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Features Venture Local taps into an evolving industry

As a result of the recession, people have found themselves creating new ways to make ends meet. The consignment industry has become more and more popular as a way of partnering together to make it through hard times. Consignment shops are generally owned by one individual who provide a customer base as well as a space in which to sell their items.

Amanda Haggard opened Curvy Girl Consignments just over two months ago. “I had been in banking for 8 1/2 years and was ready for a change,” said Haggard. “Something where I could keep my daughter and spend more time with my family. I always wanted to open a plus size shop but couldn't afford the inventory. That's when I decided to open a plus size only consignment shop. It's hard to find clothing when you are a larger size and not spend a fortune. I know because I've looked. I wanted to open a shop for ‘real women like me.’”

Curvy Girl Consignments offer a variety of styles available for all ages. Sizes XL/16 to 7x, from Lane Bryant tops, Venezia pants, to wedding dresses, bathing suits, and scrubs. Located at 613 Highlands Road, Curvy Girl Consignments also has jewelry, purses and shoes.

Taking the plunge to quit her day job to follow her dream of owning her own business, at first Haggard found herself hesitant, but after getting her feet wet, the store really took off. “At first it was real scary; I didn't have a lot of inventory,” she said. “But as the consignors started coming in, I have filled the racks and exceeded my expectations. Thanks to all the ladies who have given me a chance, I now have over 100 consignors and get new items daily.”

Opening during a time that some experts claim is the end of the recession, Haggard believes it is the perfect time to try out innovative and new strategies to cater to an untapped market. “I know I haven't been open long, but the economy is one of the reasons I opened a consignment shop,” she said. “I wanted to offer plus size women in our community great clothes at affordable prices.”

Curvy Girl Consignment, owned by Amanda Haggard, is the newest addition to Franklin’s consignment market. Located on the Highlands Road, Curvy Girl Consignment caters to full figured women.After opening her doors on June 1, Haggard has benefited from local marketing campaigns. “I am always trying different things to promote my business,” she said. “The MainStreet Program's Red Carpet Event and the Chamber of Commerce's Ribbon Cutting were both wonderful. WNCC did a great ad for us. I have also found facebook to be a valuable resource.”

According to Haggard, she has received overwhelming support from the community, which has forced her to identify a specific focus for the store. “My store is filling up fast, so I have to be selective in the items I take for consignment,” she said. “I hope to expand next year and have more room to offer ladies a greater selection.”

Now being completely reliant on her new business, Haggard believes now more than ever it is important to shop local. “Shopping locally means the world for me because your money doesn't only go to help me support my family but also the consignor’s families as well,” said Haggard. “I strive to provide a clean friendly environment with quality items at affordable prices for shoppers and consignors. If you are interested in consigning, there is no appointment necessary, and no limit. If consignment is not your thing, that's okay, it's still a great place to shop. I look forward to seeing you soon. I am open Monday through Saturday, 10-6. You can call 828-342-7020 or send me a message on facebook.”

Consignment shops are not a new idea. Although Curvy Girl Consignments is new to the market, some shops have been around for decades. According to Althea Jowers, Repeats Consignment first opened in June 1986 as a child consignment shop under the name of Kid's Korner Wearhouse, and was located in the warehouse units next to the Bypass on Wells Grove Rd. “After a year or so we moved to a building on Main Street which was relocated in 1989 in the expansion and redesign of Main Street. At that point we moved again, but this time to our current location in the former East Highlands Shopping Center which is now called the Shoppes of Riverwalk.”

Repeats consignment, located on the Highlands Road, is the oldest consignment shop still in operation in Macon County.Repeats is a consignment shop for ladies and juniors and offer only the better brands which are in good condition on a seasonal basis. “We are currently in the midst of our Summer Clearance Sale with prices marked 50 percent and 75 percent off of the normal low prices and will soon be accepting appointments for our consignors to bring in their fall and winter items,” said Jowers.

Repeats Consignments stands as the first consignment shop to open in Franklin. Being the first store in the business, Jowers noted that operations have been a trial and error process. “Our customers kept asking for adult items also so we expanded to clothing for the entire family and changed our name to Repeats Consignment,” explained Jowers. “Through these moves we grew in size and in the number of consignors we were representing. Over the years we have made mistakes which we learned from but continued to grow and evolve. We have celebrated many successes and recently found ourselves growing stale and decided that it was time to switch things up again, so some big and exciting changes were made this summer.”

