Consignment sales’ super bargains make for merry moms

08/19/2014 5:20 PM

08/19/2014 11:29 PM

The lighting is bright and the used clothing spotless at the Here We Grow Again Sale in Gladstone. In the same strip mall where moms decorate their homes at Hobby Lobby and feed their kids at Price Chopper, they come in droves twice a year to sell, volunteer and buy kids clothing, toys and gear.

About 200 consignors bring in about 45,000 items for the fall sale. They peruse through eight long rows of double-hung racks filling 8,000 square feet of retail space.

This sale is one of dozens of children’s clothing consignment sales across the metro each year.

Don’t be fooled into thinking these events are simply supersized rummage sales. They are high-tech, highly organized operations bringing together hundreds of sellers, thousands of buyers and tens of thousands of carefully checked-for-wear kids clothing, gear and toys.

The business of special event sales for used children’s clothing has grown rapidly in recent years. Spurred on by an economy that has made frugality appealing for families at all income levels, the sales’ popularity grows based on the intrinsic nature of moms to be social and share what they know with other moms, owners say.

While all say the sales are mostly about the clothes, those who participate say the real success of the events is as much about community and common experience as finding a good deal. The events are also about the ability of the owners to connect with their customers and put special touches on the experience that appeal to their particular demographic of moms.

The basic model for a sale is simple.

An owner — usually someone who has bought into one of several different franchises selling support mechanisms for the sales — finds a venue. Depending on the sale’s size, that venue could be anything from a modest, empty retail space or a church basement to a large event space.

The franchisees solicit consignors by grass-roots fliers and signs, Facebook, word-of-mouth or other low-cost marketing efforts. Consignors, usually moms with growing families, go online, pay a modest fee, get a bar code that identifies them to print from home. They start pricing their used children’s clothing and other items from home in their spare time. When the sale approaches, consignors line up to drop off their items.

A volunteer labor force, whose main perk is the chance to shop first and sometimes get extra money back on the items they sell, hand-check each item to make sure nothing is stained, torn or too worn. They sort and hang clothing in gender and size categories so shoppers can easily access the items they want. Gear and toys are sorted by type. Volunteers run the sale, handle checkout and help sort at the end of the sale in order to return unsold items to the owners.

Thousands of shoppers from pregnant moms to those with preteens and up to high school-age children spend three to four days sifting through the racks looking for bargains. When it is done, the shop closes up and doesn’t appear again until next season.

The process usually happens twice a year at each location — spring and fall.

The business model, which has been the same for decades, has come under scrutiny in recent years for the way it relies on volunteer labor hours to operate.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor ruled that the business model, as represented by Rhea Lana’s, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was a decision that has put the future of sales across the country in question.

Most sales are still operating because Rhea Lana’s, represented by the advocacy group Cause of Action, filed a lawsuit against the ruling in January.

Rhea Lana Riner, the founder and CEO of Rhea Lana’s, says she believes the sales operate within the law because there is a clear economic benefit for all of the participants in the sale. The suit is awaiting review by a judge.

Riner calls it a social business model that has grown in popularity because times have been tough and money tight for a lot of families. “We feel moms are co-venturing with us because they have a desire to use their personal time for their benefit,” said Riner.

Locally, sale owners believe the business model is fair. Volunteers are shoppers who are glad to get the little perks of volunteering. “It’s a community event run by community members to benefit them as much as the owner,” said Katelyn Logan, one of the owners of the Overland Park Rhea Lana’s sale.

To people who haven’t participated in it, the payback might not seem like that much, but since the sales have a lot of one-of-a-kind items, it pays to get to be an early shopper, one of the perks of volunteering.

“If a mom is able to pick up a high chair they might have had to pay $70 or $80 new, for $25 used, then the amount of money they saved is actually a lot more than they may have earned if they were paid minimum wage,” said Kerri Gogan, owner of the Northland Here We Grow Again sale.

A bill is being considered in Congress called the Children’s Consignment Event Recognition Act. If passed, the law would specifically protect children’s consignment events and allow them to continue to operate. U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri’s 4th District is one of four sponsors of that bill.

Jill Moxley, who owns the Blue Springs Kid’s Closet sale with husband Kevin, calls the arrangement a service provided to moms.

“I work for the consignor. I sell their stuff for them, and I take a percentage for them. They aren’t working for me,” Moxley said.

 

On tax-free weekend in Blue Springs, the artificial grass floor of Sports City is not covered with cleats and soccer balls, but rather rows and rows of children’s clothing, strollers, toys, cribs and other gear. Dozens of moms, grandmas and even a few people who just like to shop line up for the chance to get first choice at the pickings of used items available for the Kid’s Closet Connection Fall Sale event.

Samantha Keim came for the presale with her husband, Kallan, in tow to help keep an eye on their children, 2-year-old Elijah and 7-month-old Eloise.

