A consignment store may seem like an unlikely million-dollar business-that is, until you look at Consignment Plus Home Furnishings Inc. at No. 50 on our 1998 list. Patti Evans, 46, and her brother Tom Hunter, 41, have broken the boundaries of their industry by building stores in the affluent San Francisco Bay area and treating them, in all respects, like normal furniture stores, focusing on display and customer service. "When in the past you heard of a used furniture store, you automatically associated it with a thrift store," says Evans. "From the very beginning, we were very careful to create this environment that was a more traditional approach. Our stores are carpeted; they're painted with the newest colors. We have designers on our staff who do our displays, and oftentimes they work so well, a customer will buy all the furniture [in a display]."
Evans entered the consignment field after 20 years in the utility industry; her company was downsizing and she seized the opportunity to use her severance package and education (she has a B.A. in interior design) to become an entrepreneur. "People-due to moving, downsizing [their homes], remodeling or just redecorating-had this wonderful furniture that they simply no longer had a need for," says Evans, whose company made $4.1 million in sales last year and expects more than $5.5 million this year. "They didn't want to have a garage sale; they don't have time. So we saw an opportunity to set up a consignment furniture business."
Since opening their Walnut Creek, California, store in 1996, the partners have added a Pleasanton, California, location and plan to expand even further. "The difficulty of expansion is internal control," says Hunter, who first entered the business when they opened the second location in 1997. "When you start spreading the management more thin, it becomes more difficult to keep consistency. Once we get to the point [of three or four locations,] it's gonna be a test for the systems that we have in place. And once we successfully do that, then it's possible to seek other expansion avenues."