Never (almost) pay retail

We’ve never been boys to pay over the odds for anything. When we bought our Toronto condo, for example, we were lucky enough that the owner was keen to sell (allowing us to secure a favourable deal). And when we shipped our new vintage car from Arizona, a little negotiation allowed us to undercut the market nearer to home.

We’ve never been boys to pay over the odds for anything. When we bought our Toronto condo, for example, we were lucky enough that the owner was keen to sell (allowing us to secure a favourable deal). And when we shipped our new vintage car from Arizona, a little negotiation allowed us to undercut the market nearer to home.

In doing so we saved around 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. With economics as they are, it makes sense to save cash wherever possible.

Besides, as we regularly counsel during our TV shows and live appearances, no one ever got rich by spending money.

Our own interest in saving money, it should be reported, goes way back. Twenty years past, for example, we made the acquaintance of a wonderful Glasgow couple called Vera and Gerald Weisfeld, late middle-agers with a string of successful stores called What Every Woman Wants. Following a similar business model to Toronto’s legendary Honest Ed’s, WEWW represented terrific value and, indeed, predated many of today’s cut-price stores, which now dominate high streets everywhere.

Chatting with Gerald and Vera they explained when economic times toughened, they’d actually see a growth in turnover, attributable, they reckoned, to the arrival of a richer (but somewhat compromised) demographic who wouldn’t normally frequent their aisles.

Some may suggest it’s because we’re Scottish (and therefore appreciative of value) that we eternally chase deals. We prefer to think it’s simply because we’re creative and like a challenge.

We love to find jewels to polish, or items that can be employed in different ways than the purpose for which they were intended. So, next time you see us in Ikea at the customer returns section, give us a friendly wave and say hi. Just don’t try getting your hands on whatever it is we’re trying to secure on discount!

Just as WEWW saw an upturn in business when times were lean, so, too, does the consignment store community run even more efficiently when the economy is tighter. From a buyer’s perspective consignment store products are competitively priced, and from a seller’s perspective there is cash to be made.

If you’re unfamiliar with the consignment store model, allow us to explain. Between the operator (the store) and the consigner (a customer who wishes to sell something), terms are set. Most popularly consigned are soft furnishings, case goods and crockery, with quality clothing taking a smaller share of the market.

Let’s say you have an antique dresser which you’d like to sell. If the consignment store is happy to take it, a price is agreed upon and profits are split 60/40 in your favour. At the end of 60 days, if your item remains unsold, a 10 per cent reduction will be applied with the ticket price continuing to drop by 10 per cent each month until someone snaps up the deal. Different companies, of course, work on different scales, but this gives you an idea.

The “price drop till sold” routine is a potentially exciting model, especially for buyers, where a degree of standoff can result in a serious bargain. Procrastination, however (and this is worth considering), can lose the deal to a more impulsive shopper. As a rule, we advise clients to decide what they’d ideally like to pay, but also to be realistic about how much more they’d have paid had they known someone else was about to purloin the item by paying current ticket price.

Ticket price aside, consigned furniture is often of wonderful quality and can represent better value than that sourced in regular second-hand or antique stores. Some stock may have been consigned in bulk (the contents of a closing hotel, for example, or one that’s having a refit), while other merchandise may have been dealt by members of the public who’re downsizing or tackling a new decorative scheme.

While taping Home Heist, we plundered many consignment stores to harness our budgets and we’ve seldom been disappointed. While planning a gold and black living room, for example, we unearthed former hotel curtains for just $15 per panel; lined and in perfect condition, they needed only minor cropping and, being that the deal was so good, we bought an extra set that our sewing angels fashioned into toss pillows and throws. For another project, we bought a pair of night stands and a round occasional table, all for a grand total of $100.

In their original incarnation they were scratched oak and singularly unexciting, but after careful sanding and painting they were reborn in monochrome tones as a funky modern compliment to an otherwise traditional Toile de Jouy scheme.

Cross Canada, there’s a growing landscape of consignment stores but one of the best, without doubt, is Around The Block, a deal mecca with a stellar reputation for affordable luxuries. Specializing in home furniture, china and silverwares, Around The Block carries marvellous merchandise, although reporting this on an exact price basis is somewhat tricky due to rapid turnover.

Deals we’ve spotted over the last few weeks, however, include an art deco dresser that started its consignment journey at $395 before being discounted to just $276. Similarly, a Victorian oak wardrobe priced at $1,200 ultimately sold, three weeks in, for $1075. On the other hand, an $800 mid-century credenza (on which we had our eye for a very fussy client) sold the week it arrived at original ticket price.

Chewing the fat last week with owner Warren Hales, we got the skinny about Around The Block, a business that’s going from strength to strength. “People visit with extraordinary expectations of slashed prices but, as the owner, I’ve got a responsibility to keep both sides of the table happy. Pricing is competitive but I also need to ensure our consignors achieve a fair appraisal of value. At the end of the day I want everyone to be happy.”

Having visited the store it would be hard to imagine anyone not being happy; the inventory, after all, spans modern, traditional, retro and, well, pretty much every period and style you care to imagine. “As much as we’re known for furniture, one of our best deals is always good quality china. I mean, come on, I’ve got eight-piece settings of Royal Worcester and Staffordshire dinner services for as little as $175. Just try pricing them new! My policy is never to over-price and that way I keep stock moving.”

With a revolving inventory of around 4,000 items, Warren is kept very busy. “We sell around 70 per cent of everything within 60 days, which means that nearly three quarters of people achieve their expected price.”

Mesmerized by talk of bargains, we inquire as to Warren’s average buyer. Quick as a flash, he responds “There’s no such thing; we get them all in here. Because we also trade from our website, and because we happily ship cross Canada, we’ve really opened up our market. Around The Block product actually goes everywhere. I’ve sent furniture to Britain and this very week I’m shipping an antique screen to Shanghai.”

We wonder, also, whether foot traffic is buoyed by growing interest in the environment. “Without a doubt,” comes the response, “People, more than ever, are looking for environmentally sustainable ways in which to update their homes, and by shopping consignment they pander to their eco-friendly conscience. And of course that in turn can fill their pockets.”

Pausing for a moment, he adds, “If a client is bored with a piece or simply wants to try a new look at home, then isn’t it nice to make a little money by selling on rather than sending it to the dump?”

“My best advice is that your readers come in or scan my website as often as possible. What we have at the start of the day, after all, is often rather different to what you’ll find by close of play. What is it they say? Oh yes, the early bird catches the first worm.”

If you want to capitalize, in whichever part of Canada you’re reading this, we suggest being quick off the mark. And, while you’re at it, prepare to be seduced; we reckon you’ll be hooked from the moment you jump online.

Having a stylish abode is less about how much money you spend and more about how (and where) you spend it. Now, if you’ll excuse the pun, isn’t that the perfect “consign” of the times?

Around The Block,, 150 Lesmill Rd., 416-546-1760, or follow on Twitter @AroundTheBlock1 for daily updates on new arrivals.

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are the hosts of HGTV’s Colin & Justin’s Home Heist and the authors of Colin & Justin’s Home Heist Style Guide, published by Penguin Group (Canada). Follow them on Twitter @colinjustin or on Facebook (ColinandJustin). Check out their new candle range at Contact them through their website,