Charlotte’s Web’s new owners add buyouts with consignments

| December 9, 2010
Charlotte's Web manager Patrick Gittings with co-owners Mary Pat Thompson and Jim Graven.

Charlotte's Web manager Patrick Gittings with co-owners Mary Pat Thompson and Jim Graven.

Sometimes a business opportunity doesn’t have to travel far to start knocking.

For three decades, James P. “Jim” Graven has been president of the Steepleton company, which manufactures custom-designed billiard equipment. The century-old business is the metro area’s representative for Jacuzzi hot tubs, and also does a brisk trade in bars, barstools and even basketballs.

After the Charlotte’s Web consignment store (4175 Lyndon Way) opened next door to Steepleton’s office in 1998, he noticed a steady stream of customers bringing items to sell, and just as many others coming to buy them. About two years ago, a couple of Charlotte’s Web employees mentioned to him that the store itself would be a great buy, if it ever came up for sale. When it did, 16 months ago, Graven and his business partner, Mary Pat Thompson, decided to give it a go.

“She told me, “˜It’s a nice place – it could work,’” Graven said. “And the next thing you know, we owned it.”

Since furniture and home decor aren’t Graven’s strong suit (“Mention Audubon to me and I think you mean a place to play golf”), he entrusted day-to-day operations of the new Charlotte’s Web to Thompson and manager Patrick Gittings, who already had considerable experience in the consignment industry. Their first tasks included upgrading the computer system, and incorporating manufacturer close-outs into the inventory.

“We wanted to get into the lawn-and-garden business, so I talked to people I knew and asked where the buyouts are,” Graven said. “Luckily, we got a great deal this past summer on outdoor furniture. All of it sold immediately. That gave us a taste for buyouts, so we began chasing down furniture outlets.”

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte’s Web currently has new recliners, sofas and other furniture, with microfiber or leather upholstery. One area is devoted to lighting fixtures.

For Christmas, the store purchased buyouts of artificial trees that are decorated with more lights than typical models. Santas with hand-sculpted faces, created by Hilton Head artist Lynda Hawley, sell for a fraction of the price collectors pay at Neiman Marcus. Potential stocking-stuffers include wine bottle stoppers in the fleur-de-lis motif beloved by Louisvillians.

“But we know that consignments are our bread and butter,” Graven said. “We have 3,200 active consignors, and we consider them to be 3,200 partners in this store. We will keep our consignors happy – without them, where would we be?”

In recent months, Charlotte’s Web has accepted items from several estates, including two from “high-dollar neighborhoods.” Cherry furniture by Davis awaits new owners near old-fashioned trunks that are ready to hold quilts and blankets.

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

“Most of our furniture is solid wood – better than you can find new in stores,” Thompson said. “We’re thinking of making our theme “˜Used, not abused, and some new.’ We won’t sell just any piece of furniture.”

Charlotte’s Web posts many consignment items on eBay, and has a larger advertising budget than most other stores of its kind.

“I’m hoping that Mary Pat, Patrick and I can take Charlotte’s Web to the next level before long,” Graven said. “We’re not sure what that level will be, but we’re going to find it.”

Charlotte’s Web is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.charlotteswebstore.com or call (502) 719-4444.

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