Consigning furniture to a new life

A retro love seat covered with yellow corduroy sits next to a solid oak 18-drawer library card catalog. The business' Web presence is strong, too.
A retro love seat covered with yellow corduroy sits next to a solid oak 18-drawer library card catalog. The business' Web presence is strong, too. (At Phantastic Phinds in Erdenheim,)
Posted: March 16, 2012

Once upon a time, furniture purchases, like marriages, were supposed to last forever. You know what's happened to the latter.

As to the former, a growing movement's afoot to breathe new life into tables, chairs, and breakfronts that were once landfill-bound, or destined for eternity beneath a sheet in Aunt Ethel's attic.

If cynics think these pieces land in flea markets waiting for the down and out, think again. Jeffrey Cofsky, owner of Consignment Furniture Gallery in Cherry Hill, says his customers have high incomes.

"Before, it was college students. Now I deliver to Moorestown, and the Main Line. And I get furniture [from homes on] the Main Line."

And yes, people have turned to consignment, and other modes of rebirth, because of the fickle economy. But they also think it's hip and environmentally friendly. "They are not always looking to save money, but to find unique things," says Adele R. Meyer, executive editor of the Association of Resale Professionals.

Says Krystal Reinhard, manager of the bustling two-year-old Resellers Consignment in Frazer, Chester County, "You are buying a quality piece of furniture, and bringing it back to life."

Various folks have forged various channels into the afterlife.

The conventional approach: Consignment

Consignment works like this: You've tired of your bedroom suite, say. You notify the consignment shop - some initially want pictures by e-mail - and the shop assesses the goods. You agree on a price, and a percentage split. It's generally a three-month contract. If there is no sale, the price drops after each month passes.

By the third month, Cofsky and Reinhard say, less than 10 percent of the merchandise is still on their floors.

These consignors say their merchandise's quality has improved, and for one reason: They're better at picking what will sell. Resellers Consignment, which says it's the largest consignment store on the East Coast, has opened a new location at 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue to sell the remaining 10 percent - it's an area ripe with college students and renters. Yes, a consignment's store location counts.

Since Cofsky's business opened in 1995, it has grown 300 percent. Cofsky says the economy has manhandled his customers. Their attitude now is "If it's $800 instead of $2,000, it's still a bargain."

What to phind on the Web

Angela Sipe's Phantastic Phinds consignment shop in Erdenheim started in her garage. Her contractor husband was rehabbing houses, and she wanted to rescue the abandoned furniture from landfills. So, she restored the pieces and sold them online, eBay and so on. She opened her storefront three years ago to answer demand. But the Web presence remains strong. Shoppers go on the site, find what they want, and contact the store. A credit-card number holds the purchase for three days.

Sipe says she sells mostly solid wood pieces, "mostly vintage but also modern and antique." Eighty percent of the furniture consigned in one week is gone the next.

Trade it in

Some new-furniture stores have embraced consignment.

Doug Wolf, the fourth-generation owner of Wolf's, an 11-store chain, opened Allegheny Furniture Consignment in Harrisburg about six months ago. The idea: to help new-furniture customers sell their unwanted, usable furniture. This way, says Jerry Epperson, an industry analyst who has long promoted this notion, the store gains "a new customer for the new furniture and another customer for the old."

And that, says Wolf, is what is happening: 80 percent of Allegheny's stock comes from his new-furniture buyers. Customers can't leverage the old for the new.

Wolf's 30,000-square-foot building holds everything from grand pianos to $250 sofas. He is delighted with the traffic.

Wolf says that since Epperson wrote about Allegheny in an industry newsletter a few months ago, he has received about 25 calls from his peers asking about his business model.

Pick and flip

Karin Hendricks, owner of the Shabby Attic in West Point, "repurposes" old furniture with "good bones." A dresser becomes a buffet, a coffee table a bench. The pieces - salvaged from Dumpsters, bought at auction, picked up at curbside - get new paint, some artwork. "There are no rules to design," she says.

Hendricks advertises on Facebook, and now has 2,000 followers, she says. Business has doubled since last year: 20 pieces a month were sold last year; this year it's closer to 40. "We are cruising."

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