Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tips for a successful consignment

Guest blog by Vicky Brown of Shore Debris

I have been making jewelry most of my life, but didn’t start selling for profit until almost 2 ½ years ago.

I began selling on consignment because I liked the idea of my jewelry being available for shoppers to see, touch, and buy in person. It also gives buyers more opportunities to interact with my jewelry than just my appearances at craft shows.

Sometimes I find consignment opportunities, sometimes they find me.

I find shops through word of mouth – a good friend or family member says, “Hey, you might want to check this shop out. I think your jewelry will go good there.” And then I go check and see for myself.

This “checking out” phase involves going into the store, looking at all of the inventory, and buying something small if I can find something that either I can use or give away as a gift. I like to see the sales process because I am picky and do not want to have my jewelry associated with a rude or nonchalant climate. On subsequent visit, I have inventory in a bag that I believe will compliment what is already in the shop and ask to speak to the owner (or purchasing manager depending on the size of the store).

Having a consignment shop contact me has occurred only though Etsy. Etsy has a search feature for “local” so you can search for crafters in your city or state. I've been contacted this way by new stores getting ready to open, but they don’t have capital for more inventory so they're wanting to find consignors. Sometimes I'm contacted by stores that don’t really have a plan and are just fishing to see what they can get from me. These deals have never worked out as well for me - “no-plan” type businesses don't make for successful ventures.

I currently sell jewelry on consignment in four places: a florist shop, a doctor's office, a salon, and a thrift shop.

I am lucky; my consignment contract with a florist’s shop is wonderful. Florist shops are great for jewelry makers. A lot of the customers are men buying something for a wife or girlfriend, and if they can do all of their shopping in one place, many will.

I have tiny displays in both my chiropractor’s office and my grandmother-in-law’s hair salon. The chiropractor’s office is good for me. I have a standing appointment once a month and come in to collect money and completely change out the display on the same day as those appointments.  The office only sells to their patients, so it is not a huge moneymaker, but I’m not sure I can say any other doctor’s office has ever handed me money when I arrive.

Venues like these are small, but also a good place to get your feet wet for consignment.  If you have a regular appointment at a salon, what would it hurt to ask proposing you have a display of earrings at the register? The worst they will say is, "No."  If you are like me and have hair that hasn't seen a professional in almost 10 years, think about family members who have long-standing relationships with stylists or other small establishments you frequent.

I have tried a shop that was marketed to me as a unique vintage and handmade market before it opened. It has become yet another thrift shop in my small town. I will be pulling my handmade jewelry out of here. Lesson learned. When I think of “vintage,” I think of treasures from the past – classic styles that are more than 20 years old and kept in good to excellent condition. To some people, "vintage" means anything that is not brand new - whether trash or not.  Now I know to ask a few more questions about the owner’s interpretation of the word “vintage” before committing.

The split

The flower shop agreement is 20/80 split (with 20% going to the florist) and she pays on the 1st and 15th of each month for all items sold since the last check.  She requests that all crafters mark their items at the full retail price. My jewelry is already priced at retail of 2 x the wholesale price, so I didn’t change anything from shows to online prices to this shop.

The Thrift Shop agreement was 25/75. They recently raised the consignment percentage to 30% and only pay after the 5th of each month for all of the previous month’s sales.

The chiropractor’s office charges me nothing, but this is a special arrangement.  They did it for me when I was starting my business because they saw me as a military veteran who was in pain. I personally feel like I am taking advantage of them, but they won’t take money from me even when I have tried to give them 20% of the sales.

The salon has turned into a 50/50 split because it has become a wholesale relationship. Each year, she buys five pieces or so from me at my wholesale price. Although I make less money, I like being paid up front much better than waiting for sales down the road.

I personally would not consider a consignment agreement above 30%. The way I feel about it, you are doing the business a favor - at no up front cost to the business, you are expanding the business' inventory through your own costs. I feel like when stores wish to charge 40-60% the selling price, they are attempting to take advantage of you. They want wholesale prices at no risk to themselves.

I would also not consider a place that charges a fee for you to consign and/or requires you to work in the stores a certain percentage of the month. Some of these arrangements, although advertised to me locally as consignment, are really approaching on co-ops.

