How to Turn Your Kids' Clothes into Cash
Susann Gerstein knows how to survive a recession.
She arrived in the Washington area in the late 1970s as the country grappled with high gas prices and rising inflation. But for Gerstein, it was the perfect time to launch a tiny consignment shop that she dubbed Small Change.
The shop, which specializes in children's clothing, opened in November 1981 in Lake Anne Village Center in Reston with merchandise from about 50 families. Susann said the store resonated with consumers, who were looking to save money and to make a little extra cash. Business grew quickly, and Small Change maintains a roster of about 1,200 consignors a year, she said.
"I just thought it made an enormous amount of sense," Susann said.
We admit that we were drawn to the name. But we also figured Susann would have some helpful tips on recession living. On average, her consignors earn about $150 to $200 per season. A handful pull in a few thousand dollars.
Here's how it works: Consignors make an appointment with Susann to look at children's clothes, furniture or other gear that they want to get rid of. Susan stocks the merchandise in her store for up to two months. If the item sells for $100 or less, the consignor and the store split the revenue down the middle. If the merchandise goes for more than $100, the consignor gets 60 percent of the sale and the store receives 40 percent. Consignors can pick up their checks at the shop or use it as store credit.
Susann said that she noticed an increase in the number of people interested in consignment about a year ago, just as the recession was taking off. She said she got so many calls that she had to turn down requests for appointments. Space has opened up, but appointments still must be made several months in advance.
"I think people are really beginning to appreciate all the things they can do" to save money, she said. "You can cut back but nobody has to suffer so much."
Here is her advice for a successful -- and profitable -- consignment:
Be prepared to give it up: Susann said parents often come in with clothes or blankets that their children have outgrown but have trouble actually handing it over. They realize the item is a memento of a special time in their children's lives and may not be able to part with it. Don't give anything away until you're emotionally ready to accept that it's gone.
Don't hang on to it: Emotions aside, however, you can't wait too long to bring in your children's clothes. Consignment is a business after all -- someone else has to buy what you are trying to sell. Susann said parents sometimes bring in clothes with the price tags still attached but that are over a decade old and horribly outdated. She refuses to take them.
Scrutinize your offering: Susann limits consignors to 30 items per appointment in part to prevent people from simply dumping their entire basement into her store. Clothes should be in like-new condition, washed and freshly folded from the dryer. Look at your merchandise in the harsh light of day, not the soft, ambient light of your bedroom or bathroom. That will help you see any stains, tears or loose threads more clearly. Maximize your chance of a sale by consigning only the best of your items and donating the rest to charity. (Just FYI, Small Change also donates any products that do not sell to nonprofits.)
For those who may be shopping a consignment store for the first time, Susann advises doing a thorough inventory of what your child needs before heading to the shop. Though the merchandise is well organized, the sheer amount can be overwhelming. New items arrive almost every day, so the stock is always changing. A large consignment of pristine American Girl dolls, clothes and accessories recently arrived and was snatched up immediately, Susann said.
"It's much more fun than people realize," she said. "And it really does make a difference in your budget."
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