Doing Fine in the Consignment Business
The success Ruthelia “FiFi” Queen has enjoyed in the consignment business for almost three decades is rooted in her poor upbringing in Waynesville.
“All of my dresses were made of feed sacks,” Queen says. “I didn’t get my first store-bought dress until I was 13, and I was baptized in it.”
Queen also remembers going to a rummage sale as a teenager where she got a bag of clothes for a dollar.
“Everything was a dime and a quarter,” she says. “I’ve been a bargain shopper all these years.”
Today, FiFi’s Fine Resale Apparel has 21 locations in Florida and North Carolina, including four in Moore County. There are two shops on Broad Street in Southern Pines and two on N.C. 5 — one in Aberdeen and another in Pinehurst — that offer furniture in addition to clothes, shoes and accessories.
Queen, who opened her first store in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1986 with credit card debt, got started in Moore County in 2001 after her husband was transferred to Fort Bragg to work as a liaison officer.
“I was driving down Broad Street and saw this space that is now next to Lula’s Cafe,” she says. “I thought Southern Pines was the most charming place. You don’t find towns with this kind of shopping anywhere. This is definitely a positive business in a positive place.
“Moore County has been good to me. The people are great. This is as good as the South can get.”
The timing of Queen’s move to the county was important because women who had bragged in the 1990s about how much they paid for clothes in retail stores were starting to tell everyone how much they were now saving by shopping at consignment stores.
“The consignment business is all about finding the cool piece that nobody has because you have so much more selection than in a retail store,” Queen says. “Once women get the bug, they really don’t want to shop retail anymore.”
The resale industry has remained healthy through the recent recession — the number of stores has grown 7 percent each of the past two years — and continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of retail.
First Research estimates the industry generates annual revenue of about $13 billion, in part because resale shopping attracts value-conscious consumers from all economic levels.
“This is the business to be in right now because women don’t have as much money as before,” says Queen, who has also owned a restaurant, plumbing supply store, swimsuit shop and interior design business, among others, over the years.
FiFi’s has more than 5,000 consignors at its original Moore County location alone.
“We have clothes coming in all the time. We have constant turnover of inventory,” Queen says. “Consignors can bring in as many items as they want without an appointment.”
FiFi’s takes in 60 percent on every sale of regular apparel, shoes or accessories, and consignors are given store credit or a monthly check for their 40 percent. Proceeds from the sale of high-end merchandise are split evenly.
“The hardest thing in this business is making both the customer and the consignor happy,” Queen says. “It’s all about pricing the merchandise correctly.”
Each donated item is graded on four criteria: the label, condition, style and fabric.
“The label and condition define the quality,” Queen says. “We’re able to keep up with the styles and fabrics because we know what’s hot and what’s not after 60 days by looking at what’s not selling. We also have a list of styles and fabrics that we don’t take. For example, we don’t accept anything made of silk.”
Items that don’t sell within a month are marked down 50 percent, while those that stay on the display rack for two months are donated to local charities such as the Sandhills Moore Coalition for Human Care.
“We try to help where we can,” Queen says.
The Moore County stores and three others are corporately owned, eight are licensed, and six are franchised, which is Queen’s current focus.
“We have interest right now in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon and New Mexico,” she says. “The franchise fee is $25,000, and our monthly take is 3 percent of gross revenue.”
FiFi’s provides each franchisee a weeklong training course in Florida and helps them find the right location for their store.
“We’re growing because we’ve got great brand recognition,” Queen says. “Owning your own business, to me, is a no-brainer, and I just love this business. I love the challenge of a store coming together and mentoring the employees. It’s fun.”
Queen is also writing a book about her experience in the consignment industry.
The title? “A Psychological Disorder Among Women and Their Closets.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or by email at email@example.com.
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