Why Designer Handbag Reseller Marque Luxury Is Opening Brick-and-Mortar Showrooms

Marque Showroom

High-end goods reseller Marque Luxury is bucking the trend of moving away from brick-and-mortar sites, augmenting its online platform for used designer handbags, accessories and jewelry by adding showrooms in New York and other major U.S. cities.

Quentin Caruana, founder and president of Marque, which buys and sells used designer goods

“This is a unique product type, [and] the biggest variable is condition. Having the ability to touch and feel the product is so important that it becomes difficult for customers to buy online,” said Quentin Caruana, founder and president of Marque, which buys and sells used designer goods made by brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Marque recently opened a Manhattan showroom – its fifth physical site added in the past 18 months – and will cut the ribbon on a sixth one in Dallas on Feb. 1. The firm, which sells to both wholesale and retail customers, also expects to add about four additional U.S. showrooms and two fulfillment centers during 2021.

A Growing Market 

The four-year-old company’s expansion comes as markets for both luxury goods and secondhand items are booming. Sales of many luxury items are growing as consumers who can’t travel or dine out due to the pandemic reallocate those dollars to high-end retail.

Meanwhile, a recent study by online consignment platform thredUP and GlobalData Retail estimated the secondhand apparel market will more than double from 2019 levels to hit $64 billion by 2024.

Marque is tapping into the crossroads of the luxury and resale markets by selling high-end fashion accessories to both retail and wholesale customers.

According to Caruana, the firm finds, grades and buys high-end used handbags and other accessories around the world, weeding out counterfeits through both visual inspection and software that compares microscopic photos of used products to those of authenticated versions.

He said part of the reason for opening showrooms is to create a place where experts can inspect items that consumers bring to sell, allowing the company to both spot counterfeits and grade a piece’s condition. Caruana said the industry uses a grading system that “is really subjective and based on your own personal determination” – meaning visual inspection is key.

Marque’s showrooms also host special events for consumers, serving as sites where the company’s roughly 1,000 wholesale customers can hold video sales. Caruana added that having brick-and-mortar sites in major cities “adds a tremendous amount of credibility” in an industry that’s rife with counterfeits.

It All Started With a Divorce 

Caruana has been in the high-end reselling business for the past decade, getting into the industry after the 2008 financial crisis slammed his mortgage business just as he was heading toward a divorce.

Living in the community-property state of California meant the entrepreneur got some of his wife’s high-end handbags as part of a property split-up, and in selling them off, he was introduced to the world of high-end handbag resales.

Caruana eventually started his own small reselling business, merged it with a larger firm and ended up following advice to go to Japan in search of handbags to sell.

Japan has an elaborate market for high-end used handbags and other accessories, with lots of auctions, showrooms, wholesalers and retailers. The country’s culture of honor also makes counterfeits rare, while favorable exchange rates and product availability – Japanese consumers tend to dislike the large handbags that can find buyers in America – make it a good place to source goods.

Ultimately, Caruana realized the United States could use a similar infrastructure, prompting him to open Irvine, California-based Marque in 2017. Four years later, the company has gotten an equity investment from a Singaporean firm called Polaris, and buys and sells high-end used goods in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Caruana said the company has expanded from its roots as a wholesaler to direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales, which account for about 10 percent of the business today, and growing. Marque’s website sells handbags as its flagship product, with retail pricing averaging about $1,200 but going as high as $30,000.

COVID-19 Has Been Good for Business 

While many companies have suffered during the pandemic, Caruana said Marque’s sales actually grew about 50 percent in 2020 to about 2,000 to 2,500 units per month.

“People are at home and not spending money elsewhere, so they had extra disposable income,” he said. The weak economy also meant that buying a used luxury good seemed smarter than buying a new one.

At the same time, high-end manufacturers have been raising prices on new luxury handbags and accessories, which drove prices up for used versions as well. And Caruana noted that COVID-related shipping problems for Japanese companies reduced competition, even as some of Marque’s brick-and-mortar wholesale customers stayed open or switched to video and online sales.

“Demand certainly increased during [2020], and the resale market is growing,” he said.