TAMPA -- The Missing Piece fills a hole in local furniture shopping scene, and now the company is setting out to franchise its formula through the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
Since opening five years ago, the upscale furniture consignment shop in Britton Plaza has increased its revenue more than threefold and more than doubled its floor space.
Barbara Batsavage co-owns the company with her daughter, Candace Blackburn. Batsavage, who had worked in real estate for years, and Blackburn, a former computer industry recruiter, decided they wanted to work together and spent six months brainstorming, focusing on what in their daily lives "there is a demand for that is not being met," Batsavage said. They decided to draw on their shared passion for decorating.
They figured with entire television channels devoted to home redecorating and interest in decorating on a shoestring budget, they would have a hit.
The pair selected Britton Plaza because they "understood quite clearly, it's very risky to be a destination site," Batsavage said. Instead, they decided to settle into a shopping plaza with tenants like Stein Mart and Tuesday Morning, where the focus is on saving money.
Initially they started out with an 8,500-square-foot location. They spent about $100,000 with most going to purchase a delivery truck.
For merchandise, they put fliers on the shop door a couple of months before opening, saying they were looking for furniture to be consigned. The merchandise rolled in with the pair offering a 50-50 sales split.
They arranged the furnishings in vignettes so customers could see the scale of a sofa to a bookcase, accenting the arrangements with lamps, pillows and rugs. It's a sharp contrast to many consignment shops that simply sets out a row of armoires or beds and makes customers figure out what goes with what.
The vignettes "make it easy for shoppers who might not have tremendous imagination," Batsavage said.
Just as the merchandise flowed in, so did the customers, and during the first year of operation The Missing Piece had revenue of nearly $800,000. Soon they needed more room, and in June 2005 they opened up a second storefront at Britton Plaza, giving them a total of about 20,000 square feet.
Nationwide, sales at consignment and similar shops are on the rise, though not nearly at as brisk a pace. According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, there are no hard and fast figures for industry sales, but executive director Adele Meyer said it's a multibillion-dollar industry and is growing at about 5 percent per year.
Furniture is one of the fastest-growing segments. Baby boomers who are downsizing may consign their goods, while college students and young couples may be buying this furniture to outfit their new residences.
Economic uncertainty also has an impact. "People are looking for ways to save, so they go to resale" outlets, Meyer said.
At The Missing Piece, about 80 percent of the merchandise is consigned by customers, while the rest comes from places like furniture stores that are going out of business. "It's a pleasant surprise that businesses all over Florida consign," she said.
The Missing Piece has 10 employees, and a moving company it subcontracts with to make deliveries and move merchandise on and off the shop floor.
Batsavage said no particular type of furniture sells better than the others. Because it isn't a traditional furniture store with one or two buyers selecting merchandise, The Missing Piece carries a bit of everything from this season's furniture to antiques.
The next step is setting up franchises. Batsavage and Blackburn spent the past year working to re-create all their systems and put everything down in writing. They've already had a number of inquiries. One deal that was in the works fell through; now another one is under way.
Batsavage and Blackburn will control where the new stores are located, and think Sarasota and Clearwater might be prime locations.
Unlike franchisers who simply exist to sell their franchises, the pair wants control over what happens next. "I don't want someone to buy a franchise until I've vetted it," Batsavage said.
Business: The Missing Piece
Address: 3584 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa 33611
Nature of business: Furniture consignment shop