I’m a Consignment Reject

By Karen

Weight Watchers® success has me trying to find new homes for a wardrobe in sizes 16-2X.

AmVets got the rattiest stuff for rags, but some cruise and business attire and last summer’s little-worn outfits deserved better. So I tried consignment.

It would have been easier to build my own boutique.

The elusive proprietors of Richmond’s sole plus-size shop were available only by appointment, only when the kids were in school. Clothes must be clean, in perfect condition, and seasonal — reasonable enough — but also pressed and on hangers.

I prepped my summer’s best while calling repeatedly, only to FINALLY reach someone and get, “This season’s all booked.” (WHEN??!! HOW??!!) “Try again in the fall.”

The next shop had the word “Finicky” in its name. They sell only to size 18, which disqualified most of my clothes. Big women, don’t clog their aisles.

They did accept 2 dresses, one still bearing its price tag. It sold and my cut was $12. They gave the other dress to charity. I got no tax-deduction receipt because I didn’t drive across town to reclaim and donate it myself. Some weeks later, I made the trek to collect the $12 or they’d have kept that, too.

For business people whose success depends solely on good will to keep the free inventory flowing in, I was stunned by what passes for service in this retail niche.

A new shop nearby opened that pays upfront for clothes which don’t have to be seasonal or on hangers.

That’s all GREAT, but there’s a catch…

You can’t really have worn them beyond trying them on in the store.

I brought in a basket of mint-condition items, including a pair of 4-month-old Charter Club jeans (size 14), and several dressy t-shirts, tank tops, and pullovers that are NEVER out of style.

All rejected.

A Liz Claiborne all-weather coat I wore maybe 4 times. No dice.

A simple black cocktail dress, admittedly 7 years old, worn maybe 3 times on cruises. I saw the identical dress in upscale Dillard’s department store just weeks ago.

Not good enough.

They took 3 items, and one still had its price tag. I earned $14.

Lessons learned about consignment:

  • It’s not about recycling gently-worn clothes. They want your brand-new clothes.
  • For a lot of prepping and hauling, you’ll make peanuts — if you’re lucky.
  • Your sense of taste and self-esteem will take a beating.

I felt like crap after my clothes’ third rejection. If I hadn’t lost weight, I’d be wearing that stuff TODAY. But it’s apparently not nice or stylish enough for bargain-hunters who go around wearing strangers’ castoffs.

Charities, on the other hand, never scoff at your donations. They’re grateful you give them the opportunity to make a buck off your clothes.

And you benefit from a possible tax deduction, not to mention the pleasure that comes from knowing your stuff can help the less fortunate.

So, Goodwill is my next stop.

Did you know that Goodwill (and undoubtedly others, but I learned this firsthand from Goodwill) want even your ratty clothes? If they can’t be sold in Goodwill stores, they’re sold by the pound in the aftermarket. Even threadbare towels and socks can raise money.

Postscript: Weirdly, while writing this last night, I was watching Style Network and discovered Resale Royalty. It’s about a St. Louis second-hand shop that carries nothing but high-end designers (Chanel, Versace, etc.).

I felt a lot better after seeing them reject or offer relative pittances to ladies who’d paid hundreds and thousands for the beautiful clothes and shoes they brought in.

A more apt name for consignment shop owners might be Fashion’s Bottom-Feeders.

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11 Responses to I’m a Consignment Reject

  1. Imabear says:

    I’ve never been to one of those stores – I just forget they are there. But now I’m curious as to their prices. I also thought the idea of consignment was “we’ll take it and see if it sells” within reason. None of these folks sound too reasonable. Did they have too much stock already? I mean, generally speaking, having a large selection of stock is a good thing. Weird. But someone must be making money somewhere…

  2. catsworking says:

    The third store I went to was just starting up, and they’re doing nothing but buying clothes until sometime in July because they are stocking the store from the bare walls. It still had plenty of empty racks. They let me look around a day earlier to see what kind of stuff they’re buying, which was why I was absolutely FLOORED when they turned down 96% of my stuff.

