Southern Vermont’s secondhand stores find success by embracing inventive business strategies.
By Benjamin Lerner
A trip to a local consignment store or thrift shop is always an adventure. With impeccably curated collections of pre-owned clothing and furniture, Southern Vermont’s premier secondhand boutiques are perfect places for discerning shoppers of all tastes and preferences to discover unique and alluring pieces. As they continue to build upon their loyal commercial followings, they have integrated imaginative business tactics to further enhance the experiences of their customers. By sourcing the majority of their items from their local Vermont communities, they prove that the future of retail is both sustainable and stylish.
Founded in October of 2010 by owners Jason and Kevin Walla, Perfectpiece Consignment specializes in high-quality pre-owned home furnishings. As their furniture consignment operation has progressively expanded, they are developing additional services to help their customers efficiently sell their treasured items to a wider audience.
One of the services that they are most excited to introduce in the near future is their “LIQUID8” online estate liquidation program, which Jason describes as a modern alternative to on-site estate sales. “We wanted to offer people a platform that would allow them to skip the ordeal of having large numbers of people come to their houses to look at their items. Our online estate sales will allow potential customers to bid on pieces over a fixed period of time. Once the auction period is complete, the winning bidders come to pick everything up. By giving customers the ability to remotely participate in the auction process, we can broaden the potential market. We can also provide a stress-free experience for everyone involved. Instead of having to show up in the early morning at an estate sale to lay your claim on a piece before the crowds arrive, you can sit in the comfort of your home and bid on the items at your leisure. We anticipate collaborative partnerships with existing local estate sale managers. We want to provide them with the necessary tools to efficiently streamline their process during the digital age.”
One of Perfectpiece’s most successful sales initiatives is their specialized auction concierge service. According to Jason, he and Kevin do a tremendous amount of research and due diligence to make sure that every piece they come across is sold through the appropriate channels. “We want the consigner to get the value that they deserve. We do triage on every item that comes through our doors to determine where it belongs. Some items might belong here in Manchester at our shop. Some might belong at a big-name auction houses, such as Skinner Auctioneers or Christie’s. Certain items are more appropriate for local garage or estate sales. Those items will most likely end up at an online auction targeted at the local community. Sometimes we’ll use online auction platforms such as eBay and Cherish. We have established reputations on those platforms as suppliers of high-quality furniture. We ship items all over the country and all over the world. We’ve done a fair amount of business with people in South Korea, England, Canada, and South America using pieces sourced from our local community. We like to think of it as bringing Vermont to the world, and bringing the world to Vermont.”
The Dorset Exchange
When Kristen Gatewood took over The Dorset Exchange in November of 2018, she applied the logistical skills that she had perfected during decades of corporate administrative work towards the development of an efficient inventory management system. Kristen is proud to run a “one-woman consignment show” at The Dorset Exchange, where she helps to affect positive change in her local community through the power of sustainable commerce.
Kristen says that working in the field of consignment has led to an increased awareness about the environmental impact of her everyday decisions. “After I took over The Dorset Exchange, I became a lot more conscious about the issue of commercial waste. There are so many things that are manufactured today that don’t have a very long use period. What’s great about owning a consignment shop is that I get to help turn the tide in a different direction. The items that people bring to my store don’t just get thrown out – they get to experience a second life here. Some of the pieces that people bring to me are so stunning and timeless. I think a lot of people are starting to appreciate things that are made to last. It inspires me to see so many people who are willing to take small steps every day to become more eco-conscious with their purchasing habits – especially those who continue to support secondhand businesses in their local Vermont communities.”
According to Kristen, one of her favorite things about working in consignment is that it symbiotically benefits everyone involved with the transaction. “The people who sell their items here are able to make a little money to support their households, and the people who come to shop here can find incredibly stylish pieces for a reduced price. We also have a unique opportunity to help raise money for some incredible causes. We currently have items for sale that directly benefit organizations such as Vermont Heartworks, Second Chance Animal Shelter, The Long Trail School, Stratton Foundation, and Monty’s House Wildlife Rehabilitation. It feels great to be able to help make a difference.”
