With Empty-Nesters, Furniture Resellers See Opportunity
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NEW USES: Between Empty-Nesters and Millennials, Furniture Resellers See Opportunity

In an article in the Star Tribune about furniture resellers, the New Uses in Woodbury, Minnesota is highlighted. Owned by Valeta Cornwell and Will Berthiaume,  they saw the franchise as a great opportunity as they saw the growing interest in gently-used furniture. Of course, New Uses is not consignment, but resale, and offers not only high quality, like-new furniture, but also home decor, electronics, and small appliances. Source: Startribune.com When Amy Keyser’s mom suggested that she check out consignment shops to furnish a 1951 house Keyser bought last year, her response was “What’s that?” Keyser, 39, of Minneapolis, shopped at Pottery Barn and Ikea but decided their furniture “didn’t look quite right in my house.” Taking her mom’s suggestion, she checked out Covet Consign & Design in south Minneapolis. “It was love at first sight,” Keyser said. “They had furniture that fit my house and my style.”

Consignment and furniture resale shops may not be as common as retailers selling used clothing, but with more than a dozen home consignment shops listed in Twincitiesconsignment.com, most metro residents live near one. Nationwide, the number of resale shops is growing 7 percent annually, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. And the fastest-growing segment is furniture. In part, that’s because more empty nesters are selling off furnishings when moving to smaller homes, and more young singles and couples are buying the lower-priced, secondhand furnishings as they begin their households.

Locally, NTY Franchise Co. of Minnetonka has opened three New Uses stores since 2012, in Minnetonka, Maple Grove and, last month, Woodbury. Compared with consignment shops that usually pay 50 to 55 percent of the selling price after an item is sold, resale stores pay cash on the spot for furniture and home furnishings. “The demand for good, used furniture is extremely strong,” said Chad Olson, NTY’s chief operating officer. “But supply and logistics are a challenge.” It’s a lot easier to bring in a garment bag full of clothes to sell or consign than a sectional, so customers usually end up e-mailing pictures to get a thumbs up or down. Christy Frank, owner of Covet Consign & Design, said she accepts only one in 10 of the items offered to her in e-mailed pictures. Her keen eye for current, “urban eclectic” styles has served her and her customers well. In the five years since she opened near 38th and Chicago Avenue, she’s seen growth of 30 to 50 percent each year. She buys midcentury modern and current pieces that might be seen in a Room & Board or West Elm store. “Most of my clientele is between 25 and 42, and a lot of them are first-time home buyers,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of room or money, so I keep things affordable.”

Upholstered chairs range from $100 to $400, and sofas and dining room sets are $300 to $700. Finding pieces that don’t look or smell dated is a challenge. Many consignment shop owners can’t depend only on what is carried through the door. Frank and others have employees who check out estate sales and garage sales. Valeta Cornwell and Will Berthiaume, owners of the New Uses franchise in Woodbury, got into the business because of their experience with estate sales and auctions.

The semiretired couple also saw many people their age downsizing and needing to unload furnishings that once filled a much larger home. Many of their customers want to make a little money instead of donating everything to charity. But the couple only want the items they think customers will buy.

“People want to sell us what doesn’t sell at their garage sales,” said Berthiaume. “We pass on most of that stuff.” Kay Frandsen, owner of Wabi Sabi furniture consignment in Plymouth, has worked hard to educate her consignors about high expectations. “Customers come in and tell me they didn’t know the furniture was used. They think it’s all new stuff,” she said. “That’s when I knew I was hitting the mark.” Her business has increased 15 percent or more for each of the past five years. Such growth is not assured.

Valerie Sturdevant, who managed the Corner Door consignment store that closed a year ago in Wayzata, said that few furniture consignment shops are on the radar of adults in their late teens and 20s. “We saw our sales decrease 50 percent after Craigslist became popular,” she said. For store managers, the challenge is that furniture takes up more space but can’t command high prices or profits. The average selling price for furniture at Arc’s Value Village is $10. “Sales per square foot are lower on furniture items, but shopper interest is high,” said Arc’s business director, Laurel Hansen. Selling used furniture paid off for Kendra Anderson, owner of Movables Consignment in St. Paul, whose business is up 20 percent over last year. She’s finding that customers who consign soon come back to buy. “They want to mix it up,” she said. “People aren’t holding on to their furniture as long.”

Jay Hall, owner of Mainstreet Consignment in St. Louis Park, said business has been steady with little growth in the past few years. He thinks business will improve as younger people move up in their careers and realize that new, inexpensive furniture is not always a good value. “They’re smart. They recognize when something is of lower quality,” he said. “But in two years when they’re making more money, they’ll trade up.” New furniture retailers don’t appear to be losing sleep over lost sales to the used market.

Jerry Underwood, director of marketing at Hom Furniture and Gabberts, said the company is always looking on the periphery, “but the used furniture market isn’t on our radar yet,” he said. Peter Tourtellot of Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos industry consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., thinks that will change. “I can see used furniture taking off as a market,” he said. “Both millennials and seniors are watching their money. It works in favor of the used furniture business.”