Queen City Emporium: A Lesson Learned

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today begins a special series on handmade artisans from around the nation. You may be asking why this is anything different from the normal spotlight I give to small business owners through my regular features on Etsy artisans and local talent from around here in Rochester.

Let me tell you a little bit about these men and women from around the USA. We all have formed an unusual bond because of our experiences with a boutique in Springfield, Missouri called The Queen City Emporium.

When I first started my jewelry business and had my site on the now defunct 1000 Markets, a woman named Kate made a post on the forums about how she was opening a boutique in Springfield for handmade artisans to sell their wares. If you've ever wondered how people get their items into boutiques, it's via consignment or wholesale. If you're selling wholesale, you set a minimum order (say $250 or something like that) and the wholesale cost is typically 50% of the retail price. You'd sell your items to a shopkeeper and then the items are theirs to price and sell at their discretion.

Another option is consignment. You work out a deal with the shop owner. You send them your items and price them and they would keep 30 or 40% of the cost (this is the norm...some might take more or less) and then send you the money via check or Paypal. 

This new artisan boutique in Springfield sounded wonderful. It was going to be located on historic "C Street" (Commercial Street) in an artsy neighborhood with galleries. It'd surely attract customers with an appreciation for handmade wares. This is what so many of us believed.

I was drawn when I saw the announcement from Kate about this boutique. My dad was the editor of the paper in that city when I was a teen and I had fond memories of my visits there. I thought it'd be cool to branch out beyond the Northeast. What a huge mistake.

I am one of many (more than 60 at last count) people who signed contracts with this business to consign. What happened to me is minor compared to some of these people who are now out thousands of dollars.

It was just a few things, thankfully, until I knew what type of business this was. I sent just under $200 in earrings, hair pins, rings, bracelets, and necklaces. 

They had the items well before their grand opening--they kept changing the date. The USPS website confirmed that they had received my jewelry in March. Once they received my jewelry, all communication ceased.

For months I heard NOTHING from these people. The store is actually a mother-daughter duo. I had no clue how I was doing. The contract stated that I would be paid monthly and receive an accounting of sales. This never happened. They refused to answer emails. FINALLY I heard back in late AUGUST. This is months after they received my package of jewelry. They said business was slow and they "didn't think" I had sold anything, maybe a ring or two but they couldn't remember!

I found this REALLY hard to believe since I sell pieces regularly at my other boutiques and online.

Anyway, more emails went unanswered and I received a rude email that they were returning my unsold merchandise and that our relationship was done.

I received a tattered box with some of my jewelry thrown in a Ziploc bag in a heap--twisted necklace chains, a broken stone of of earrings, etc. was the result.

In it was a check (which I had to return because it wasn't written out properly!) for $10.20. Seriously!!! TEN BUCKS which they had deducted miscellaneous fees and shipping from my supposed 60%. I was missing items--NOTHING was accounted for. This violated our contract on so many levels.

I was mad, but chalked it up to a learning experience. I figured this was an isolated incident. I was very wrong. It turns out there are 63 (and the number continues to grow) other artisans who are completely out their merchandise and have received nothing from this business. No money. The store has people's merchandise yet no one has been paid. 
Complaints have been filed with the Missouri Attorney General's Office and Better Business Bureau. This was a story on the Springfield ABC affiliate's 6 o'clock news last night. There are Facebook and Google groups of people who have been taken advantage of. Today, there is a story in the Springfield News-Leader. The bottom line is that when you total up the amount people have lost, it totals over $30,000. 
We are trying to find everyone who may have been affected by this. If you are a vendor who cannot get their merchandise back and have not been paid, please send me an email today. 
Now, folks, let's get back to these special vendors. Each day, I will show some of my favorite things from them. I'll be back later today with some favorites....Bear with me as I have a sick 7 year old at home today and have to pick up Ben from kindergarten soon, so I am taking a computer break for a bit.

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