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Supports for the secondhand sector: Q&A with Coast Consignment, part 2
Photo: Teddy Yang/Pexels

Supports for the secondhand sector: Q&A with Coast Consignment, part 2


Educating shoppers on the secondhand market is important but the sector needs more help from regulators, says Tina Beer Hamlin, owner of Coast Consignment

Ed. note: If you missed part one of our interview with Tina Beer Hamlin at Coast Consignment, read it here: Valuing vintage furniture: Q&A with Coast Consignment

Part two, below, covers the selling side of Coast Consignment’s business.

Coast Consignment might be situated next to one of the most affluent districts in Canada, but running a secondhand furniture shop comes with big costs no matter where it’s located.

Tina Beer Hamlin’s store is in North Vancouver— next door to West Vancouver, an area saturated with multi-million-dollar homes. Since 2004, homeowners in the area looking to downsize have tapped the shop to handle the selling of their prized furniture, art and antiques, meaning Coast Consignment carries a lot of high-quality inventory.

One recent example: a brand-new but pre-owned Italian-made sofa is listed at $16,000 in Coast Consignment’s showroom. (Actual retail price? $25,000.) At a 50 per cent commission, the shop’s fee for rehoming that sofa will be $8,000, with the consignor taking the other half.

But with overhead costs of a 7,000-square foot showroom in one of Canada’s most expensive real estate markets, advertising and marketing, salaries, insurance and other admin fees, the take-home for Coast Consignment is far less.

And it’s not every day one sells a $16,000 item. Luxury isn’t the only thing on the inventory list at Tina’s shop, which offers home furnishings and decor at a variety of price points. At the time of this writing, the range was $12-$9,995.

“We're one big family here, and we’re really lucky,” says Tina Beer Hamlin, owner of Coast Consignment, of the team. Most employees have been with the company between 10 and 13 years. Photo: Coast Consignment

Here, Tina gives us insight into what she sells, how market conditions have affected running her shop, and what she wants to see from the government when it comes to supporting the secondhand sector.

Tell us a bit about your inventory at Coast Consignment.

Tina Beer Hamlin: We love furniture, fabrics and textiles, and we like things that are timeless and classic. That doesn’t mean that we’re interested in only traditional items, though! Timeless and classic to us is like the Eileen Gray side table that was designed in 1937. A lot of the modernist movement. We work hard to bring something in for everybody’s style.

We are probably down to about 30 per cent stock on antiques. Of course in this business, vintage is anything that’s basically 30 years to 99 years, so we do carry a lot of vintage goods. And we do bring in new modern stuff, too. But I am always looking for higher-quality vintage goods — when it comes to furniture, things like Ligne Roset, Roche Bobois. Any of the mid-century makers and manufacturers.

We offer a more high-end collection here, so we tend to have interior designers among our clients. We also offer professional appraisal services in addition to our retail sales, so we take care of insurance or probate estate, divorce, that sort of thing. I don’t push it too much because it takes a lot of time and I want to focus on the retail sales!

How do you attract your clients?

TBH: We used to advertise more for consignors, but we haven’t had to do that in years. A lot of it is word of mouth for us. Angela and I work to have a super transparent, honest company. I let people know exactly how much it’s going to cost them to put their item through with us, as well as any additional costs for shipping or getting the items to us in store.

I use a template that goes out every time I do an appraisal for someone online, and it’s always the same no matter who the client is. They get all the information upfront so they can make a decision that works for them. Maybe they would be better off selling it privately. Maybe they would be better off sending it to auction. I give them the opportunity to know exactly how it’ll work with us.

How has your sourcing pool shifted over the last few years?

TBH: I welcome competition here because I think it encourages people to shop this way more. We mostly have specialty vintage stores here, and then most of those are directed towards mid-century modern.

We noticed in the last two years that those prices started to go down again, and that’s because the market became absolutely flooded with mid-century. So many companies like CB2, West Elm and Article were doing reproductions. Now you can get this look without actually having to buy the original thing.

“It’s a very costly endeavour to try to have traffic increase on our website, to go up in the ratings and be visible more.” — Tina Beer Hamlin, Coast Consignment

I think there’s room for more [consignment stores] in the market. Is it a little bit harder to source stuff? It can be, because people are able to research themselves now online. There’s more demand for the good stuff. There are more people out there — resellers who are looking to buy things off MaxSold or Facebook Marketplace.

When I can see that some items are getting artificially inflated, I back off from looking. I wait for things to come to me for the most part. I find that works best. I’m always surprised to see what comes in every week.

What are some of the items you’ve seen that have been artificially inflated because of demand?

TBH: Something I started seeing in the last year on MaxSold was there would be the odd fabulous chair from the ’70s or ’80s that if you were buying it to resell, there’s no way you were going to make any money on it. But I’ve still seen people competing for things like that.

Mid-century was also still really high, especially if it was a proper maker. You’re not going to make much margin off that if you’re trying to resell it. Some of those prices got really too high and weren’t realistic anymore.

