Consignment shopping can be like a competitive sport, demanding a discerning eye, quick reflexes and persistence.
But once savvy shoppers learn the ropes, they can find great deals on designer furnishings and singular accessories at 25 percent to a third off the retail price. And with so many rich veins of well-heeled homeowners, the Wine Country is fertile ground for patient pickers who love to sweep in for the spoils.
Consigning is also a nice way to turn unused household items into cash. It's not the road to riches, consignment shop owners warn: Consignors can expect to get back 40 to 55 percent of what an item ultimately sells for, and that may only be 12 to 15 percent of what they paid new. Still, it's better than having things gather dust in paid storage.
Every six weeks or so, sometimes up to 80 bargain hunters line up hours before the doors open at 9 a.m. at ReHealdsburg, a consignment warehouse in a nondescript business area in Healdsburg. Once inside, shoppers can claim anything from $20 vases to $700 sofas to one-of-a-kind pieces that may have originally sold in a high-end designer showroom for thousands of dollars.
When the big doors roll up, shoppers surge into two large rooms where everything is artfully arranged in vignettes like a designer showroom. Throughout the three-day, Friday-through-Sunday sales, new pieces are brought in to replace items sold, so it's constantly churning with available merchandise. Items that don't sell are marked down and restaged in two more sales before being offered back to owners or donated to charity.
It's a fresh take on the more traditional consignment shop.
"The original concept was to create a sense of urgency when you know it's only going to be open at a certain time," said Sonny Childers, an inveterate collector and consignment shopper himself who co-founded the business a couple of years ago.
In December, he and his partners sold to Kathy Weil, a former logistics expert for global courier DHL, and Kim Endries-Tyner, a retired marketing director for Dun & Bradstreet. Both wanted a second career that would be fun. Childers stayed on as a consultant and stager. The next sale is Nov. 15-17.
"A lot of our consignors are downsizing, going from a large home to a smaller home, and it's quality merchandise," said Endries-Tyner. "And many are designers re-doing their showrooms. So all of a sudden we get a truckload of everything."
ReHealdsburg finds the best in quality and design, but not everything is expensive. There's something in every price range at each sale, starting at accessories for as little as $12. They also seek out the unusual, like a giant Indonesian oar for $150.
"You could find a settee for $200," said Childers, "or a high-end quality Roche Bobois leather sofa that retailed for $17,000 and we sold for $1,900.
"Design and quality sell. And not everybody can pay retail for that kind of quality," he added.
Experienced consignees know what prices the market will bear. Their shoppers are bargain hunters so consigners need to know they won't make a killing. ReHealdsburg, which keeps 50 percent of a sale, sold a pair of $30,000 Italian gilded wall sconces for $2,200 and a massive "live edge" wood table for $2,800 that retailed for $12,000.