Currently in their 26th year of operation, Repeats Consignment has seen economic boosts and downturns come and go. When the recession made its way to the Southeast in 2007, Repeats saw a short boom in sales. “To begin with, the recession was very good for our business but then many new privately owned thrift and consignment shops popped up,” said Jowers. “When the ‘big name’ resale store came to town it took business from all of the local hometown resale shops who were the ones who actually put money back into the local economy through taking care of those in need or by local consignors supplementing their incomes through the sale of their items in locally owned consignment shops rather than sending their profits back to a regional corporation in Asheville.”

Jowers believes that the store’s goal of customer satisfaction, matched with inexpensive, quality products has led to the store's success that has resulted in nearly three decades of operation. “We feel we offer the dependability and reliability that you may not find in other shops who don't have the years of service that we have,” said Jowers. “We understand the consignment business and have the stamina to tough it out when sales get slow. Although we offer a more ‘upscale’ type of merchandise than others, we have the experience to realize that we still are a ‘resale’ store and cannot expect to charge ‘retail’ prices. We know that shoppers want us to be there and be open when they want to shop, so offering consistency in store hours and availability is very important. We are especially excited and refreshed by the changes we have made this summer and thrilled to share those changes with our customers who may not have been in lately to see the new look and experience the fun. We are loving our window displays, changing them up often and invite everyone to drive by a take a peek at what we have done with them now.”

According to Jowers, the boom in consignment shops continue to pose a problem for Repeats. “In any given area there is only a certain percentage of the population who actually shops resale,” said Jowers. “In a town as small as Franklin that percentage is of course smaller than it would be in a large city with a larger population so to divide that number of shoppers among so many different shops makes competition very stiff. We knew that to stay competitive we would have to offer things that the other shops didn't.”

Jowers noted that Repeats has to do more than just compete with other consigners. Consignment shops are also faced with competing with thrift stores, who often are able to offer less expensive prices. “As a consignment business we have overhead that thrift stores do not have, like paid employees, taxes, consignor fees, etc.,” said Jowers. “So we made the decision that since we cannot offer the low prices that thrift stores can (based on donated goods and volunteers) we would try to offer the items which warrant higher prices based on better quality, better brands and to display them in an easier and more organized way which makes shopping easier for the customer.”

To be able to compete in a growing market, Jowers noted that Repeats turned to specializing their product offerings to cater to a smaller, more specific customer base. “We switched from offering clothing for the entire family to focusing on those which actually sell the best for us, that being ladies and juniors clothing, jewelry and accessories,” she said. “We gave the shop a more ‘boutique like’ facelift by painting, redecorating, rearranging and departmentalizing with ladies items displayed in the front of the shop and a fun and exciting juniors department in the back. We revamped our dressing rooms to offer comfort and beauty to our customers as they are able to try on items before purchase. Customers who haven't stopped in recently tend to be shocked when they walk in, asking ‘Is this still Repeats?’”

Like so many other businesses today, Repeats has turned to social media for a marketing advantage. “We are enjoying the use of Facebook in reaching our customers,” said Jowers. “We are posting lots and lots of pictures of new items as they come in and in our ‘Looks for Less Outfit of the Day.’ We have gotten so many great comments and lot of good feedback on this so we now offer our Facebook Friends occasional special sale days, percentages off or other fun ideas to keep it interesting.”

The addition of social media is not the only change Jowers has implemented to keep up with the change of technology. “We went from a small business with a few consignors using hand written sales slips and a notebook to keep track of consignor's sales to a computerized system necessary to keep up with the accounts of well over 5,000 different consignors,” she said. “At this point we are excited about the brands and more current styles that we have coming into the shop and displaying them in a way that is fun and exciting for our customers as they are discovering things which they didn't expect to find in a small town.”

With the small town mentality comes the innate need to help out your neighbors, which Jowers believes can be done by shopping locally. “As a community it is important that we take care of each other and support each other,” she said. “By supporting our friends and neighbors, we are supporting ourselves. The money that is spent here at Repeats Consignment goes right back to the local economy through the consignors and our employees who live right here in Franklin and who then spend that money right here in Franklin. It is the very best use of the ‘trickle down effect’

The only portion of our profits that go out of town is that which goes for our utilities through Frontier and Duke Energy.”

