified about future sales and recent deliveries.
His hardest-to-sell items: Victorian accouterments are impossible to move and cut crystal. “The younger generations don’t live like people used to,” he says. “They don’t have the staff to take care of it, and it’s of no interest for them.”
Paula Roemer gets her share of walk-ins, but the majority of her clients are interior designers and locals with second and third homes in buzzy metropolises like New York City and Washington, D.C. In 2010, the Kansas City native launched her eponymous business, Paula Roemer Antique Consignment, on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach. Five years later, she transformed a neighboring bar into a postage stamp-sized showroom with an exquisite St. Barts vibe. Her third store, a 1,500-square-foot space was designed to feel like a decorator’s abode with white flooring, potted orchids and an 8-foot circular teak bookshelf she loaded with design books. Each store owns its vibe, although the merchandise remains uniform. Best known for Asian furnishings and appurtenances made of rattan, wicker and bamboo, shoppers can also find massive ginger jars, African masks, batik textiles, safari chairs and other objects reflecting a well-traveled life.
Mark your calendar: Consignment stores are contractually obligated to sell your goods for an agreed-upon price and a specific length of time. “Once the contract ends, you should know what happens to your things,” Roemer says. “In most cases, they’ll own it outright or will donate it to charity and send you a receipt.” Stores with lots of inventory aren’t always keeping tabs on every expiration date, so it’s the consignor’s responsibility to follow up. “If you don’t want something donated, you can pick it up or ask to have the consignment period extended.”
Consignees know the current value of your things: You may have paid hundreds of dollars for a decorative specimen, but the consignee’s main objective is to price it to sell, not sit. “People that own consignment stores are pretty sophisticated as far as they know the value of things,” she says. They’ll also use references online as guides for what things are selling for.
Get approval before bringing stuff by: It’s courteous to contact someone before showing up at his or her property with a U-Haul truck. “Get the storeowner’s card and call, email or text them first,” she says. After you send photos of your items, you’ll be contacted with next steps.
Perks of buying consignment: Individuality is one of resale’s major draws. “What’s so wonderful about a consignment sofa is you won’t find it at your neighbor’s home,” she says. There are also great options you can’t find in regular home stores. Affordability adds extra enticement. “Maybe you don’t want to pay $8,000 for a sofa but when it comes from a consignment, it’s $2,000,” she says. “I’d rather buy a $2,000 sofa that used to be $8,000 than a brand new one for $2,000.”