I approach a new thrift shop the way a foodie approaches a farmers market. My palms get sweaty. As I mentally go through the list of all I want to find, my focus becomes less clear.
The rush of finding the perfect item never ceases, even though I’ve walked through hundreds of secondhand shops across the country.
Over the past three decades I have turned my odd enthusiasm into a profitable side business. Today, I shop more efficiently and often find a few things that make each trip worth it.
The following are my top secrets to success.
1. Shop strategically
Committed thrift shoppers are an assertive bunch. Our favorite spots are often visited daily. Many of our thrift shoppers also find and flip items that are underpriced or in high demand. A solid shopping strategy is essential to compete.
First, do a quick primary scan. To see what stands out, scan each department. You want to grab the best stuff first. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about an item. You can add it to your shopping cart later and make your final choice.
Next, do a secondary search. This phase is more relaxed and focuses on the details below. You can find hidden gems, items that you don’t know about, or clothes in the right size, color, and style.
Unsure what is a hidden treasure? Check out “8 Things You Should Buy at Thrift Stores HTML2_2. Check the fitting rooms
I make the fitting room area of every thrift store part of my regular shopping circuit.
The racks outside these rooms often contain clothing that has been rejected because it is too small, too long, or too… These items were chosen before they were rejected. This means that they have been vetted by someone.
For thrift-shopping shoppers who are discerning, fitting room racks will likely hold the best of the crop. I once found a men’s Barbour waxed cotton jacket on one of those racks for a mere $7.99. Within 24 hours, I’d flipped it for $165.
For more like this, check out my article “11 Secrets to Finding Quality Clothing at Thrift Shops.”
3. Get a little nosy
Thrift shopping is no different than retail shopping: The first person to glimpse new items usually scores the best stuff. You can take a look at the inventory if the store permits.
Rolling racks, carts, and bins that have been pulled from the back of the store often contain treasures or donations. But a few words of caution:
- Handle items carefully — no rummaging.
- Keep clothing racks organized.
- Try not to interfere with the tasks of busy employees.
4. Practice wabi-sabi
In a world of mass production, thrift stores offer something rare and wonderful: one-of-a-kind finds. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy that encourages us to see beauty in imperfections.
Don’t be afraid of buying the unusual, the imperfect or the handmade.
Some of the most treasured pieces in my home fit that description:
- A huge folk art painting of a sleeping dog
- A chipped midcentury Italian lamp
- A slightly frayed Native American blanket
I love these things because I salvaged them, because they have stories to tell and because they’re utterly unique.
5. Skip the display cases
Thrift stores reserve display cases for their prized inventory — the electronics, jewelry and glassware deemed most valuable. These are, in my opinion, often the least interesting items in the store.
First, they are someone else’s definition of “collectible” and “valuable”. This is often wrong. These items have high prices, which can lead to razor-thin margins for reselling.
I prefer to discover my own hot deals by learning a lot about many things. It takes me just seconds to search online for information if I am unsure about something. If I look at the display cases, I leave the store and go out.
For more tips like this, see “9 Common Thrift Store Shopping Mistakes.”
6. Rethink pink
For those who thrift-shop for profit, understand that color matters. My experience is that pink is difficult to sell.
Pink appeals to a small market. It is a difficult color to match. Many shades, including pastel pink, dusty rose, and mauve, look old and tired.
I once bought a vintage pink fiberglass chair that was in perfect condition. I sat on it for over a year, literally, before selling it at a flea marketplace.
OK. Enough pink-bashing. What are the consistent winners? Bold oranges, bright blues, and bold greens are all winners. Classic neutrals such as gray and white are also winners.
HTML7. Reject most collectibles
If you’re new to thrift shopping and would like to make a little cash at it, remember one thing: Items that were made to be collectible seldom hold their value.
Generally, items like Beanie Babies and modern trading cards are so rare that they can’t be given away.
Focus on more obscure items. These are the most popular categories. They include timeless clothing, mid-century items, and vintage household products.
Recently, I found a 72-piece set of stainless steel flatware from the 1970s. I flipped it within a week for a $70 profit. HTML8. Go Kondo
Whether you’re thrift shopping as a side gig or simply love the thrill of the hunt, it’s tempting to seize every great deal out there. You should resist the urge to grab every great deal.
I shop according to one rule: I don’t need it, love it, and can’t easily sell it for profit. This rule helps me to avoid unnecessary accumulation and keep my home clean, tidy, and minimalist. Marie Kondo would be proud.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. Sometimes, however, we receive compensation if you click on links in our stories.
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