Just Kidding, located in the Shoppes at Riverwalk on the Highlands Road, offers a great collection of children’s consignment items at reasonable prices.Some consignment shops in Franklin have been in operation for years, but have made some changes over the years in order to find their “niche.” According to Erica Adams, Just Kidding Consignment was started in January 1997 by a mother and daughter after they relocated from Florida. “They were looking for a way to meet people and have a little something to do,” said Adams of her family’s reasoning for opening the store. “They had previous experience with a children's consignment shop in Florida so they believed it would be a good fit for them as well as the community. They had dreams of sitting back, reading magazines during the day while meeting new people. Fifteen years later and that day has never been seen.”

Being that Just Kidding focuses on children's consignment items, they provide anything and everything for the expectant mother on up to teenagers. The majority of the store’s items are on consignment with roughly 2,000 consignors. “We also purchase items and have from day one,” said Adams. “We offer a customer friendly layaway plan as well. Our biggest customer base is obviously parents of young children. However, we also cater to several grandparents in the community who are raising their grandchildren and in some instances, great-grandparents raising their great-grandchildren. It has been fun watching our customer's children grow over the years. You don't realize how quickly time goes by until you wake up one day and realize we are on a second generation of customers/ consignors. I personally was only 10 years old when my Grandmother started the business. I am now 24, a co-owner and have a little girl of my own.”

Originally opened on Depot Street, Adams said the business continued to grow, forcing them to relocate to a larger space and the current location on the Highlands Road. “There is always work to be done and many days, too much work,” said Adams. “We not only serve members of the community, we also have a large amount of consignors and shoppers from out of the area, the farthest being Idaho.”

Adams explained that consignment shops have typically thrived during the recession because it is a great way to save money. “Unlike other types of businesses, the recession has positively affected us,” said Adams. “Children need clothing, especially during school and the colder months. We have found more and more people are shopping consignment as opposed to buying new.”

Adams explained that being a family-owned business, Just Kidding has focused on hard work and service to the community. “There is also a big difference between consignment and retail,” she said. “Staying focused and working hard both on and off the job are ideas that the previous owner, Susan Tillot, implemented as a boss and instilled in us as a family member. Hard work truly pays off and has the potential to reap amazing rewards in all aspects of life.”

In the new technology age, Adams said social media has proved to be a great marketing outlet for her business. “We have a thriving Facebook page that is updated at least once a day and on many occasions, several times a day,” she said. “We update our status with new arrivals and often times upload a series of photos each day. We have altered our business plan in the sense that 15 years ago social media didn't exist. We have changed the way we have advertised and are slowly moving away from manual book work to a computer system. Change can be good but if something is already successful, the need to change it drastically is not necessary.”

One thing that hasn't changed over the years are the goals Adams set for Just Kidding. “Our goals are simple,” she said. “Provide the members of our community with quality name brand items at an affordable price.”

Adams explained that supporting local businesses is not just important because of the economic boost it provides, but is a part of the identity of Franklin. “The local community would not be a community if it was not for the people in it,” said Adams. “Shopping local not only helps the merchants but the members of the community as well.”

Julia Abrams and her husband Jason opened Here Wee Grow last summer to “Bring Asheville to You.”Jason and Julia Abrams, owners of Here Wee Grow, located in the Georgia Road Shops Plaza, have taken the idea of consignments shops and have added their own twist. Here Wee Grow, which opened July 25, 2011, was opened with the intention of providing gently used name brand children's clothing that can not be found in Franklin. “Our slogan ‘Bringing Asheville to You’ is based on the concept that gently used name brand clothes available in Franklin are a better value than new clothes in Asheville,” said Abrams. “A person does not have to drive three hours round trip, pay for gas, food and buy clothes at exorbitant prices. As soon as you cut off the price tag, wear the item and wash it, you have a gently used item. We all have closets full of gently used items. Why pay $49.95 for a shirt you can buy at our store for $8.99?”

In addition to focusing on name brand clothing, Here Wee Grow sets themselves apart from other consignment shops based on their trade system, an idea they got based on how shopping used to be. “One of the biggest money multipliers for parents is our trade system,” explained Abrams. “As kids outgrow their clothes, parents can trade gently used items for sizes they need. Trading is not a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition. We issue trade cards for people who don't have time to shop at the moment or to carry whatever trade balance they have. Trade credit never expires, does not have to be used all at once, and is even transferable to friends and family. An even greater bonus is that there is no sales tax on the value of their trade because we are exchanging goods and not money. People were trading in these mountains since the Cherokee and early pioneers. Trade worked then and it works now.”

