Secondhand business

Twice-a-year consignment sales become popular event

When Amber Ramp found out she was expecting her second child, she decided she had to make some changes.


Ramp wasn't prepared to again leave a 6-week-old baby to return to work full-time, so she decided to get creative.

"When we found out I was pregnant with my second daughter, we knew we had to supplement our income somehow, and we had a family friend who at that point had a small consignment sale in Charlotte, N.C.," Ramp said. "So I went up there and asked her questions and saw what she did and what I could do. My first sale, I was 37 weeks pregnant, and I knew I had to start it then or it would never happen."

Wee-Peats Children's Consignment was born in spring 2007 and had its first sale in the National Hills shopping center.

The temporary business sets up shop in an empty retail outlet twice a year -- once for a spring/summer sale and once for a fall/winter sale. It operates using a consignment model, relying on parents unloading their used children's clothes and equipment.

Wee-Peats also depends on volunteers, who receive an extra 10 percent on the items they consign for giving their time.

Consignors can earn an extra 5 percent for referring two friends who register to consign. Registration costs $12 per person.

Since its opening, Wee-Peats has grown from 50 to 275 consignors. It will feature more than 150,000 items at its public sale Wednesday through Saturday at 596 Bobby Jones Expressway.

"I love what I do. I love our sale. I love the people who are with us," Ramp said. "I have consignors and volunteers who have been with me since the very first sale and they have literally become family."

Wee-Peats' birth

Ramp was logging 60 to 70 hours a week at a transportation company where she was office manager and wanted to devote more time to her girls.

However, leaving her job meant the family would be without health insurance covered by an employer. Her husband, Lyn Ramp, works as a real estate appraiser and at a car stereo shop.

The goal of the consignment business was to supplement their income enough to cover health insurance.

The semi-annual sale started out slow the first couple of years, but then the Ramps made some adjustments to their business model -- and the economy began to falter.

The economic downturn drove home the importance of frugality for many people, Ramp said.

"I'm also from a very large family -- I have 10 siblings -- so we know the importance of consignment and recycling and getting the use of every dollar possible," she said.

Lyn Ramp said his wife's business sense and personality have helped Wee-Peats become successful.

"She is very, very giving and very hardworking," he said. "She has good ideas, and she's really good with money. We pinch where we have to pinch and put money where we have to put money."

The sale is different from other outlets, said Joy Wilson, who met Ramp at her second sale.

"How many of us have children that barely touch the clothes before they go out of style?" Wilson said. "She gives people so much control over the price, and you know what you will get in return."

When Wee-Peats opens now, there is a line of at least 90 people waiting on the first day, Ramp said.

"It's an event. It's not just, 'Let's go to the store and buy a pair of jeans.' It's something people save for months for," she said. "This is something they've planned. They've gone through their closet. They've measured their children. They are ready."

The money earned from Wee-Peats is enough now to pay for health insurance, plus some bills and the girls' education at Columbia County Christian Academy.

Lessons learned

Some adjustments had to be made before Wee-Peats could be profitable, Ramp said.

She originally gave all consignors a 70 percent cut of their sold products -- above the average for most consignment businesses -- but found that people had no incentive to volunteer and that it was harder for the business to make it into the black.

So she devised the sale's current plan of offering volunteers an extra percentage back on their items and for referring additional consignors.

She also learned she couldn't make everyone happy all the time.

"Even if it was one person out of 200 that was unhappy, I believed that was a failure to me," she said. "I realized as it got bigger that as long as I can be myself and do the right thing that I can't please everyone. At the end of the day, if I am who I am and am loving and respectful to them, they will come back."

One of the hardest parts of the sale is finding a retail location every six months. Almost inevitably, Wee-Peats has to find a new location each time because the last location will be leased, Ramp said.

"A lot of times we are a good luck charm because we get into a building and then it gets rented out," she said jokingly.

The hunt for a location begins four to six months before the sale. Insurance and other permits also have to be secured. About 10,000 fliers are distributed, but word-of-mouth is crucial to the sale's success, Ramp said.

Giving back

Wee-Peats gives items that aren't bought and are marked for donation to charities and needy families in the area.

"We do our very best to actually take the clothes and donate them to families or local charities," Ramp said. "We do a lot of church closets, we do a lot of foster cares and we do a lot of needy families -- whether it's been a fire, a loss of a job or a husband's in jail -- whatever it may be."

Each Saturday of the sale, there is a "dollar dash" from 2-4 p.m. where marked items go for $1 -- and all proceeds go to charity.

Outside vendors such as Mary Kay, Pampered Chef and parents who make boutique products such as headbands also sell their products at the Wee-Peats sale.

"This is my ministry, and this is something that I and my family have been blessed with," Ramp said.

Amber Ramp

TITLE: Owner of Wee-Peats Children's Consignment

BIRTH DATE: Feb. 8, 1981 in Charleston, S.C.

EDUCATION: Augusta Christian Schools, 1999

FAMILY: Husband, Lyn; children, Isabella, 5, and Sadie, 3

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Spin instructor and personal trainer for Fitness Gallery and member of Genesis Church

HOBBIES: Spinning