I recently helped a friend do the impossible. Get rid of all the furniture, clothing and chatchkas left in her octogenarian mother's large Wyndmoor home after she moved to a retirement community. An emotionally and physically draining task at best, there were other stressors. Everything had to be O-U-T within two weeks when the house went to settlement.
Her mother had been a collector. Of everything. French antiques, fine china, military memorabilia from her husband's career as a Marine officer. You name it. She had it. In triplicate. I tackled the problem head-on, posting photos on Craigslist and distributing flyers all over the neighborhood for a one-day house sale. The day of the sale, it was a circus. And a very profitable one. But we were left with another problem. What to do with the items that didn't sell? The Limoge dishes, the decorative platters and crystal, the paintings that no one wanted.
Being on intimate terms with every consignment shop within three counties, I volunteered to take everything that was left-over to a shop that shall go unnamed in Glenside. I had bought clothing, jewelry and small items there for many years without complaint. But I had never consigned anything. How hard could it be? Don't ask.
I called in advance and made an appointment but when I arrived, cardboard box in hand, the owner looked at me as if I were holding an AK47. "We don't take more than 15 items," she growled. Now you tell me? (I had more boxes in the car.) For a moment, I was tempted to back out and simply donate everything to the faith-based, New Life, nonprofit, thrift shop nearby. God speaks out of burning bushes and on mountain tops but, apparently, he doesn't enter thrift shops. I wish I had heeded my instincts. Instead, I persuaded the owner, who was by now foaming at the mouth, to "Please, take a look."
She rifled through the boxes, not smiling, but admitting grudgingly, "You got some good stuff here." Some? It was LIMOGE and lots of it. She quickly separated the chaff from the wheat, letting me know which items were below her taste level. She said she was "too busy" to price anything and that she'd "be in touch" when they had prepared an inventory with a price list.
A week later, I got a call to come in to pick up the list. I was shocked. $15 for fine French porcelain? And even more shocked at my percentage should these items sell. I'd get 40%. But here's the fun part. According to the contract, anything that doesn't sell the first month, gets automatically marked down 20%. You do the math. The $15 plate becomes $12 and I get $4.80. In other words, the longer it takes for stuff to sell, the less money the consigner gets.
Here's the trick question. Why should the owner mark items higher and sell them sooner when she can hold them in her back room for two months or more and tell the consigner that they didn't sell until they were marked down to bubkas. Or worse. She could take a valuable item, tell the consigner it's worthless, and turn around and auction if off on EBay to the highest bidder.
What made me think such morose thoughts? Let's just say that when I came in to pick up the inventory list, several items were not on display. Namely, the most expensive item I had given her. A hand-painted antique dish. When I asked where it was, the owner lashed out at. "What are you accusing me of?" she screamed. I'll help you find it," a staff member kindly said. "NO YOU WON'T!" hollered the owner, sending the poor girl scurrying back behind a counter.
It's been two months. The items that had been originally inventoried at $387 and which should've yielded a profit of $154 have been wittled down by the owner to a meager $81. I'm not going to ask how or why. But I am going to warn all consigners to read reviews and choose consignment shops carefully. Nonprofit shops that benefit hospitals, schools and religious organizations tend to be highly ethical. For-profit shops like the one in Glenside can be heaven or hell. In this case, if I had read reviews online I would've seen the pitchfork in the owner's hand before opening the door.
I have learned my lesson. Next time I'll go to a nonprofit consignment shop or just donate everything to New Life on Easton Road where the consigner doesn't get a dime. Just peace of mind, knowing that all sales result in a better quality of life for those less fortunate.