According to Abrams, after he opened the doors last summer, business has continued to grow. “Business is good. After eight weeks, we decided to expand to a double unit,” said Abrams. “It almost immediately became apparent that we needed more space to carry items for older children and teens. Teen clothing simply takes up more physical space than toddler items. When we opened, we had a single rack of teen clothes. Now we have five clothing racks stocked only with junior and teen size jeans. These racks would fill nearly half our original store. With more room, we opened a section for maternity wear.”

Opening at the end of the recession, Abrams said it is hard to determine how the recession could have affected the store. “Because we are a new business, it is hard to say how we were affected by the recession,” he said. “I don't think people will want to spend more money on new clothing during a recession when they can get the same clothes gently used for a fraction of the price. We do not restrict our inventory to only name brands. We carry brands that can be found at local retail outlets but at lower prices and in near-perfect condition.”

One marketing tool Here Wee Grow has found to boost sales is the constant need for specials and sales. “In June, we implemented a permanent 50 percent off sale based on colored tags and the day of the week,” he said. On Monday and Tuesday, all pink tags are half off. Wednesday and Thursday are blue tags, and Friday and Saturday are yellow. We call it a permanent 50 percent off sale because the customer knows when every item goes on sale.”

Building a business around the idea of stressing the importance of shopping at locally owned stores, Abrams believes that shopping in Franklin saves consumers in the long run. “Shopping locally saves our residents time and money,” he said. “Money recycles in the community and our inventory proves it. Parents can come to our store, trade clothes and leave with items they need without spending a cent of hard cash. They take that money they saved on clothes and gas and spend it elsewhere in the community. Large retail stores do not stimulate commerce and without commerce, our community suffers.”

Consignment shops are not just limited to clothing. Recognizing a void in the market, one Franklin business is expanding the consignment brand to include furniture.

The CoCoon Design and Consign shop is the largest and fastest growing consignment shop in Franklin, spanning over 3,000 sq. ft. Opening in 2010, owner Jewell Drake built up the CoCoon to offer quality, brand named apparel to women, men and teens.

“We opened in 2010 and are looking forward to continued service not only to Franklin, but all of the WNC counties, Georgia and Florida,” said Drake. “We love locals, and are happy to provide our shoppers with out-of-town goods, as we have consigners from several neighboring states.”

According to Drake, throughout the year the CoCoon has consignors from all over the Southeast that either ship items to the store or if they have summer homes in the area, they bring items in.

“We are proud to announce our local artisans, Shelby Bankston and Lynn Springfield, are both on hand making lovely handmade jewelry,” said Drake. “Our repeat customers look for their unique creations and one-of-a-kind designs.”

In addition to adding a twist on the idea of a consignment shop to feature local artisans, the CoCoon also has a local Interior Designer on staff who brings her 25 years experience to the home section of the store which features fabrics, custom and readymade window treatments, bedding and more. “Placing one of our items in the proper space is a pleasure,” said Drake. “Our interior designer specializes in new construction and remakes, saving the home owner and builder valuable time and money.”

Drake noted that building the CoCoon's overall brand was more than just establishing a consignment shop in Franklin. “We feel that our position in the community is to not only help boost local economy, but to provide assistance to those in need,” said Drake. “We feature weekly ‘free’ items that are available to anyone. We also have a non-profit appliance service and at any given time may have the household appliance you need for free.”

With the goal of keeping the business locally based in order to help the Franklin economy, Drake explained that even their advertising is local. “We advertise locally and use the Macon County Chamber of Commerce for promotion and exposure to the community,” she said. “We also advertise with Macon County News and The Franklin Press for monthly season exposure."

Despite standing up against tough economic times, the Co- Coon is currently expanding the business to offer a wider selection of consignment items. "Our goals this year are to provide The CoCoon Home ... gently used furniture," said Drake. "Plus new rugs, lamps, and bedding. We are all about saving money ... and have some amazing items to purchase, from clothing to furnishings, artwork, bedding and home decor.”

Drake hopes by expanding, she will be able to help save her customers even more money. “You love us now ... You're going to love us more,” said Drake. “We are growing ... in a new place ... triple the space and triple the bargains.”

The CoCoon Design and Consign shop is located at 172 Sloan Road, Franklin, N.C. 64 W past Kmart, right at the light, building on right.


See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series


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