    They turned away black satin pumps that I’d worn mostly on carpet on cruises. Those shoes had never seen pavement. The heels were in PERFECT shape and the bottoms were barely scuffed. And I’d never worn them without stockings, so the lining was like new. They were perfectly classic, pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes. (If my feet hadn’t grown lately, I never would have gotten rid of them.)

    This store was part of a national franchise that uses some computer program to value the clothes. These nitwits are apparently following whatever it says (maybe they have to by contract), even if their eyes are telling them they’re passing on good stuff. When I told the woman I just saw my cocktail dress in Dillard’s and almost bought it again in my new size, her eyes went wide and I could see she was thinking, “Oh, we screwed up,” but the deal was done and she couldn’t turn back.

    Their game is to low-ball the person bringing in the goods, then to price them as high as they can.

    Some consignment shops charge people who bring them inventory an annual fee for the honor of stocking their store. (Kind of like paying fees to banks for holding your money.) Some shops split whatever they earn 50/50. I think the plus-size store offered a 60/40 split (with me getting 40%).

    My motive wasn’t to make a killing, but to give perfectly wearable clothes a new life so they wouldn’t end up being sold as rags. It was all about not wasting the clothes. I know the Goodwill store will be happy to get them because I was in there recently and they had some real junk — and also some very nice stuff. And ALL super-cheap. Goodwill prices by category, like “All T-shirts $3″ (I’m making that up). Then whatever you find, you get for that price, whether it’s some cheapo Walmart tag or designer. I saw people walking out with huge bags of clothes.

    Most of the time you get paid nothing up-front by the consigner, but when your clothes sell, which I’m OK with. But the last time I did this, years ago, the store mailed me a check after my clothes sold. They didn’t just KEEP THE MONEY FOREVER unless I drove over there to collect it. I knew something was fishy when the consigner who took the 2 dresses didn’t ask for any more information than my name, and then assigned me a number. They wouldn’t even call to let me know I had money waiting. I had to do all the follow-up.

    The consigners have a good business model. They cherry-pick the best of the best, which they usually get for FREE, price it however they like, then keep all the money unless you ask for your share.

    Yes, some stores do turn you away if they are full. The Finicky store refused all tops because they said they had enough.

    These stores are delusionally branding themselves as exclusive boutiques, when they are selling USED STUFF. The third store I mentioned is in a strip mall with a SteinMart and a Marshall’s. You might as well shop in those stores, then walk right over to the consignment shop and turn the clothes over, still tagged.

    In a perfect world, that’s what they’d have you do. Both stores I dealt with snapped up my brand-new tagged items.

    They say they’ll price an item at 50% retail or less. But I swear some stuff I saw in the stores was much higher than that. The Finicky store had tags that marked down the item more at certain dates, so you could gamble that it would still be there if you wanted to snag the best price.

  3. annie pelfrey says:

    if you want to to be humiliated- i could easily come over to flog you myself! tell me you didn’t go to the Hall Tree- they treat EVERYONE like scum!
    making a pittance (plus labor) isn’t worth it. i feel good donating nice clothes – life is to short to be insulted! and know your “cast -offs” are someone’s dream wardrobe!

  4. Dianne D says:

    Here in California, we have a used clothing store called Crossroads Trading Co. I took some of my clotes in there and they admitted they were nice but said they weren’t interested in buying them. It did hurt my feelings but then I realized the store catered to young people who bought casual clothing like jeans and tee shirts. I guess the management knows what they’re doing.

  5. catsworking says:

    Annie, Hall Tree wasn’t one of the stores. I tried to do business with them many years ago, and the experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, I’ve never set foot in that place again.

  6. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Dianne! Good point. Yes, some of the stores do have themes. For example, the plus-size place I mentioned wouldn’t accept anything below a size 14 or 16, I believe.

