Survival Tips For Shopping Thrift Stores


In each city and small town there is usually a thrift store or secondhand store. These stores run the gamut of merchandise. Clothing usually occupies the majority of the floor space; however, other items can include antiques, jewelry, housewares, furniture, tools, electronics, books, toys, department store markdowns and seconds, and even cars. But, even in these constabularies for cost cutters and bargain hunters, there are pitfalls for the inexperienced and unaware shopper. To improve your chances of discovering the ultimate treasure or bargain, Markdown Mom offers the following tips as a part of the Thrift Store Campaign Series:

TIPS 1-5

Tip 1: The Competition
Many dealers frequent the thrift store. Some are antique dealers, some are junkers, and some pickers. These “regulars” to newcomers represent the competition, at the same time they are an infinite source of information.

Tip 2: Networking and the Importance of Contacts
Networking with the “regulars” is as important in bargain hunting as it is in any business. From my cadre of regulars, I have learned about resale markets, prices and values, determining condition, history, hot collectibles, resources and so much more. Most are a gregarious and colorful lot, some do this part-time and others are hardcore, full-time dealers buying merchandise for resale at auction houses, local or large regional or urban flea markets and antique expos. One part-timer I know is a substitute art teacher who collects danish modern furniture among other things. Another is a full-time junker(his term, not mine) who resells–when he has enough merchandise–at a large flea market in Minneapolis. This gentleman┬áhas connections in the southwest and Midwest regions, and to me, represents a subculture of mavericks whose entrepreneurial acumen resembles that of easy rider. Despite often a rough appearance or gruff manner, they are the experts in t his field and some of the nicest and most caring individuals I have been privileged to know. If you are lucky to be befriended by one of these regulars, be sure to keep both your ears and eyes open!

Tip 3: Staff Contacts
Getting to know the store’s employees and staff shouldn’t be overlooked. Along with the regulars they are on the bargain front line, and like the dealers they represent both the competition and a valuable resource. As a source of valuable information, they can tell you when the pick-up truck(s) come in with new merchandise and when the merchandise will be processed and put on the floor for sale. Additionally, if you follow a particular item in the store over a number of week which does not sell for various reasons such as being overpriced, or item has a minor flaw(one you can live with) and wasn’t marked “as is,” these are the people you can approach for a price adjustment/reduction. Having a good working relationship often means being on a first name basis, courteous behavior, and a real appreciation of the service they render. Many of my initial contacts at thrift stores have become hard and true friends over the years.

Tip 4: Do Your Homework
The second rule of shopping thrift stores for bargains, or any store for that matter is:

  • Know the layout of the store Take time to do a quick walkabout of the store–familiarization with the layout of the store is a time saver and saving time increases the chances of a successful hunt Just like the proverbial early bird, the one who spots the prize first and swiftly takes possession of it is the ultimate winner! This is especially important if you are present when new merchandise is brought out. I have seen literally people rush the salesclerk’s cart in stampede fashion which unfortunately have at times resulted in fights. There once was a code among thrift store regulars that one did not grab any merchandise until the salesclerk deposited on the floor or on a shelf or rack from a flatbed or a cart. Unfortunately, this unspoken rule of civility has gone by the wayside, and it has become increasingly difficult to keep the peace. Fueled by popular television that highlights the 50 cents find-$100,000 discovery, demand has eroded the old rules, making it necessary to develop a new game plan.
  • Know your merchandise As MDM has stated you can’t know everything about antiques. Even the professionals specialize. However, many of the finds that I have made did not come from expert knowledge of a specific piece, but general knowledge of a particular style, since as you know many pottery pieces, etc., are unsigned or unmarked. One way is to continue your education is by buying reference books, reading articles, or watching television programs specializing in your pursuits.

Tip 5: He Who Hesitates Is Lost
While a cursory once over is the fastest way to spot the obvious find, just as important is the necessity to take physical possession of it. GRAB IT. And when I say grab it, I mean do so immediately! Don’t ponder or hesitate. DO NOT, DO NOT PUT IT BACK DOWN. No one is an expert on everything: if you are unsure about an item, but have a gut feeling that it might be worth something or you simply find it interesting, DON’T PUT IT DOWN and expect to find it later. Timing is everything, so put it in your cart or hang on to it. Keep your cart close to you, too. The moment you no longer have a physical claim on it, if it has value, it will soon disappear into the hands of your competition. Remember you can always discard it later when you have time to examine it closer. (Please sign-up for our newsletter below — before you read parts II and III).

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