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Consignment events popular in NWA, Fort Smith

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

Shopping events like Black Friday are known for great prices but crazy crowds. A rapidly growing trend offers the same great prices (if not better) for families but without the insanity.

Consignment stores are nothing new, although the number of stores has increased in recent years as the economy soured. Another growing trend largely popular in the Northwest Arkansas area is consignment events. Held once or maybe a few times a year, area consignment events offer thousands of gently used clothing, toys and some furniture items for children and babies.

One of the largest sales in Northwest Arkansas is the Northwest Arkansas Rhea Lana consignment event, which Ashley Shaver Noland started in 2006. Rhea Lana is available all over the country and franchises can be purchased to establish a sale in a given geographic area.

The NWA sale has won several awards, including being named in the Top 10 Consignment Sales in the country according to consignmentmommies.com. It also earned the top spot of all the Rhea Lana events for having the largest number of consignors, items, sales and for the highest percentage of items sold.

RHEA LANA EXPANSION
The show became so popular that Noland decided it was time to open another in the area. The Fayetteville Rhea Lana sale started in 2009 and it serves mostly the Fayetteville area. The Northwest Arkansas event is usually in Rogers or Springdale and is more designed to reach the northern parts of the region.

“It had grown so much that we could tell there was a need for two events in Northwest Arkansas and divide the area,” she said. “The events have grown exponentially.”

Last year, Noland joined forces with two other friends to purchase a third franchise, this one for Siloam Springs.

“We were noticing that a lot of moms and dads were coming from all the way in Siloam Springs. We were hearing from them that it was hard to make three trips during the week for consigning, volunteering and shopping,” Noland said. “Once we realized there were so many, it made sense to bring Rhea Lana to them.”

The first show was successful, one of the largest “first events” within the company, she said. The second Siloam Springs Rhea Lana event is coming at the end of March and is expected to be even more successful.

VOLUNTEER ‘EMPLOYEES’
One aspect that makes several of the area consignment events unique is that they are operated entirely by volunteers. Volunteers get the privilege of shopping during a presale event, which means they get first dibs on the most items. Then the consignors get the opportunity to shop before the events open to the public. Expectant mothers can also print a pass and use it during the presale, Noland said.

“It’s a huge advantage,” she said of the presale. “It gives them the first pick on the best deals.”

The events are much like recycling in that consignors usually take the money they earn to turn around and purchase more clothes for their children. They are able to get rid of clothes their children have outgrown and purchase new items without spending much, if any, money out of pocket.

Rachel Drown first learned about consignment events four years ago when her daughter was born. She was a shopper at her first event, then she became a consignor. She also started her own business of making hair bows for her daughter and bow ties for her son. She sells those items at various places, including the consignment events.

“I was able to cover the cost of everything I spent plus some,” she said. “As a parent, it helps me get the money I need to buy a new wardrobe and put some money in my pocket for things you can’t get at the sales.”

SECRET TO THE SUCCESS
The Northwest Arkansas culture has really embraced the entire concept, Noland said.

“It’s the concept of families helping families and they really believe in it,” she said.

The economy has also led to consignment events becoming more popular.

“Families are looking for ways to be smart with their budget,” she said.

The ease of having all the various items in one location at one time is also a major factor.

“With garage sales, you drive all over town and there’s a lot of work and time spent for an unknown product,” she said. “When they come (to the events), they know there will be a great selection.”

MORE EVENTS
Rhea Lana’s may be one of the larger events in Northwest Arkansas, but they are far from the only one around. Fort Smith has hosted the Growing Kids Sale since 2003.

Operated by three siblings and their spouses, the event now has nearly 2,000 consignors each year, according to the website. Another popular consignment event is June Bugs Reruns, which offers events throughout the year, according to the website.

It was at some of these sales that Tresa Oldham first experienced consignment events. Her and her husband had just adopted a then-eight year old daughter and they wanted to get nice clothes for her at an affordable price.

“I had never heard of consignment sales before that but I went to Growing Kids in Fort Smith and it’s huge,” she said. “We went crazy and bought tons of stuff and they were mostly name brand.”

She then discovered the consignment events closer to home, including the White Elephant Exchange in Rogers. The couple that originally created the sale were trying to sell and the Oldhams decided to jump at the opportunity.

“This is an awesome opportunity to have this kind of business,” Oldham said. “We bought the business in November 2011 and decided to really ramp it up. Last year we had four or five events. Every time we had an event, we just grew. It was incredible.”

EVENT PREP
Creating the events are a lot of work and planning must start several months in advance. Consignors need the opportunity to clean out their closets and price their items, and marketing must be done to notify the public of the sale, she said. The event is operated similar to Rhea Lana in that it’s operated by volunteers who are rewarded by being able to shop the earliest.

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Oldham likened the consignment events to the area craft fairs in that having a specific event with a large number of items creates more interest, almost a frenzy. People also know that the events will be well-stocked whereas sometimes consignment stores can go through slower periods.

“People can find unbelievable brands for very reasonable prices,” she said.

Darci Johnson started out at Rhea Lana but now consigns and shops at many events in the area including White Elephant, June Bugs and Second Look in Elm Springs. She is also a member of a Moms of Multiples organization that hosts consignment events (she has twins).

“We didn’t have anything like this in South Dakota where I’m from,” she said. “We can go to these sales and get items that normally we would have to get from all different stores but they are all in one location. We can get items from upscale stores for affordable prices.

“It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s about trading out items as well as selling items to make money to feed the family.”

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