Zippy Chicks owner Ellen Adams has had a passion for consignment clothing since her high school days at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester. Ellen reveals that the name ‘Zippy Chicks’ came from the fact that people referred to Manchester as ‘Zippy’ during her childhood years in Southern Vermont. “That was my inspiration for naming the shop. I’m proud to represent the women of Manchester and provide them with a beautifully-presented, boutique consignment experience.”
Ellen notes that in the years since she opened Zippy Chicks in 2011, the market for secondhand clothing has continued to expand. “It’s been a consistent positive growth pattern since the first day I started here. The market has just kept growing and changing. One key recent development has been the increasing importance of social media promotion. It’s been very exciting for me to be able to boost my internet presence with live product showings and social media broadcasts.”
Ellen explains that her live sales program has been an incredibly fruitful way for her to connect with her customer base. “I put my phone on a tripod, hit the “live” button on the Zippy Chicks social media page, and start showing some of our favorite items to our online followers. We don’t just show the pieces, we give shoppers information about how they might fit, then give them some shopping tips and outfit ideas for the featured items. Through our live sales program, we’ve created a little community of women who chat with each other about the clothes. Some of them have even become friends outside of social media. It’s great to be able to bring people together through virtual mediums and see that translate into real life interactions and connections. That’s what Zippy Chicks is all about: uplifting women by providing them with incredible clothing for a great price and giving them the confidence to go out into the world and be their best selves.”
Ellen says that although she is grateful for the ability to connect with her client base over online media, she still prefers to engage with her clients on a personal level. “I think there’s something to be said for the power of shopping in person in a brick-and-mortar store. When you come into my shop, you meet the owner. I am out on the floor five days a week talking with customers. If people ask me how something looks on them, I give them honest feedback. People love that. They want to know that they’re getting the best outfit possible at an amazing price. I like to think Zippy Chicks has the best of both worlds. It’s a sophisticated and high-end women’s consignment store that still has an intimate and friendly small-town feel.”
VNA & Hospice Thrift Shop
VNA & Hospice Thrift Shop is a nonprofit retail organization that raises money from the sale of donated clothing to help offset the cost of hospice care and home healthcare programs. According to VNA Director of Philanthropy Christine Hoard, “All of the proceeds from the clothing sold at the thrift shop go towards the VNA agency. The money is used to support underfunded hospice programs, such as support groups and the Choices for Care program.”
By creating an effectively structured system to sort through the influx of community-donated clothing, Store Manager Deborah Henky has been able to elevate the store’s quality standards to new heights. According to Deborah, “the sorters go through the boxes of incoming clothes to find the highest-quality pieces for the store. Clothing that doesn’t meet our stringent quality standards is
donated to other organizations. Some of them shred the clothing into individual pieces so they can make rugs and other sustainably-sourced products. Other groups sell or donate the clothes to third world countries. We do the best that we can to throw as little away as possible. I owe so much to my team of sorters and cashiers. They work so hard to keep the operation running smoothly on a daily basis.”
Deborah takes pride in the fact that her store allows people from all walks of life to enjoy a tastefully affordable retail shopping experience. “We want our customers to have the absolute best clothing possible. We like to think of ourselves as consignment quality at thrift store prices. The store has a boutique feeling. When you’re walking in, it doesn’t feel like you’re walking into an industrial storage facility. It feels like you’re walking into a beautiful shop that happens to be a thrift store. To me, secondhand clothing is one of the greatest forms of recycling. We’re providing
sustainably-sourced clothing to the community for an incredible price and donating the proceeds to an unbelievably worthy cause. In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
ALL THE DETAILS
The Dorset Exchange
VNA & Hospice Thrift Shop