Eddie-tor's Note: I started this post quite a while ago, but it sat in my drafts forever waiting to be finished. As a result, it is now going up when I'm kind of in a thrift-lull imposed by my chemo and the bricks. Please read this as a description of the way I used to do things, the way I would do things now if I could, and the way things are going to be again--very soon! Thanks!
A lot of re-sellers I know don't like searching for merch at thrifts. 'The prices are too high," they say. "I can never find anything." Most of these folks have never thrifted for fun, pleasure, and personal use, so I don't think they get the thrifts and the thrift mentality. Me, I love them. Always have. Always will. Whether shopping for me personally or for re-sale, going to a thrift is an adventure I look forward to every week.
Which is not to say that there isn't a certain knack involved in thrifting for re-sale. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.
The wider your net, the better your luck. The more focused you are in your quest, the more specific the type of merchandise you seek, the less likely you are to be successful on a given day. One of the reasons I usually find several items is that I sell a great variety of things. If furniture is too high on a given day, toys and books may not be. Greater focus leads to more finds. (Although there always will be those days where you find absolutely nothing!) If I were totally focused on high end antiques or gold and silver jewelry, I don't think that thrifts would be high on my list.
Routinize your thrift stops. Because of travel distances and gas prices, one of the best way to keep expenses down is work your thrift stops into other trips that you have to make. The way I look at it, if I am heading somewhere I have to be for some other reason, that thrift stop doesn't add any extra expense to the trip. It's just a stop-over. I'm lucky in that my weekly work route takes me by three thrifts. I can't help but build in a few extra minutes every few days for a quick junking run.
Not all thrifts are created equally. Let's be honest. Some thrifts are over-priced for what they have. Some are full of nothing but crap. Others are just a musty, dusty mess. It's okay to recognize that some thrifts are just not worth trying regularly, even if they are convenient. There's a thrift in the same building where I have a booth. Even though I am over there regularly, I still only stop in there only once every few weeks. It's just that hit or miss. I walk out of there empty-handed more than any other thrift.
But neither should any be totally written off. On the other hand, that same thrift has frequent sales, with deep discounts. So I keep an eye on it, in order to know what's going on, but limit my visits based on experience. Infrequency makes the heart grow fonder.
Small hauls add up. Even if you only find a few items every time you visit a thrift, that haul adds up over time. I try to be excited and thankful for every little bit I can find.
Know the policies. Stick to them. Thrift stores have a purpose, typically supporting some charity or cause. They also have expenses to meet--including overhead and payroll. They're not flea markets, and generally bargaining is not encouraged or appreciated. If you know you are at a store where the prices are fixed, don't embarrass yourself or the staff by trying to bargain. Also, make sure you know their policies on returns (in case an item doesn't work) and on holding purchases (in case you buy something large). There's a store in town I love, but they have an odd rule about not shopping out of the carts that the staff are using to stock shelves. I think it's weird and arbitrary, but it's their store, so I honor the rule.
Be polite to the staff. Chances are they're only making minimum wage. They have to put up with a wide variety of people, some of whom can be demanding and rude. Don't add to their burden. Dealers have a bad rep because some of them are some of the biggest assholes you can run across. I've kind of made it my mission to make a different impression on folks. That includes thrift staff. As a result, some of them have gotten to know me and my interests. They'll point things out to me when I'm in the store. I never ask them to bend the rules, but I do take the time to make some conversation.
Don't be afraid to politely ask for what you need. There's a clerk at the local Goodwill who is kind of haphazard with her wrapping. Sometimes she'll wrap breakables, sometimes she won't. I've learned that if she's in the mood where she's not wrapping, that I need to ask her and she will. If there's something you need or want, that isn't against any posted rules or guidelines, it never hurts to ask. Just be understanding if they cannot do it.
Stay informed. Some stores have regular sales. Others have systems for rotating merchandise so that something is always on sale. Some even have some sort of sale running every day. Staying informed can lead you to the best bargains. Do you know if a store in your area has half-off on Monday holidays? Sign up for email lists. Check the web. Look for Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. There are lots of ways to stay on top of what's going on at your fave thrift. Take advantage of them.
Wrapping stuff well is an art. Getting your purchases home in one piece can be a challenge, whether from a thrift or a yard sale. When you thrift on a bike, like I do frequently, it's even more challenging. Some cashiers are diligent about doing it well. Others, not so much. I've been known to throw in a helping hand when I have a large order or I see that it's not quite up to snuff. I do it under the guise of helping out, not being critical. Everything I know about effective wrapping I learned from one of the best thrift clerks in the city. One of these days, I'll do a post about that.
Large orders take time. Along with the above, I also try to be really friendly with the clerk and with the folks in line behind me on days when I'm buying a lot of stuff. It kind of eases the tension that builds up when people have to wait. I also make sure to thank everyone effusively when we're all done. Always let the little old lady who is just buying a hat or something small go in front of your cartful of stuff. That's a rule.
Check everywhere in the store. Thrifts are the worst for items getting moved and never put back. There's usually too much stuff to keep up with. You may not buy toys, but check the toys anyway. The vintage scarf you find over there may be right up your alley. Check the kids books for adult titles that got misplaced. Plus, older and vintage items often get mixed in with the newer stuff. Make two or three passes, just to make sure you get everything and see everywhere. It's not always convenient, but it's worth it. A couple of thrifts here in town put stuff in these bins that are attached to the tops of the clothing racks, and it's always stuff that is not at all related to clothing. They treat them as overflow display for any type of item, so a lot of people give them a miss. I've made great finds in those bins.
Have fun! If you're not enjoying it at least a little, then why are you doing it? Seriously, find another avenue for your stuff-gathering. The day re-selling stops being fun is the day I stop. There are too many sour-faced dealers out there as it is.
Don't force yourself to spend money. You don't have to buy something every time you come into a thrift. If it doesn't speak strongly to you, don't buy it. If it doesn't speak to you at all, don't buy it. If you have four of them waiting to go into a space, don't buy it. Use your head and common sense. If I'm thrifting and I see several "eh" items, but no "wow" item, I tend to pass by, unless I really need stuff. My personal rule is that one "wow" item trumps several "eh" items. The corollary is that I have to find the "wow" item before putting any "eh" items in my cart. It serves me well and keeps me on budget.
That's how I try to do it, anyway. As always, your thrifting mileage may vary. I'd love to hear your thoughts or ideas in the comments.