June 4, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 7:24 am
Faces of Business

Tool consignment shop finds profitable niche

Photo / Steve Laschever
Photo / Steve Laschever
From his shop in West Hartford, Frank Kosovicz is busily selling used tools around the globe and thinking about expanding his consignment business.

The turning point in the second chapter of Frank Kosovicz's business life came when he realized he could turn one man's junk — in this case a load of sprinkler piping — into a $700 profit.

As a self-employed carpenter and contractor, Kosovicz ran his own business for 27 years, employing 18 people at its peak. On one assignment, a contractor left a pile of piping in the parking lot to be thrown out. Kosovicz had another idea. He sold it online.

As he began to think about getting out of the contracting business, Kosovicz also began selling off (online) a large stock of tools and equipment accumulated over the years. The cash flow from the sales was steady.

What if he started a business that bought and sold used tools, and used a model similar to consignment clothing stores in which customers would share in the proceeds of any item they brought to the shop to sell?

"From Day 1, I had no problem getting stock, inventory,'' Kosovicz said of his now-thriving business The Tool Consignment Store, located at 560 New Park Ave. in West Hartford. "From wood chippers and chain saws to buckets full of wrenches… I get way too many of those,'' he says with a hearty laugh.

Now in its third year, Tool Consignment has become the go-to place for handymen, contractors, weekend warriors, anyone looking to save a few bucks on used tools, rakes, shovels, saw blades, door locks and machinery such as lawn mowers, snow blowers and weed whackers. The shop even sells used books for machinists and carpenters.

Books sell for about a dollar. Prices on the other items are across the board. There is no haggling.

Of course, Kosovicz understands value and often buys items for resale through the shop. Recently, a back hoe loader was bought for $8,500. It was sold via eBay to a business in Norway for $10,000. On another occasion, Kosovicz bought a bucket truck (that helps with tree trimming and electrical wiring) at a city auction for $4,500. He sold it online for $8,000.

The business, however, is at heart a consignment store, which means customers bring in an item to sell and get paid (depending on the item) up to 60 percent of the purchase price. The customer who owns the item does not get paid until the item is sold.

His business does not use a dumpster. Just about everything gets recycled or sold for scrap. The shop's burgeoning online business has made transactions to Russia, China and Mexico. The clientele at New Park Avenue is diverse. It includes a large segment of immigrants — Mexicans, Indians, Eastern Europeans, West Indians — who are working as carpenters. One Guatemalan customer, according to Kosovicz, regularly comes in with an old truck, fills it with tools, then drives to Mexico. The man then sells everything — truck included — and flies back to the United States.

About 20 percent of Tool Consignment clients are now women, Kosovicz notes. Many are unloading tools and equipment from their husband or ex-spouse's garage.

Business profits, Kosovicz said, doubled in year one; and increased 50 percent in Year 2. He believes his consignment tool shop is the only one of its kind in the state. There may be stores that sell used tools, he said, but he has found none that has consignment agreements with its customers.

"This kind of business; there could be a dozen of them in the state of Connecticut,'' said Kosovicz, 55, a Hartford native and married father of four girls. "I could expand, but I don't have as much energy as I used to. Instead of expanding, which I really should be doing, I really would like to find the right person to take over my business.''

Wiry, engaging and extremely knowledgeable about tools and construction, Kosovicz's energy level belies the seriousness of his health dilemma. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood, two years ago and underwent a bone marrow transplant last September. The cancer is in remission now, though doctors say it will likely resurface in about five years. He still takes monthly chemotherapy treatments.

"I'm at a crossroads — and it's scary,'' Kosovicz concedes. "I've been in good shape my whole life. I thought I was younger than my 55 years because I was in great shape. But it changes you so fast when you get sick like that. You start feeling weak, old — and you're looking at death."

Quality time with family is a priority, as well as attending to his hobbies — gardening, painting pictures and short bicycle rides.

Despite the sobering health reality, Kosovicz's wit remains sharp. For example, when security cameras discovered that a regular customer was actually pocketing some of the store items, Kosovicz placed a picture of the man's face on the cash register. The ominous hand-written caution reads: "This man was caught stealing from us. Don't steal. You will get caught.''

He was more disappointed, than angry, that a man he considered he considered a loyal regular would actually steal from him.

"I love working for him,'' said store manager Arlene Sellitto. "He's a great guy. When I started, I didn't know one tool. And Frank would say that's OK; if you're willing to learn one thing a day, you'll be OK. He's so patient and he's a good teacher. A lot of our customers are looking for advice on how to do small projects, or what's the best tool for a small project. Frank's knowledge is so helpful.''

He knows now that his improbable tool consignment business is ripe for expansion.

Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FoxCT) and senior executive adviser at the Hartford Journalism & Media Academy. His 'Faces of business' column appears monthly. Know someone who'd make a good subject for 'Faces of business'? Contact Simpson at Faces@stansimpson@comcast.net.

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