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Voices From the Crisis: Consignment seller turns to web, livestreaming for survival

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HOCKESSIN – You know it’s time to pivot when your 11-year-old upscale resale boutique that generates $30,000 to $40,000 a month in sales is shut down by the state as “non-essential” and your cash flow is such that you can pay April’s $5,000 rent but you have to warn your landlord that May could be a problem.

Michele Scott of Designer Consigner in Hockessin

That’s what Michele Scott did a few weeks ago when she made the decision to switch sales from her 3,000-square-foot Designer Consigner shop and create an online store. She’s adding 50 to 200 items per day on Shopify from what she says is a 100,000-item inventory.

She also livestreamed her first Friday Night Live on Facebook on March 26, where her 15-minute pilot attracted 400 viewers including eight who took advantage of a $10 discount code.

It’s an uphill fight to survive the next month or two and recapture a customer base that includes 3,500 active consigners across eight states, a 9,000-person mailing list, and about 3,000 people who follow Designer Consigner on social media. Her social followers are up 30% in the last few weeks.

She’s only done $5,000 in sales – with half of that generally going to her consigners – in the two weeks she’s been closed, but she’s offering private shopping appointments for people who reach out after seeing her inventory on social media. She had to lay off her eight employees and rely on her grown children to help out. And she says she probably has about 45 to 60 days before paying her bills becomes a problem.

Consigners normally have 63 days before they must pick up their items or donate them, but Scott suspended those expiration dates on March 18. She’s still taking new items – no intimate apparel or athletic gear – and she’s continuing to wipe out shoes and boots and disinfect any new items with Lysol, in effect quarantining them before the new arrival gets posted on the site and on social media by her son filming from an iPhone.

“We’ve always had a number of people who follow us on social media, and they would call us if they saw something they liked and pay over the phone,” Scott says. “Now they can find an item, click on it, and pay for it. Everyone gets a handwritten thank-you note and if they live within 20 miles, we’ll deliver it for free.”

Personalized service is everything to Scott. She recently saw a Hockessin resident purchased a pair of once-worn black Ferragamo patent-leather heels for $195 (retail price: $750) at 5 p.m. Scott personally delivered them – with the thank-you note – at 6:15 p.m.

She says there will always be a brick and mortar store for her customers, most of whom are local women, although she has sold to customers in Atlanta, Connecticut, and Los Angeles. By the time this is over, she will have likely missed the prom and wedding season (she sells gowns that sell for $500 to $600 at other upscale stores for $100)

The livestreams – which are held Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. – includes viewer questions, which her son calls out as he films from that iPhone.

“They told us they want us to show the men’s store. When we started to end the show, they said don’t go, show more stuff,” she said.  “I believe people are creatures of habit and you have to adjust your habit to them. Social distancing is one thing, but I need to survive. I’m using social media to my advantage, to keep customers engaged.”

By Peter Osborne


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