‘House of Consignment’ raises profile of Lincoln Park business
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org March 26, 2012 7:54PM
Corri McFadden gives a tour of the storage area of her designer-clothing consignment store, eDrop-Off, at 2117 N. Halsted. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times PHOTOS
Updated: April 28, 2012 8:05AM
Style maven Corri McFadden was walking home in the Gold Coast last week when a woman stopped her on the street.
“Are you on that show ‘House of Consignment?’ ” the stranger asked.
Earlier that day, McFadden fielded a few phone calls from people wanting her autograph.
“It’s really weird,” said McFadden, whose reality TV show debuted Wednesday on VH1. “You’re the same person you were yesterday or last week. Then you’re on TV, this switch flips, and suddenly you’re this idol.”
Already well-known in local fashion circles, McFadden, 30, now has a national profile, thanks to “House of Consignment.” The basic cable series revolves around McFadden and her wildly successful online consignment business, eDrop-Off, which auctions previously owned luxury clothes and accessories on eBay.
Cameras follow the photogenic entrepreneur as she runs her sartorial empire out of a chic Lincoln Park storefront. The cameras keep rolling as she makes house calls to Chicago socialites in need of a closet detox. Part stylist, part psychologist, McFadden helps clients let go of their lightly used Louis Vuitton bags, Prada pumps and Missoni dresses and finds new homes for these high-end items via eBay auctions.
If Chicago restaurateur Karyn Calabrese’s Azzedine Alaia wool skirt goes to the highest bidder for $521 — as it did on the show’s pilot — the seller takes 60 percent while eDrop-Off keeps the rest.
“On average, we sell about 200 pieces a day,” said McFadden, whose business grossed close to $5 million in sales last year.
Not bad for something that started as a senior-year project in fashion design school. The Kansas City native graduated with $37 in her checking account. She had nine employees in 2010. Now she has 37.
In the back of eDrop-Off’s hip headquarters on a recent weekday, a dozen staffers sit at a long white table, sorting through plastic tubs of shoes, dresses and jackets. They write detailed descriptions of each item to be posted online.
In an adjacent photo studio, shutterbugs snap images of the inventory from multiple angles so shoppers can get a good look. (Prospective buyers can drop by eDrop-Off at 2117 N. Halsted to try on items before making a purchase. Sellers can stop by without an appointment to drop off their goods, or McFadden will arrange to have items picked up for free.)
The online auctions last for seven days. If something doesn’t sell, it’s returned to the owner.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” said McFadden, a self-described “hustler” who learned how to turn a profit early by hawking Blow Pops to classmates in third grade.
“We sell about 97 percent of what we take in,” she said, “and we usually get 25 to 30 percent more for it than your average seller.”
When she started in the consignment business, she had a tough time getting those all-important word-of-mouth referrals. Her customers didn’t want their friends to know they were unloading their luxury goods for fear it made them look desperate.
McFadden knew she had to change that perception, doing her best to make women feel savvy, not shameful, about selling their possessions. She designed her shop along the lines of an upscale boutique, the kind of place where well-heeled customers would be comfortable, not embarrassed, running into one another. And she seized every opportunity she could — including a TV series — to show people that getting rid of their underutilized Armani and Versace not only makes financial sense, it makes more room in your closet for new stuff.
“Being on TV was never my dream,” she said. “I did this for my business, 100 percent.”
It’s a move that already has paid off in increased exposure for eDrop-Off.
On Thursday, the day after “House of Consignment” launched with back-to-back episodes, the company’s blog views doubled. Traffic to the website, shopedropoff.com, shot up nearly 1,000 percent, added McFadden, who picked up about 400 new Twitter followers in one night.
“House of Consignment” wasn’t the first time McFadden was approached about being on television. Several years ago, she was invited to audition for “The Bachelorette.”
“At the time I was single and had no interest in love. Now, I’m taken,” McFadden said. She lives with her boyfriend of three years, Spiro Tsaparas, CEO of Centaur construction company. The couple have two energetic yorkiepoos, Harley and Emma, who are better dressed than most humans.
About two years ago, McFadden got a call from producers who had read a story about her fashion business and thought it would make good TV. She agreed to give them two days to do a pilot. VH1 took a look and snapped it up.
The first season of “House of Consignment” was shot last summer and fall and features some beautiful footage of the city — and the city’s movers and shakers. High-profile locals who were filmed during production include socialites Lynn McMahan, Kristina McGrath, Toni Canada and Dusty Stemer, as well as singer Shelley MacArthur Farley and mayoral spokeswoman Tarrah Cooper.
McFadden said she doesn’t know how much, if any, air time the women will get because she hasn’t seen most of the season’s 10 episodes. She watched Wednesday’s premiere in high style at a viewing party at the James Chicago hotel.
“It was kind of surreal,” she said. “We had about 225 people there. I felt like I was having a wedding or something.”