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Thrifts and thrills – As budgets tighten, consignment shops see upswing

By   /   Sunday, February 15th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Thrifts and thrills – As budgets tighten, consignment shops see upswing

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While many tri-county retail stores are closing because of plummeting sales, regional consignment stores are seeing the silver lining of the economic recession as consumers look for creative ways to stick to their budgets.

The area’s secondhand stores have thrived in recent months as savvy shoppers have caught the consignment bug.

“My theory is that people are much more budget-conscious now, and in the past they might not have considered buying something that was pre-owned,” said Mike Pegler, owner of The Consignment Warehouse in Westlake Village. “So, if they come in to take a look, they realize they’re not really settling — they’re just being smart with their money. Just because they’re on a budget, doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their taste.”

Pegler is confident that upscale consignment stores like his will not only withstand the economic slump, but also will experience unprecedented growth because of it. And he’s got the numbers to back it up.

At the end of the fourth quarter, sales at The Consignment Warehouse were up 20 percent. Pegler said he’s doing so well that he’s actually planning to expand, adding five to seven new locations.

“Southern California is underserved with this type of concept. There is no shortage of items to get on consignment, and the customers love the bargains,” Pegler said. “Now that commercial real estate is softening up and rents are more affordable, it’s a good time to open more stores.”

The Closet, a high-end resale boutique in Santa Barbara, seemed to be operating with that same philosophy in December, when it opened its second location in Ventura County.

“The Westlake Village store has only been open a little while, but sales have been very good at that location,” said sales associate Tori Cavalli.

Cavalli said the vast majority of The Closet’s customers are girls and young women — typically between the ages 13 and 30 — who flock to the store looking for cutting-edge styles at affordable prices. Those customers can expect to find some of the more upscale brands marked down by more than 50 percent.

“We do a lot of research when we price out our items,” Cavalli said. “We want to make sure that our customers get a fair price whether they’re buying, selling, trading or consigning.”

Yesenia Garcia, a sales associate at Renaissance Fine Consignment in Santa Barbara, said that while the store’s sales have been steady in the past few months, there has also been a spike in the number of people interested in selling their clothes.

“We have women coming in all the time looking to make some money by selling their Versace, their Armani, their Prada …” Garcia said. “We’ve actually had to turn people away because we’re getting so many.”

Garcia said she suspects some of the items Renaissance can’t take eventually end up online, but neither she nor Cavalli feels intimidated by Web sites like eBay and Craigslist.

The Closet has tried to turn the Internet into an asset rather than a threat. Cavalli said a redesigned Web site, an e-mail newsletter and the creation of a Facebook group have helped its advertising efforts.

Pegler doesn’t seem fazed by the Craigslist craze either. He maintains that the ease of consignment stores will see them through the tough times.

“Many times people have already tried to sell their items online before they come to us,” Pegler said. “Selling items on your own is time-consuming, and you still have to take the phone calls and meet strangers in your home. We’re providing a service to the consignor; we handle all of the details. Most of the time, they will net about the same as if they sold the items on their own, but with none of the hassle.”

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