What’s been your biggest challenge running the shop?

TBH: One is search engine optimization and trying to make sure that people are seeing our website from all over the world. That’s challenging.

It’s a very costly endeavour to try to have traffic increase on our website, to go up in the ratings and be visible more. I’m trying to learn SEO but as a small business owner, we’re wearing way too many hats and something’s gotta give!

I would really like to increase international sales from other countries. Our prices on important items are nothing compared to what you might find on 1stDibs.com, Chairish or Etsy, but getting [furniture] shipped seems to be very impossible for me.

“We’re really trying to help people to understand how they can incorporate vintage and antiques into their contemporary interiors.” — Tina Beer Hamlin, Coast Consignment

The paperwork is intense, especially going into the U.S. I shipped a vintage screen for an L.A. film producer and made mistakes with that — it cost us more than what we got for the screen just to ship it down there with the amount of duties and fees that had to be paid.

On my website, I can’t have a “Buy Now” button, because I can’t just say it’s going to cost *this* much to ship to wherever you are. It varies so much, and I feel like I’m being held back by logistics and shipping issues!

I’ve tried to approach shipping companies, but it’s too difficult because every item is different. It isn’t an issue to ship china and artwork — anything small is not a problem. We tried shipping for a while — we sold a table down to the U.S. and it got destroyed in the shipping process. It’s incredibly frustrating.

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The government has cut red tape for some industries to sell more easily across the border, but logistics and exporting do seem to be consistent issues for the retail sector.

TBH: [Canadian consignment stores] have a lot to offer across the world right now. I’d like to have more buy-in from the government [on shipping].

The other thing I’d like to see is only one tax on resold goods. The impact secondhand has environmentally is so much less — there’s less packaging, there’s less carbon footprint without manufacturing.

Having one less tax would make a huge difference for us. We’re fine with paying the GST, but let’s wipe out the provincial sales tax. That’s seven per cent in B.C. All the taxes are an additional 12 per cent for people who are buying from me, so they have to consider that when deciding to make a purchase.

“I'll just keep working at my business challenges,” says Tina Beer Hamlin, owner of Coast Consignment. “Being able to talk to people that are in the industry and who understand it is always nice!” Photo: Coast Consignment

How has the real estate market in Vancouver affected your business?

TBH: Our rent is insanely high! Five figures per month in rent is my largest expense. It makes me sweat when we’re having a rough month. I would have loved to have been able to buy this building, but frankly, I don’t have the cash to do it.

For two years running, we’ve been certified as a living wage employer in Vancouver from the Living Wage for Families British Columbia organization.

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to hold on to that next year because [cost of living will] go up again, but it’s incredibly important to Angela and I to provide an environment where people come to work and are able to pay their mortgages and rent and have a vacation every year and buy a vehicle.

What other things have challenged you as a furniture consignee in the Vancouver market?

TBH: A lot of our clients have moved here from Ontario. I get a lot of fabulous pieces from them via The Art Shoppe or Elte or Ginger’s [in Toronto]. When I go out there, I see the good stores and I know what I’m looking at! I wish that we had the Toronto market in Vancouver but we’ll get there.

In Vancouver, we just don’t have the architecture for antiques and vintage before 1960. We’ve gotten rid of all of our heritage homes and our heritage buildings. Everything is basically ultra-contemporary modern glass boxes in the sky, or even glass-box homes.

They’re very contemporary — you can’t take all the antiques and make them work. You can take an antique and make it work, but usually not a whole roomful of them.

So we’re really trying to help people to understand how they can incorporate vintage and antiques into their contemporary interiors.

How are you helping shoppers understand that?

TBH: Through our marketing, through sharing photos on social media, especially from some of our favourite magazines. My mother and I go to Veranda Magazine, House Beautiful and Architectural Digest because we find that they show more of a mix of interiors with a good selection of furniture in their homes. They haven’t gone with just one style.

We are trying to get people to think outside of the box, because we did really get into the cookie-cutter thing here in Vancouver for about 15 years.

If we had been only an antique store [and not also selling vintage and pre-loved contemporary], we wouldn’t be here. It’s extremely important for vintage sellers to continually monitor what’s trending and what people are looking for, and to educate people on how to make those products work.

What do you love about running a furniture consignment shop?

TBH: It’s a really satisfying industry to be in. I love all the people we meet. I love going to other stores that do what we do and talking to them.

We sell to a lot of other vendors as well, because if they have a smaller boutique store, they might be able to get more than we can for a certain item. It all depends on how you’re merchandised and what your specialties are.

The more the merrier in this business, in my opinion. It’s important to educate people that secondhand is a wonderful resource for interior design, for furnishing your place and for making a unique space for yourself.

Find Coast Consignment online


This interview has been condensed.

Read part one of our interview with Tina at Coast Consignment, where we discuss valuing vintage furniture and the benefits of consignment.

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