Dad didn’t seem to mind making the trip though, because his wife is able to make about as much money consigning out-grown clothes as she spent at the sale. Samantha Keim says she started consigning after she went to her first sale, and now it comes out a wash. She now also volunteers so she can make an extra 5 percent back on her sales and have the chance to be among the first shoppers.

“Kids clothes are expensive, and they wear them for such a short time. It just makes sense,” said Keim.

Jill Moxley says there are a lot of moms like Keim who are able to buy and sell clothing and come out with little or no cost for their kids’ clothes. Some moms can even come out ahead by buying clothing they know they will be able to resell at the same price or even a little higher price after their kids outgrow the item. “A lot of parents are getting pretty savvy with it and realizing they can recycle and not have to pay for kids’ clothing or socks by doing it that way,” said Moxley.

Keim says the consignment sale is better than doing a garage sale because it takes less time and you know you will have more people look at your items.

“It’s more work to set up a garage sale. It takes more of your time. You sit out there for a whole weekend, and then you might not have that many people come,” said Keim.

The Blue Springs fall sale is typically one of the bigger sales, which also means Keim can make a little more money — even if usually only about half of her stuff sells. “It makes me feel less guilty about coming out and buying kids clothes, because I’m saving,” said Keim.

Moxley says they work to keep and grow their following of buyers, volunteers and consignors. “We try to be real personable with people. We have a lot of people who tend to come back year to year.”

Not all sales are successful, and Moxley, who has managed more than 35 sales in the last six years, says many times owners have a hard time embracing how difficult the workload can be. The work requires managing 300 to 500 consignors at each sale, bringing in tens of thousands of items.

“It’s very difficult for someone to do it, especially if they don’t know what they are getting into,” Moxley said.

The camaraderie among moms is something Moxley says keeps a lot of her volunteers and consignors coming back. She sees moms get to know one another by bonding over particularly beloved items of clothing or toys.

“It’s about relationships, it’s about friendships being built at our events. It’s about recycling. It’s about being able to afford things for our children that we otherwise couldn’t. It’s all under one roof,” Moxley said. “After you’ve been involved for awhile, you see the same friendly people at the sales. You’ve formed a new friendship over your daughter’s clothes.”

 

Jennifer Edwards learned about the Northland Here We Grow Again sale from a friend while pregnant with her son, now 21/2. As a single mom who works full time, Edwards says the sale saves her time and money. “It is absolutely a one-stop shop. Everything you need for your kid is going to be there,” she said.

Kerri Gogan has owned the Northland Here We Grow Again sale for three years. She says over time, a lot of her buyers have begun to realize they can save money not only because the items are used, but also on gas and hassle of traveling all over town to get what they need for the kids.

The sale is very strict on quality — no stains or holes, clothing cannot be too worn-looking or dated — she says the most important reason for that focus is giving shoppers a great experience. They also watch for items on recall.

“In general, consignment is a safe way to go as a seller or shopper. There’s anonymity, no worries about scams, safety checks on everything,” Gogan said.

Edwards started volunteering for Gogan’s sale in order to get a chance to have first pick at the good items. She says she gets to know the other consignors and recognizes when they come in the door who is going to have stuff in her son’s size. “You’re not just a shopper. You become a part of the Here We Grow Again family. We take care of each other,” said Edwards.

While Gogan does not have one of the largest sales in the area, she sees it as a way to help local moms. Many are stay-at-home moms who tell her they like the chance to get out of the house and be with other women. The franchise was set up in Kansas City with what Gogan calls a Kansas City mindset.

“One of their goals is that we come in as really genuine and really friendly,” Gogan said.

She loves hearing moms talk about how the sale is helping them pay for Christmas or a vacation and remembers particularly the mom who came up to her last year, gave her a hug and said thanks for the sale because she didn’t know any other way she was going to clothe her kids that year.

“These are my neighbors who are trying to sell their own stuff,” Gogan said. “I am able to help give back to the community and the parents in this area to make a little more money than they might otherwise.”

Edwards says that extra money translates into extra opportunities.

“If I can save 90 percent at a sale, and I can have money to go and buy passes to Oceans of Fun or something else fun with my son, then it’s worth it,” Edwards said.

Gogan’s sale, like many others in the area, also gives sale leftovers to local charities.

Gogan offers a single-day event at the end of every big sale for domestic abuse clients from Synergy House. The women, who often leave violent situations with little or nothing, are invited to come in and take anything they want from the clothes that consignors decide to donate at the end of the sale.

“I try to make it look as nice as I can,” Gogan said. “I love the idea that it’s going directly into the hands of people who needed it.”

Other clothing left after that event is donated to Hillcrest Transitional Housing.