My personal belief is that "booth fee" type arrangements are not good. The owner spends time advertising space in the store to vendors, but once he/she has their overall rent taken care of by consignors, he/she doesn't worry about advertising goods for sale. If these were successful ventures, there would be a waiting list to get goods in the store not an ever present ad of space available for rent.

But, overall, I am very happy with my consignment experiences. I can leave home for any reason, temporarily shut down my website, and not do any craft shows during that period of time. Then, when I come back, I have checks waiting from sales in these shops.

Tips for success: Participation, Rotation, and Pull Out

By participating, I mean to get involved in your consignment shops. Every consignment shop owner I know complains about people dropping off inventory and not being heard from again for months despite phone calls regarding checks from sales, rotating inventory, and possible custom orders.

I visit any local shop where I have items on consignment a minimum of two times per month - and usually it is closer to five times or more per month. I now have such a good relationship with the flower shop that she can take custom orders and give timelines and pricing estimates to the customers all because she already knows what skills I possess, what materials I always keep on hand, and the kinds of materials to which I have easy access. Approximately one third of my sales are through custom work like this, so if you do custom work, establishing this type of relationship can be very beneficial.

Rotation is my key to continued sales. Be prepared to rotate inventory regularly.  You must either have enough inventory on hand to rotate or be prepared to make more while your items are on display in the shop. A lot of consignors make the mistake of telling the shop that they’ll bring in more once everything has sold.  Standing on the sidelines, I have watched some seller’s items get boxed up and placed in the back room because they refused to rotate after even six months of sitting on a shelf.

Some things just won’t sell and not always because they are bad items.  It might just be wrong market, wrong time of year, wrong price, not displayed to its potential, and numerous other factors. A lot of small stores rely on repeat business, so their customers come in just to “see what’s new.” By rotating your stock regularly, you provide those customers with new options. I “rotate” by marking some items on sale, replacing items with a completely new piece, and/or puting new inventory in holes left by sold jewelry.

Lastly, if you get a bad feeling at all, pull your stuff out of the shop. Always trust your instincts in this regard – and if you are already “participating” in your shop, you will know when something doesn’t seem right. My not so good feelings have come from suddenly having no e-mail or phone contact (disconnected lines and canceled cable services). Good businesses will be contacting their business associates (includes you as a consigner) prior to making large changes or immediately after the fact if it was an emergency change – not a couple of weeks down the road.

Another time, I walked into a shop and bought something for 75 cents. I was told that they don’t have to charge tax on items that cost less than $1. That was a red flag, and I realized I needed to pull my stuff out of the store immediately. I don’t want to be anywhere near a store that could be doing something illegal, even if it is just ignorance of tax laws rather than malicious intent.

Consignment agreements

Sign your contract before any inventory is handed over, but do not sign that contract without reading it in its entirety. All of my contracts start the same with the first line(s) stating who you are and who the shop is. The second section is a line that says almost verbatim, “All articles given from consignor to {shop} become property of {shop} until sold or returned to consignor at end of contract.” I do not sign a contract without this line. This line is what gets your items covered under the store’s insurance policy. If the store says they aren’t responsible for loss (theft or destruction) of your items, I personally would not sign that contract. They should have an insurance policy on all inventory including items from consignors.

The rest of your contract should cover how and when payments are made, how you and the shop will conduct drop off and inventory of your items, how you must tag your products, how much notice is needed to remove your items from the store, etc, etc. Most of my contracts are only one page long and none are longer than two pages. If something doesn’t look perfect on the contract, a good store will have no problem with you taking it to a friend to review and giving you a night to sleep on it.

Good luck!


Shore Debris
Purple Fuzzy Feet


  1. Great article! Thoughtful, insightful and helpful.

  2. I've been wondering about the consignment process lately and you just answered all my questions. Thank you for such an informative blog post!

  3. I was recently was asked to display my jewelry at an upscale gallery 1.5 hours away, my first experience at consignment. This gallery is in a very posh neighborhood, and they charge 50% of all sales. They advertise separately for each artist and do a great job at hosting all kinds of events so the artists have great exposure. I'm a bit uncomfortable at their 50%share, but I figure I'm getting my feet wet here. My jewelry will be on display for one month. I fee pretty good about this and hope to be brave enough to ask other galleries or shops rather than hoping someone will ask me.
    Unfortunately I live in a small rural town where there is not much commerce, so I will be doing a lot of driving should these opportunities arrise.

    Thanks for all your tips!