    Management of these places MUST know what they’re doing or they wouldn’t stay in business. But you have to wonder when you see tired-looking pieces from low-end brands like Karen Scott on the racks priced almost like new, and they’re turning down barely-worn Charter Club, which is much higher quality.

    In fact, the third store (just opening) advertised itself as a purveyor of high-end designers, which was why I scoped it out in advance, because I didn’t think my clothes would make the cut. But they told me they’d consider nearly anything, and when I saw the cheaper labels on the racks, I believed them.

    Whatever. I think I’ve finally recovered from the shame of it. ;-)

  7. leannenalani says:

    There’s a store here called Plato’s closet and I used to sell my clothes to them, but they’re so picky they only take designer brands. And like you said, you pretty much can’t have worn them aside from trying them on at the store. I have a giant box of clothes I still need to take to Goodwill. It’s too big to transport in my car. I wonder if they’ll come pick it all up…

  8. catsworking says:

    Plato’s Closet is just a few doors down from the third store I mentioned, but I’ve never been in there. I thought it was for kids’ clothes.

    I guess these stores with the hoity-toity requirements have their customer base, but they’ve got to be losing a ton of business to charities who run stores. I wrote some stories for a Goodwill newsletter recently and interviewed several managers. I was totally impressed by their operation and how they eke every penny out of every donation (while providing employment to people with disabilities), giving each item that’s still usable several chances to be sold to the public (first in their regular store; then in an outlet store, priced by the pound; finally in the aftermarket as recyclables), I vowed they would always get my best stuff from now on.

    Goodwills operate in geographic areas under different management, so they aren’t all the same. But this one I worked with (not in the Richmond area), could deal with just about anything but broken small appliances and computers. They didn’t have anyone to fix them, but said they would like to get a repair operation running so they could salvage that stuff rather than sell it for scrap.

  9. annie pelfrey says:

    what’s sad is how people dress these days- i wouldn’t wear working in the yard!
    we must live in a different universe…

  10. Zappa's Mom says:

    On the other hand,I bought a brand new (tag still on) Liz Claiborne wool coat,double-breasted in a beautiful chocolate brown for 90.00. This was about 9 years ago.The original price was 400.00+. I also bought a black suede Paloma Picasso bag and a vintage Gucci bag for peanuts. That store is no longer in business,and I haven’t seen anything like it since. The consignment shops that I have been in recently are selling high-priced designer clothes for almost the original prices-what’s the point? I do love Goodwill stores,but there isn’t one close by me. they are fun to shop in,and the people are nice…..and speaking of shitty “reality” TV,have you seen “Hardcore Pawn”? unbelievable!

  11. catsworking says:

    I have to make a correction. I found a receipt the last consignment shop gave me in my purse, and they DID take the Charter Club like-new jeans. In fact, they took 5 items, and I can’t remember what the 5th one was, but knowing what I paid for the other 4, the $14 I reaped was insulting. If the stuff sells, they will do much better than that, I’m sure.

    And so much for the 1-2-year limit on age. They took a pricey cardigan I bought in Dillard’s in 2006, but they DIDN’T take the matching shell. Go figure. I’d worn both exactly ONCE. I recall those items perfectly because I bought them last-minute for a Bermuda cruise. I was packing on pounds fast and was desperate for something to wear. They were peach-colored and looked like shit on me, so I never wore them again.

    ZM, I’m with you. I understand that the consigners are trying to maximize profit, but the mark-downs I’ve seen on a lot of their stock are jokes. Pay 10% more and get a garment nobody else has already sweated in.

    I don’t think I’ve caught Hardcore Pawn, but I did see one pawn show. It was the same modus operandi as consignment.

    Annie, since my entire wardrobe is now new, and I’ve been buying nothing but cute stuff that fits (although I still schlep around the house in baggy t-shirts and shorts), I HAVE been noticing how people dress, and I feel like I’m overdressed just about everywhere I go these days.

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