 

Lanterns and Christmas lights greet shoppers when the Rhea Lana’s children’s consignment sale event takes over the Overland Park International Trade Center. The sale space is designed to look like a boutique, even though the 50,000-square-foot area will hold roughly 75,000 pieces of children’s clothing, toys and other items during their four-day fall sale. The fun decor and a boutique-type atmosphere is aimed at drawing higher-end, name-brand used clothing and customers with a desire to find the latest fashions at lower prices.

Sara Murray started shopping at the Overland Park Rhea Lana’s sale four years ago when her oldest son was just a baby. She now has three sons and has become increasingly involved with consigning and volunteering in order to grab better deals.

“When you find something, it’s like a treasure hunt,” Murray said. “I kind of get addicted to the bargains.”

Like many moms she knows, Murray started out just wanting to buy everything new. Then she saw how quickly kids outgrow things.

“I realized it was ridiculous,” Murray said.

She saw a sign for the first sale thinking she would just get just a few things and ended up finding a whole wardrobe for the season.

“I was kind of hooked after that,” Murray said. Owners of the Overland Park Rhea Lana’s sale, Katelyn Logan and Melissa Schroeder, share that bargain-hunter mentality.

“Our passion is finding a steal of a deal on something,” Logan said. “We are diggers at heart, and we love getting a deal.”

They recognize that the same desire in the people at their sales has caused their sales to grow quickly during the four years Logan, Schroeder and their husbands have been running the show.

When they started out, the owners found they needed to introduce the concept of consignment sales to their target demographic, women from places like Brookside and Prairie Village who had never heard of Rhea Lana’s or participated in a sale. “It was an untapped market,” said Logan. The two hung door fliers and started Facebook connections with friends and neighbors. About 80 percent of their consignors were new to the idea.

The market fit the model, though, because Rhea Lana’s focuses on high-end, trendy and fashionable children’s items.

They purposefully create a boutique-style environment with round racks instead of long rows of clothing. They bring in more decorations than other sales and try to create a party and service atmosphere.

“At our event, you can find higher-end brands that you might not be able to find other places in the metro,” Logan said. “Which is great for moms who want to dress their kids in hip, trendy stuff, but they don’t want to pay full retail price.”

They started in a vacated retail space at the Prairie Village shopping center. Now, just eight sales later, they use the Overland Park International Trade Center. They expect about 350 to 400 consignors and between 3,000 and 4,000 customers at this year’s fall sale this week.

In order to promote customer service, both for consignors and buyers, they have developed perks like a drive-in drop-off lane so moms don’t have to get out of their cars and haul big bags and boxes into the venue. They guarantee every item that is consigned. If something is missing at the end of a sale, they will pay a consignor for the loss. They also try to have a lot of help during the sale for buyers so they can make sure everyone is finding what they need.

“We try to talk to everybody,” Logan said. “We feel like there’s a friend in everybody, and we really want them to enjoy their time with us, because if it’s a good experience, you’re going to want to come back.”

Logan sees Kansas City as a very large market. There are always new families having children. So there is a lot of room for all the consignment sales in town, but she also believes in their model. “I love to feel that we are converting lots of new people at every sale,” said Logan.

Upcoming sales

Here is a list of consignment sales in the area. For more information, see consignmentmommies.com.

Rhea Lana’s of Overland Park: Aug. 20-24. www.overlandpark.rhealana.com

Here We Grow Again-Shawnee: Aug. 20-24. www.herewegrowagain.com/shawnee

Just Between Friends-Lee’s Summit: Aug. 22-24. www.leessummit.jbfsale.com

Here We Grow Again-Independence: Aug. 16-23. herewegrowagain.com/independence

Kid’s Closet Connection of Leavenworth & Wyandotte County: Sept. 5-7. www.kidscloset.biz/sales/leavenworth

Rhea Lana’s of Lee’s Summit: Sept. 7-13. leessummit.rhealana.com

Just Between Friends-Overland Park: Sept. 10-14. kc.jbfsale.com

Kid’s Closet Connection-NKC Northland Liberty: Sept. 11-13. http://www.kidscloset.biz/sale?sale_id=12

Rhea Lana’s of Leavenworth-Platte City: Sept. 17-20. www.leavenworth.rhealana.com

All About Kids-Independence: Sept. 18-20. ww.AllAboutKidsKC.com

Kid’s Closet Connection-Overland Park: Sept. 24-27. http://www.kidscloset.biz/sale?sale_id=1

Here We Grow Again-Southland: Sept. 24-27. www.herewegrowagain.com/southland

Here We Grow Again-Northland: Sept. 29-Oct. 4. www.herewegrowagain.com/northland

Kid’s Closet Connection-Lee’s Summit: Oct. 2-4. http://www.kidscloset.biz/sale?sale_id=6

Here We Grow Again-Olathe: Oct. 6-11. http://herewegrowagain.com/olathe/

Just Between Friends-Shawnee: Oct. 16-19. shawnee.jbfsale.com

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