The Columbus resident might have been down for the moment, but she wasn't out. Karnotski decided a perfect fit for a recovering economy was a consignment shop.
Thus, in March 2010, she opened an upscale consignment boutique, called Chic Consignments, at 1648 Whittlesey Road, in the Bradley Park commercial area. It took off and the Tennessee native, 54, hasn't looked back. In fact, the shop has been a Ledger-Enquirer Reader's Choice Award every year of its existence.
Thus, the Ledger-Enquirer visited with Karnotski recently to talk about her job and what it's like running a consignment operation. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity, with an expanded version available at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
So the economy catapulted you into this line of work?
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With the state of the economy in 2010, this was like the perfect business to get into, and it still is today, of course. That and I also started it for my daughter, who was a recent graduate of UGA. But she is in her fifth year of teaching high school (at Northside in Columbus) now and loves that. So it's my business basically.
It was for your daughter, but you stick with it after she went in another direction?
I just really grew to enjoy it and the people I've met, I've made wonderful friends and it's just an all-around blessing. It wasn't exactly what I had planned, but ...
Did your decorating skills help you here? The chandeliers are a nice touch.
I did, but I don't get to use those skills as much because of all the pricing and the paperwork and the business end of it. But my passion is to do the displays.
What was life like as decorator?
It was wonderful as well because, again, I got to meet so many wonderful friends and just do a service for people, and see the happiness on someone's face when you change their home some. But I always respected what their likes were, not mine, because they lived there.
Would you ever go back to decorating?
I still have my previous clients ask me that often ... but this is pretty much life now.
Are you operating this pretty much by yourself?
My husband and daughter help when they can, but they both have full-time jobs. And I have a friend, Helen Medley, who helps me on Saturdays, a wonderful lady. But I'm pretty much independent and controlling, so it kind of works well. (laughs) And even if I'm not working here, I'm generally doing things at home for the business.
Is that typical for a boutique person?
I would think so. But I know there are a lot of boutique and consignment shops, too, where the owners are not there very often. They have staffs. But I enjoy it.
So it's not so much like a job?
It is, because there's a lot of responsibility, a lot of responsibility, that comes along with it.
Number one is paying the rent?
Yes, absolutely, keeping my landlord happy. But it's also just having so many consignors; it's so important that you keep up with all of that as well. It's not just customers like a regular boutique where you order from vendors. This (inventory) belongs to individual people ... At my last count, I had between 500 and 600 (consignors) since I've opened. But a lot of them are repeat. Some have moved.
What do folks typically come in to sell or consign?
I was in the larger space on the end, and I did have furniture at that time. But furniture, if it doesn't move fast, takes up some valuable real estate. But there's home décor, certainly apparel, and purses. You wouldn't believe how many purse addicts there are (laughs). And not just any purse typically ... Most go after the (major) brands.
What are some name brands you've sold?
We've had Louis Vuitton. We had a Chanel, Gucci, Prada. What we have now is Coach, Michael Kors, Brighton, Dooney & Bourke. We have Fossil, Liz Claiborne and J.Crew.
What about clothing?
We get a lot of Chico's, Talbots, Ann Taylor, because those stores are in the area. But we also have J.Crew and high-end jeans, maybe $200 jeans. And like the brands from Neiman Marcus, we had a St. John evening jacket that was new with a $1,700 tag on it from Nieman Marcus, and our price was $300.
It's important for you to know items are legitimate. Is it easy to tell if they're fake?
It's not always easy, no. Some have gotten much, much better with the knockoffs. But I know certain things to look for. And we are adamant that we do not take knockoffs.
You rarely have someone come in trying to peddle a counterfeit item?
I have people come in (and say), it was a gift. And I have in our 'how to consign' information that if you received it as a gift and cannot authenticate it, please do not bring it to us.
What do you sell the most?
Always the clothes, and I'm pretty particular about the clothing that we take. I want it to be more boutique-ish because we carry things that you can't find just anywhere else. We have consignors who go elsewhere and buy the brands that you cannot find in Columbus ... the weathier people, who travel a lot, they may buy things in New York, Europe, wherever, and eventually consign with us. But all of our things are not like that. We have one little high-end section. We have a lot of the regular brands, too, but still a little pricier.
So people just want to get rid of things and make some extra money?
If they want it at all. We get many, many, many things that are new with the tag. There's a Brooks brothers dress right there, new with a tag. Or some are new without the tag. Some may have ordered it online. When it arrived, it didn't fit. Or they bought it and didn't like it.
Are there a surprising number of folks who do that?
Well, I'm guilty of it. (laughs) But, yes, it is a little surprising.
How do you know what price to put on things?
The rule of thumb in the consignment business is it should start out at a third of retail, unless it's new with a tag, and then it's around half.
You mentioned the economy. Do you sense things are getting better from your business? Are people less prone to bring stuff in?
No. really it's pretty level ... In bigger cities, especially, people are familiar with consignment. But a lot of people in Columbus are not. They do not know what it is, or if they do, consignment shops used to have a stigma attached, like a thrift shop. And I'm adamant about not being called a thrift shop. But everybody shops here. I don't care what their last name is, I've been surprised. If it's new money, old money or no money, they shop here. It's like find a treasure; like with the brand thing, they can't find (these items) anywhere else in Columbus.
What's challenging about your job?
I think the biggest thing is getting the word out ... I always ask the new (consignors), please tell your family and friends, please like us on Facebook. Because, especially, with this busy street, it's a wonderful location, yeah. But the deal is there are so many entrances and exits, you pretty much have to look straight ahead when driving. I've had several friends tell me: I pass by here everyday and never noticed you.
You mentioned the biggest thing about the shop is it's a treasure hunt of sorts?
Absolutely. If you get a $300 dress for $30, and you were a woman, wouldn't you be thrilled. (laughs)
What is the most expensive thing you've ever sold?
We had a Chanel quilted purse, or bag, with the box, the card, everything, that would sell for around $3,500 that I sold for $950.
How do you know when something can't or won't sell, and what do you do with it?
The consignment agreement is for 90 days, so it has to stay here for 90 days. Then I just use my best judgment as to whether or not I want it to stay longer, if I think it still has a chance of selling. But I do give consignors the option of either picking up their unsold things or allowing us to donate them to Damascus Way, which is the women and children's shelter for Valley Rescue, or the Salvation Army.
And it's tax deductible for the consignor if you donate it?
Yes, I get a receipt for them.
What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It's the blessings. It's the people. I really said from the beginning that it's God's business, and it is. He has been faithful to pay the overhead from the beginning. He has sent people in here who are such blessings, and who are encouragers and who need big-time encouragement. And just to be able to talk about God, and play Christian music; we give away free Christian books that are donated to us. But it's the people, the people.
Name: Nancy Karnotski
Hometown: Erwin, Tenn., in northeast Tennessee
Current residence: Columbus
Education: 1977 graduate of Unicoi County High School in Erwin; took accounting courses at Steed College in Johnson City, Tenn., and received her paralegalism certificate from Columbus State University (Columbus College at the time)
Previous jobs: Former paralegal with a local law firm, and a former interior decorator (for 12 years)
Family: Edward, her husband of 34 years, and Whitney Karnotski, a teacher at Northside High School, and two family pets, Dixie, a 6-pound poodle, and Lee Lee, a calico cat
Leisure time: Enjoys doing home improvement chores around the house, and working in her yard