Sept. 12, 2008 -- In a challenging economy when many people look for ways to stretch a dollar, lots of families are forgoing the mall and flocking to "consignment conventions" like Just Between Friends.
The company, founded 11 years ago by best friends Shannon Wilburn and Daven Tacket in Tulsa, Okla., is today a $5 million business, with 65 franchises in 17 states. Thousands of sellers, called consignors, come together under one roof to sell their gently used baby and kid items.
I recently visited one such sale in Fort Worth, Texas, which boasted 95,000 items for sale—everything from strollers and car seats to bottles and bibs, plus lots of clothing and even Halloween costumes too.
It's a 21st century, stadium-sized garage sale—with moms selling to other moms at rock bottom prices.
Consignors set their own prices on items, for which they receive an average of 65-70 percent of the selling price. That's significantly higher than traditional consignments, and it's free of the hassle associated with selling directly from a booth at a flea market or running a garage sale.
It's not just the sale attendees who are making money; each franchise owner is getting a cut too. Franchisees pay an average of $10,500—plus other start-up related expenses—to receive the training, tools and support to run two major sales per year in their cities. Some owners say it's akin to having a fulltime salary for a part-time job since it doesn't involve a daily commitment.
To learn more about buying or selling at a Just Between Friends sale—there are about 30 more events this year around the country, visit the company's Web site at www.jbfsale.com.
How to Start Your Own Sale
If you're unable to participate as a buyer or seller in a Just Between Friends sale, consider starting a mini-version on your own.
1) Invite 15 to 20 friends to sell their gently used kids clothing and accessories. Agree on a location, such as the garage or living room of the largest home among your pals. You might even think of a church, school gym or other conveniently located venue.
2) Talk money. Determine who'll organize the sale and how money will be divided. Sellers might receive 50-80 percent of the selling price, leaving the rest to the organizers. Be clear on how they should tag their merchandise—labeling items with details on original retail price, as well as some kind of code to identify the seller. This will help when you're ringing up the totals.
3) Set the ground rules. Insist on quality merchandise only. No rips, stains, broken or missing pieces. This remains a central issue in all Just Between Friends sales. Customers have come to expect quality, which isn't always the case at typical garage sales or flea markets, where there's a mix of merchandise.
4) Market like crazy. This is perhaps the most important step. You can't have a sale if you don't have customers — lots of them. Create an e-mail about the event, including time, date, location, accepted forms of payment (i.e. cash only, cash or check, etc.), and provide details on the amount of items or a hint about the bargains to be had.
Ask all of the sellers to send the e-mail to everyone they know—and encourage those recipients to forward it to friends. Distribute flyers through schools, churches, playgroups, coffee shops and more. If possible, set up a Web page with event details too. Contact the local media to consider spreading the word. (Hint: Stories about saving and making money are hot now!) Word of mouth is so powerful among moms and that's the key to your event's success.
5) Assign tasks. Who'll find racks to borrow or rent? An organized sale is essential, with all merchandise displayed by category. Who'll operate the cash register? Who'll assist customers with questions? Who is on the clean-up committee? What will happen to the unsold merchandise? Determine all of these issues before the sale so there are no surprises.
6) Capture names. Get the name and email address from every one of your buyers so you can build a database to promote the next sale!
Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on Good Morning America and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her online at www.womenforhire.com.