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Rhea Lana's owner says she'll defend business model against government

Children's consignment business under scrutiny for labor practice

Posted: June 20, 2013 - 4:29pm
LOG CABIN FILE PHOTO   Sarah Barker, 4, asks her mom, Holly, for more toys while they shopped at the Rhea Lana's consignment sale in Conway's Towne Centre.
LOG CABIN FILE PHOTO Sarah Barker, 4, asks her mom, Holly, for more toys while they shopped at the Rhea Lana's consignment sale in Conway's Towne Centre.

Conway business owner Rhea Lana Riner, who operates large scale children’s consignment events, says she will fight the U.S. Government’s claim she is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Riner, owner of Rhea Lana’s Inc., debuted her fight with the U.S. Department of Labor in a USA Today column published Tuesday.

Rhea Lana’s consignment events are put on in 22 states, including Arkansas, where Riner said she started the business in 1997 out of her living room in Conway.

Her practice of allowing consignors to shop first and early to get the best merchandise in exchange for their work to set up the two-day event in an available venue was subject to a Department of Labor investigation that began in January, she said.

“I’d say we have about 1,200 consignors and probably 200 volunteers,” Riner said. “They partner with us in holding our events. When they use their personal time to work at the event, the incentive is that they can shop early. They find great value in that.”

She likens the events to a large garage sale, but families join together and hold the sale under one roof.

Congressman Tim Griffin submitted a letter in support of Rhea Lana’s practices to the U.S. Department of Labor in February.

Griffin expresses concern in the letter that the investigation and audit was “unnecessarily requesting to interview consignors who assist with the sale of items (including their own) at Rhea Lana’s events, and inaccurately identifying these individuals as employees.”

Griffin wrote that Rhea Lana’s depends on the unpaid volunteers to work the events, and the events provide essential low cost products for individuals and families.

The federal audit requested Rhea Lana’s supply a list of names and contact information of consignors, “presumably to conduct interviews,” Griffin wrote.

“We don’t force them,” Riner said Thursday. “They come when they want…It’s totally their decision if they want to come work with us.”

Ultimately, the Department of Labor found the consignors or volunteers are in fact employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, she said.

Consignors would need to be paid minimum wage if the findings stand, and Riner’s business model would have to change.

“When the government puts these additional rules on a small business like ours, we eventually have to pass it on to moms and families,” she said.

Riner said her business is still “in the midst of the process” in the federal audit, but it’s “business as usual.”

She declined to comment on possible future litigation, but said, “We are continuing to defend our business model.”

The Arkansas Department of Labor audited Rhea Lana’s two years ago, Riner said, but the business was given a favorable ruling.

Rhea Lana’s is set for a local event at the Conway Expo Center August 25-31.

The business was setting up for an event in Honolulu, Hawaii this weekend.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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regular_joe 06/20/13 - 07:44 pm
no comment

no comment

Voter 06/20/13 - 09:15 pm
Good for her

I hope she keeps talking ! Good for her ! Ridiculous interference .

Cnwygurl 07/16/13 - 04:14 pm
Still not paid

A friend and I were asked by Rhea Lana to work for her in 2004. Working for her also meant we would get paid. She went over all this. Neither one of us have received a single dime for many hours of work yet. She is a greedy crook.

Smileatlife1234 07/24/13 - 02:08 pm
They ask for to many hours

I would rather pay to get into the doors. I know in Hot Springs, you have to work 4 shifts to get first pick. That's 24 hours, Just to get a good pick of clothes. Sorry, I don't have time to work a full time job, then find a babysitter to watch my children, 4 times out of a week! Do I like the event, yes. Do I like the concept of having to volunteer, no!! I would gladly pay $7 to get into the door. Instead of coming behind all the moms that are actually able to volunteer and only finding a few good clothing items for my oldest. So start charging at the door and there's your money to pay your employees! Problem solved!

conwayville 07/24/13 - 08:34 pm
All 3 sides of the story

I see 2 sides.

One, what Riner's doing is an incentive for volunteers to work in exchange for first pick at the sale. But on the other hand, it's not really fair for normal customers to not get the same pick at the same stuff.

It's akin to having a yard sale. Say you want to open up at 7am on Saturday. So for most of us, that means having everything ready on friday evening. Now if you work a daytime 9-5, chances are you're going to be rushing to get it all done. So ask a friend of family member to help you. While they're helping you set your stuff up, they notice something of interest and ask you how much you want for it. So you, being appreciative of their help, give it to them, or offer it at a discount. So then word gets out sooner or later that so-and-such bought an item at your yard sale the night before for basically nothing, before any other customers had a chance to see it. Most people call it "cherry picking". Is it fair? There are 2 kinds of fair. State and county. It's absolutely fair to you, the person holding the yard sale and absolutely fair to the person who got the smokin' deal in exchange for help, but for the rest of the folks who were willing to pay for that item (but did not get the chance) it was not fair at all. So now it's a matter of perspective.

I suspect this is what happened. Someone threw a fit and found the right people to throw their fit to.

And I figure, like anything else we read about in the media, we may never know the 3rd side to the story (you know, the truth).

ucantbserious 07/25/13 - 07:56 am

What would happen if one of the 'volunteers' worked the required shifts to get in early but didn't get to properly benefit from it? Say they came down very sick the night before the early day and were unable to attend. Or say that they were able to attend but the items they were in search of were either not being sold there or were purchased by other 'volunteers'.

Wouldn't this equate to no-compensation?

The whole thing just seems off to me. It just seems like it is skirting the system to avoid paying people. Just imagine if someone were to get a job at McDonalds and when asking about their pay rate they would be told that they won't get paid but would be able to buy food from the establishment before it was opened to other customers.

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