Competitve Edge: Behind Fashion Avenue’s Success
Like other consignment stores, Edina’s Fashion Avenue offers deep discounts on secondhand clothing and accessories, but its designer merchandise and high-touch customer service make it more akin to an upscale boutique.
However, “in a regular store you can just go out and buy merchandise,” says owner Gretchen Weisman. “In a consignment store we are totally dependent on people bringing things to us.” Consignors leave their items at a store for up to 90 days and split the sales price, generally in half, with the store.
Building and retaining a strong network of consignors is paramount to ensuring a consignment store is well-stocked. Having seen growth each year since she and husband Lee purchased the business in 1997, Weisman credits much of its success to positive word-of-mouth.
EBay and newer e-commerce sites for pre-owned clothing, such as The RealReal, now compete with secondhand stores for merchandise, but Weisman says many consignors don’t want to take the time to photograph, post online and ship unwanted garments.
Because a consignment store doesn’t own its inventory—it pays consignors after their item sells—its biggest expenses are rent (not insignificant for Fashion Avenue’s prime 50th & France location) and labor. Staff must be expertly trained to look over each consigned item for quality, style and condition, and to gently reject pieces that are worn or outdated.
Fashion Avenue specializes in contemporary and designer goods that are two years old and newer, but lower-priced items from Banana Republic and J.Crew (versus Chanel and Vuitton) serve as entry-point purchases or add-ons to bigger purchases. “The more we sell something for, obviously the more money for both the consignor and for us,” says Weisman. But “if we only had merchandise that started at $100, we would lose that entry-level customer who we could maybe cultivate into buying more expensive things.”
While most consignment stores are exclusively stocked with styles from past seasons, Fashion Avenue also has some current-season pieces that come from New York fashion industry employees, small boutiques, country club pro shops and fashion sales reps who consign their samples. “It’s not the majority, by any means,” says Weisman, “but it really gives us a great point of differentiation.”