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Sold on the Merits of Consignment Stores

If you don't like selling old furniture on your own, a few merchants can help.

February 10, 2001|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just bought a new coffee table and want to get rid of the old one? If even the thought of a yard sale exhausts you, a consignment store might be the answer.

These outlets will take your furniture--if it's in good shape--and sell it. But they do take a fat cut, usually 40%.

The 60/40 split is what the new Home Consignment Center in Yorba Linda offers, the same as its sister store in Laguna Niguel.

Diane Holt, manager of the Yorba Linda location, said consignors typically find themselves with an unwanted item but are unwilling to market it themselves. Maybe they don't want the hassle or find they can't sell new furniture for a good price from their frontyard.

"It can be very tricky [trying to sell something on your own] and, clearly, we think we fill that need," Holt said. "Maybe they're moving, redecorating or recently got married. There are many reasons why people want to sell their furniture."

For 27 years, On Consignment in Laguna Beach has been stocked with household furnishings, from coffee tables and dressers to china and crystal. "Anything you need to decorate your home," said Mike Spencer, son of the owner. "We have new and antique, and the last 10 years have been good because people like to decorate with a blend of both."

On display at the store recently was a pine hutch that cost $1,200 new and is priced at $600. "We use [appraisal] reference books and charge half of that," he said.

The store has only consignment merchandise. "We have about 5,000 consignors," Spencer said, "so merchandise comes in and goes out every day."

The Yorba Linda outlet of the Home Consignment Center opened in late December and is 12,000 square feet, about the same size as the Laguna Niguel location, which opened in 1999. Most of the merchandise is from consignors, but Holt said that newer (sometimes brand-new) items from catalogers, model homes, showrooms and factories are also offered.

Furniture ranges from dining-room tables and chairs for $2,200 to bar stools for around $95. There are also vases, lamps, pianos, computer tables, crystal, chandeliers, mirrors, grandfather clocks and art. But when it comes to pictures, don't expect Holt to even look at those paint-by-numbers clown masterpieces stacked in the garage.

"We don't do oils of any kind," Holt said. "Really, we only take quality items" in all categories.

Holt said she and other managers routinely get calls from prospective consignors. She'll determine over the phone whether the furniture fits in her store and then go to their home to make sure. Holt evaluates it and sets a price, which satisfies or sometimes disappoints prospective clients.

"Our experience lets us know what it can sell for, [but] some people think they should get more," she said. "They may not realize its true value [because they don't factor in how old it is or have a sentimental attachment]. We set a firm price."

The merchandise is kept in the store for 45 days. If it doesn't move by then, the consignor has the option of lowering the price or removing it, at their cost. Holt can also have the owner remove the piece at any time after 45 days.

Holt avoids antiques ("We do have some, but we're not antique appraisers so we tend not to") or worn items. She steers clear of "dated furniture" that may not sell readily.

"Out-of-style is just no good for us," she said. "And we don't make repairs [or update] pieces here. One woman brought in a dining-room table, chairs and hutch with an avocado look [to the chair fabric]. We asked her to change the fabric, and she did."

Holt also avoids sofas with "lots of floral designs or are stained," glass and brass coffee tables and any rectangular wood tables, simply because they aren't moving these days.

Holt claimed that visitors to both the Yorba Linda and Laguna Niguel outlets have been appreciative.

That description apparently fit Christine Hemphill of Newport Beach, who visited Laguna Niguel recently as part of her "search for the perfect complements" to fill her small backyard guest house. She liked what she saw--and the opportunity to find a bargain.

"Some [of the furniture] is not to my taste, but there's really nice stuff as well," Hemphill said. "A friend of mine both brings stuff [to consign] and has bought [a sofa set] at one of these places. She was happy with the prices and got me interested.

"This is just one of the stops though. I'll be looking all over."

Sam Weiss of Cerritos saw it the same way. From discount malls and high-end boutiques to consignment spots, they're all part of the shopping process.

"I'm a browser so I go everywhere," he said. "This store is just part of the fun."

* The Home Consignment Center is at 23060 Eastpark Drive, Yorba Linda, (714) 637-1192, and 27350 Alicia Parkway, Laguna Niguel, (949) 448-8640.

* On Consignment, 1190 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3086.

How to Find a Good Deal

* If you're bargain hunting in consignment stores, visit often, know what you're looking for and don't hesitate. N2

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