It’s the afternoon of Labels Northwest’s second day in business, and the place is packed.
Women lucky enough to find an available space in the consignment store’s parking lot are rummaging through clothing racks. The clink of housewares being picked from shelves creates a jangled rhythm with the ‘90s music piping through the crowd.
Store owner Sage Bishop accepts consignments based on her three “Cs”: cute, current and clean. Those guidelines have helped make Labels a bargain-hunter’s dream.
“There’s a lot of unusual stuff,” Bishop said. “There’s some really cool, eclectic pieces you can find. The unpredictableness is pretty fun.”
Labels Northwest, located at 3927 Northwest Ave., held its grand opening Feb. 29.
The newly constructed, 4,000-square-foot shop is the third Labels Women’s Consignment Store to open since Bishop launched the original location in 2004, at 1512 Ellis St.
Customer Mollie Pike said the new store’s large area allows it to carry more merchandise, which she appreciates. Pike has sold clothing and shopped at Labels for years.
“It’s recycling and a great way to save money,” she said.
The new building is nearly twice the size of the second Labels store Bishop opened in 2007 at Bakerview Square. Although the Bakerview location has been successful, Bishop plans to close it permanently in June, saying her staff has simply outgrown the space.
Labels expands as the U.S. resale industry sees continued growth.
The number of resale, thrift and consignment shops nationwide has increased 7 percent each of the past two years, according to NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, a resale trade group based in Michigan.
There are more than 25,000 resale stores in the U.S. operating in an industry with close to $13 billion in annual revenue, according to the group.
Adele Meyer, NARTS’ executive director, said consumers are increasingly sloughing off an era of “conspicuous consumption” and instead embracing one of thrift.
Though a recent decline in available consumer spending cash has played a significant role in the upswing of resale stores’ bottom lines, Meyer said the resale ethic is strong enough to remain untethered from the health of the economy.
Even if people are more free to shop retail as the nation pulls itself out of recession, consigners and thrift store owners should be able to keep their customers, she said.
“Once people get get their first good bargain at a resale shop, they’re hooked,” Meyer said.
Kirsten Reid, Labels Northwest’s store manager, said the number one factor in consignment popularity is pricing.
Beyond that, she said the thrill of unpredictability as customers walk into the store not knowing what hidden finds they might come across is a huge boon to Labels’ business.
“I just know it’s the thrill of the treasure hunt,” she said.
Reid has worked for Bishop at Labels since the original Ellis Street location opened. Before moving to the new store, she managed the Labels at Bakerview Square.
One of the unique aspects of the store, Reid said, is its staff’s commitment to quality customer service. They strive to make their customers’ experiences as personable as possible, she said.
“We definitely care about our people and their stuff,” Reid said. “We have zero skeletons in our closets.”
Consignment shops operate differently than thrift or resale stores like Goodwill or Buffalo Exchange. People bring in their own merchandise and have a consigner sell it for them while keeping a percentage of the sale.
When items sell off the racks at Labels, 40 percent of each sale is credited back to the items’ owner—50 percent if an item is brand new or sells for more than $30.
Owners can receive cash or store credit, which remains valid for one year.
Labels sells items at about one-fourth or one-third of their average retail prices, Bishop said. If merchandise doesn’t sell after one month, it is marked down 50 percent.
If items still remain unsold, they are donated to We Care of Whatcom County, a charity that distributes free clothing and housewares to local residents in need.
No appointments are necessary to bring items in for consignment, although Labels doesn’t take everything.
Bishop said since there were already consignment shops in the area catering to men, children and young women, it was easy to figure out where her niche would be.
Labels targets women ages 30-50, although they have customers of all ages.
“There’s been times where there’s three generations in here,” she said. “Certainly, it’s a store for the young and old and the middle.”
Tops, jackets, shoes and purses are some of the store’s most popular items, Bishop said. A new hit for Labels is home decor items, including side tables, photos, art and pillows.
Bishop said maintaining a good selection of merchandise has been a successful strategy. Since many customers don’t have time to go to multiple stores to find what they’re looking for, the more variety a shop has, the easier it is for customers to find what they want, she said.
In addition, the large size of the new Labels store is a huge benefit.
With more space, Bishop said her staff should have a much easier time meeting the needs of customers who want to find great bargains and clean out their closets, all without being wasteful.
“It’s amazing how much stuff you have that’s too good to give away, but it doesn’t work in your home or in your life,” Bishop said. “It’s nice to move stuff. We have too much clutter in our lives.”
Additional reporting by Brian Corey
Photos by Brian Corey