What Makes a Perfect Thrift Shop?

I’ve shopped in dozens and dozens of thrift shops across North America and have discovered the obvious: all thrift shops are not created equal.

 It’s true that thrift shops have a lot in common: they all offer used goods at low prices, most in order to raise funds for a charity. Many are either entirely or partially staffed by volunteers. Their differences are usually dictated by resources – the bigger the budget, the bigger the store, the greater the inventory and the better organized it is. So you’ll have some tiny thrift shops, completely volunteer run, where nothing is priced and you get to haggle with the volunteer over what you’ll pay. Others are large and bright, well organized and things are sometimes priced higher than you’d like because staff actually know the original value of an item.

 If I were Queen of the Thrift World, this is what I would ordain for every thrift shop in my kingdom:

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Mascots

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Mascots

 Inventory that is clean and in good condition. If a shirt has a stain on it, don’t bother putting it out for sale – unless you’re going to sell it at a drastically reduced price. Books that have been scribbled in, stuffed animals with half their stuffing lost, puzzles with pieces missing, mugs with broken handles, none of these things should hit the floor – unless you have a section in your shop for items that could be repurposed. For example, puzzle pieces or broken china could be used for crafting. But mutilated stuffies? They should just go to stuffie heaven.

 Inventory that is well organized. If I go into a thrift shop looking for a long-sleeved white shirt, I don’t want to have to hunt through racks and piles of clothing dispersed throughout the shop. I’d like to be able to go to the long-sleeved white shirt section in my size and browse. I also loathe racks that are too full. Sometimes shop owners think they have to get as much inventory onto the floor as possible, but you can have too much of a good thing. If clothing racks are crammed so full that I have to pull off each item to look at it, I tend to just leave. And round racks? Don’t get me started.

Denver Hayes summer skirt I picked up yesterday

 Consistent pricing. I don’t even care if a thrift shop has individual price tags on their items- in fact, sometimes it’s much more efficient to just say “all t-shirts $2, all pants $4”. But it’s frustrating when you find two items of equal value with different prices on them. I do understand the need to raise funds for charity but I prefer it when a shop places items of greater value in a “boutique” or “collectibles” section where you expect higher prices.

 Friendly staff. This can’t be overstated. No matter what size or shape of shop I go to, if I am greeted by a friendly person it makes an impression on me. It also makes an impression if I have to deal with a grumpy-pants. You want shoppers to remember you for all the right reasons.

 These are just a few things I look for in an ideal thrift shop – what would your ideal thrift shop look like?

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8 Responses to What Makes a Perfect Thrift Shop?

  1. Geoff Kullman says:

    Since you more or less described the store that you volunteer in, what can we do at Abby East to improve things (in your opinion)? Lets sit down and chat once I’m back at our store 🙂

  2. Linda Klippenstein says:

    I agree with the ‘friendly staff’ bit. I don’t know if the average thrift store spends much time training staff on customer service. I’ve seen volunteers talk nicely to a well dressed shopper, then turn around and be blunt and not so nice to a shopper who looks like they have to shop at a thrift store out of necessity.
    love the blog Ang!!!!!!

  3. sonja everson says:

    I’d shop in your kingdom. I couldn’t agree with you more!

  4. Laura says:

    I like to know that my money is going to a worthy cause, and so will support the smaller, usually church run shops before going to the big Walmart-owned Value Village. Even though they do buy truckloads of goods from various charitable organizations, they are a last resort for me (plus their prices are way higher).

  5. Doris says:

    I have to agree with you on the idea of having merchandise which is clean and in good condition. Why are some thrift stores trying to sell someone else’s dirty broken stuff?? Do you think sometimes donators simply can’t bear to think that their old stuff is actually garbage? I appreciate the goal of keeping things out of the landfill, but as our old friend Kenny once said “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” Do you think this may also apply to thrift shopping and thrift store donating??!
    ps. Love your blog!

  6. michelle v says:

    i like the dig, actually. places that are too organized (Value village etc) are usually way overpriced. and i like finding stuff no one else has or hasn’t bothered to dig for. on the flip side, i super dislike when things aren’t priced. i’m not a haggler and the people land up wanting too much so i just put the stuff back. so something in the middle, with garage sale prices is most fun for me. love thrift store clearance sections

    • Hi there Thanks for your encouraging comments! I just checked out your blog as well and love the post about your child’s poetry and “the map of the hart” – that’s priceless. i have poems sitting on my dresser that my now 18 year old son wrote in kindergarten. keep the sap flowing, i say. your comments about haggling are interesting. my son and i were just having a conversation about the challenges of pricing at thrift shops. he works at the MCC furniture store in abbotsford and feels that prices are often too high. the thing is, they sell a ton of furniture. pricing just seems like a crap shoot to me – it all depends on who is coming into the store and what kind of mood they’re in! but i’m with you – i love the discounted racks at thrift shops. hurray for super cheap! angelika

  7. Marianne says:

    Enjoyed the blog. I don’t like when customers want to haggle–our prices are cheap enough. We try very hard not to put out soiled, broken, or damaged items, but sometimes some slip through. We recycle whatever we can, but some things are just garbage.

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