How to

How to Say “No” to Consignors

Jon Staab

Jul 7, 2023

Something you'll have to do a lot is say, "No".

I estimate that I take an average of 5-10 percent of the items I look through. When I started out, I feared saying no. New consignments are the life-blood of your business: without a steady supply you have nothing to sell!

The Cost of Not Saying "No"

But if you take items indiscriminately, that will also hurt your business. You'll spend a lot of time & money on entering things into inventory, moving things around, and finally returning things that hurt customer perception of the quality of your store. People will start to see the same things on repeat visits, and will think you rarely have any new inventory.

Once I realized just how costly it was to take things I wasn't sure about, it became a lot easier to say no. And as I said no, I realized people respected it -- it gave them the sense that I really only took things I thought I could sell.

And in our first 1,000 consignors, I've only had one person become upset about saying "No". I think he had everything dry-cleaned before bringing it in -- a costly investment! (Often, I will tell people that if they think things need to be dry cleaned to bring them in first, and then they can decide to dry clean only the items I can accept.)

A lot of this is a function of personality. For a small business owner, I don't have a very strong one. I don't enjoy confrontation and I dislike disappointing people. Having a business has been a growing experience, to say the least! The challenge is to become more assertive while remaining gracious.

But there are a few phrases I've found helpful to explain to people why you can't take some of their items.

Some phrases that mean "no":

  • The first, of course, is to tell people that you estimate you only take 5% of the items you see. (Adjust to your percentage --- it will definitely vary for your area/customer base). People will be surprised at this, but if they've noticed the strong selection of your store it will make sense to them.

  • Explain to people you generally look for brand-name items no more than 3 years old.

  • "This looks really well loved!" if it's really worn out.

  • "I don't have a market for this/my customers won't appreciate this," if it doesn't fit with your customer base.

  • "Thank you for thinking of us, please feel free to bring in items anytime," if you can't take many (or any!) of the items.

  • Be empathic. Say something positive about the item, and then the reason you can't take it. "This is a wonderful color, but we have trouble selling polyester items."

Saying "No" Ensures Quality

It's important to note that you want to provide only enough reasons to satisfy the consignor's inquiry. Don't overwhelm them with a barrage of all your selection criteria. Also resist setting the precedent of going through every item and explaining why you don't want it. People will try to talk you into taking things!

People will sometimes say, "What's the harm in trying to sell this? It won't cost you anything." But it will -- a surprising amount of time, effort, and potential ding to your business's perception. You don't need to explain this -- if you try to explain, you are just opening a negotiation. Be kind but firm -- you're the world's foremost expert on your store, after all!

This is also yet another way to differentiate you from the host of consignment stores who don't say no. If you walk into a consignment store and can't tell what criteria they use to select their items, chances are they don't have any!

Sometimes it's easy to say no. If someone is difficult now, chances are they'll be more difficult later. Give yourself the gift of no. Sometimes people will bring you a bag of bras and underwear.  Use the list of "no's" above to practice saying no with the same even-ness and graciousness under every circumstance.

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