Niche market: Sheffield Antiques Mall owner opening consignment business

A good indication that a product will sell is if it has already sold at least once before.

But owners of consignment stores in Memphis realize that having a niche creates advantages over other resale options.

“We are not a flea market or a garage sale,” said Trip Trezevant, owner of Abbington Consigns, a new consignment store opening Dec. 2 on Poplar Avenue in Collierville. “Our customers like finding treasures — it’s the higher-end items and we selectively pick all of the consigned items.”

For the last 17 years, Trezevant has owned Sheffield Antiques Mall, also in Collierville, where some 300 antiques dealers stock and sell their wares in 10×10 booths.

Unlike that scenario, sellers in consignment stores bring in items they wish to sell and store staff do all of the pricing, marketing and selling in return for a cut. At Abbington, Trezevant said the cut is a 50 percent split.

In other words, the sellers have no desire to go into the business of selling, they simply have items, perhaps inherited or things unearthed in the attic, that they wish to profit from.

“This is for the person who wants to get some cash or free up some room for more furniture,” said Trezevant. “The consignment shop is designed to move furniture quickly and keep reducing the price until it sells.”

Trezevant decided to go into the consignment business after numerous dealers at Sheffield asked him to consider it. Most, he said, thought the two businesses would complement each other and attract similar clients.

The 8,100-square-foot Abbington space, which Trezevant owns, was originally an antique mall as well until Trezevant consolidated it with Sheffield. It was leased to various tenants over the last four to five years. He hired seven new employees to staff Abbington.

But while the demand for a consignment shop was there, Trezevant said he had to plan carefully.

“Sheffield has been in business 17 years and we’ve only had one bad year,” said Trezevant. “When you’ve got that many people working to bring people in, it’s amazing the traffic that comes in. But it took about five years in order to be full and to start establishing a reputation so that people immediately think about us when they’re thinking about furnishing their homes.”

His hope is that Sheffield customers will decrease the lag time for Abbington.

“We’ll definitely do cross-marketing and advertise both at the same time,” said Trezevant. “If Abbington doesn’t have a particular item that someone’s looking for then we’ll refer them to Sheffield and Sheffield will do the same.”

Direct appeal to a specific market, in other words, can be just as important as having lower prices in the consignment business.

Leslie Acker Robison, owner of Celery Ladies Upscale Resale on Brookhaven Circle in East Memphis, said generic stock would be the death of her seven-year-old business.

“The main reason people come here is that you can’t even get a particular item in Memphis, or if you can the price is prohibitive for normal working women who dress to go to work every day and dress to go out,” said Acker Robison.

She won’t, for example, resell clothing brands found at stores like Stein Mart or even Macy’s. If it’s not a fashion magazine label, it’s not on her shelves. Much of what she sells is unworn clothing items and shoes which were the wrong size or color for the original buyer.

“We are a niche market because we only take the designer and better-quality labels,” said Acker Robison. “You’re not going to come in and find the workhorse clothing items. They’re so prevalent that if we took them we’d have room for nothing else. We are seeking the magazine labels — Prada, Dolce Gabbana, Armani and some private and boutique labels. That’s where our success comes from.”

Like Trezevant, Acker Robsion espouses a community of clients who respond immediately to weekly e-mails containing specials and new arrivals, while sellers return frequently with new stock.

“The people who consign, consign regularly and have enormous amounts of clothing and jewelry to resell,” said Acker Robison.

And in her case the bad economy benefited her business by encouraging new customers to look for what they want at lower prices. Acker Robison said October was her best month in sales ever.

James Enright, manager of Consignment Music Store on Park Avenue, said that musical instruments are products that survive recessions. He’s seen more than recession since the shop opened 21 years ago.

“It’s an item that seems to stay popular in good or bad economic times,” said Enright. “Overall we’ve felt the recession just like everyone else, but people who are drawn to them are drawn to them.”

Specifically, the store does most of its business in vintage guitars, which draw in collectors and serious, experienced musicians. But the store also does a fair trade in band instruments which parents buy for their children so they can try it out before making a significant financial investment.

In either case, buyers of instruments do not generally feel comfortable purchasing online, said Enright.

“Sometimes I call this eBay that you can see,” said Enright. “Particularly with a guitar, no matter how thorough the set of pictures is or the documentation, you cannot tell what it does until you pick it up and play it. That’s our advantage.”

Abbington Consigns

Address: 575 W. Poplar, Collierville

Phone: (901) 853-4273

Online: abbington-consigns.com

Celery Ladies Upscale Resale

Address: 728 Brookhaven Circle, Memphis

Phone: (901) 685-2386

Online: celeryresale.com

Consignment Music Store

Address: 4040 Poplar, Memphis

Phone: (901) 458-2094

Online: memphisvintageguitar.com

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