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How to Make the Best of Your Thrift Store Experience

by Bryan Goodman and Jason T. Smith (06/26/12).

A Stetson cowboy hat with original box discovered in the Boston area for $5.

Many think treasures researched on WorthPoint originated at high-class auction houses or perhaps are the prestigious collection of an elderly philanthropist. The truth is, many great finds are sourced at thrift stores. While this may be disturbing to some, it is the realistic cycle of many wonderful artifacts both modern and old. If the thought of venturing into a thrift store is revolting to your way of life, you may be missing out on opportunities to develop an inexpensive source of desirable objects.

If you’re ready to take the plunge into the exotic and gritty world of thrifting, we suggest that you be prepared to make the most of the thrift store experience. And contrary to what you may think, the majority of thrift stores do not reek of stale sweat socks.

First, you must be open to entering a bustling place with a variety of people from all walks of life. These patrons run the gamut of hustlers barreling through the aisles chasing the good stuff to leisurely, budget-conscious shoppers strolling at an excruciatingly slow pace while blocking the aisle you wish to pass.

An Isabella Fiore purse purchased at Savers Thrift Store for $6.

Second is the pricing system and often confusing rules. You need to check what forms of payment are accepted and figure out what color tag or type of item is discounted at the time of your visit. It’s not always easy to discern the savings available, but it can make a huge difference to the total bill if you are buying lots of items. Certain days may award special discounts to seniors or military, but many store rules may only allow one type of discount to be used per visit.

Third on the list is to realize that most stores have a variety of departments and you should be open to visiting shelves and racks outside your area of expertise. You may be amazed at what unusual items appear as you wander throughout.

You may be disappointed if you go to the glass area expecting to find Fenton glassware for $1.99 each, but if you look at other items nearby, something may just scream out “Buy me! Buy me!” That is the time to whip out your iPad or other mobile device to check WorthPoint to see if the item has any history of sales and the price ranges. If that is not a winner, the item next to it may be just the thing to entice you to be brave and actually make a purchase.

Here are three items we recently discovered outside our “comfort zone” that resulted in excellent returns:

• An Isabella Fiore purse purchased at Savers Thrift Store for $6 that we sold on eBay for $145;
• A Stetson Cowboy hat with original box discovered in the Boston area for $5 and sold for $102 to a lucky buyer in Australia;
• A Betsey Johnson dress purchased for $7.50 and sold for $60.

Now, take a Look at us:

Bryan Goodman and Jason T. Smith. Do they look like buyers of purses, cowboy hats and Betsey Johnson dresses?

You can see right away that we are not the type of guys who would normally dabble in dresses, purses or cowboy hats. However, we each recognize that with a little research and a lot of confidence, we can use our sixth sense to discover and expand our thrifting paths. Thus, developing additional sales over and above our core thrift store genre of items.

Whether you are using thrift stores to augment your own collections or to purchase for resale, one of the hardest things to overcome is the powerful lure of the thrift store sale. Once you are hooked on this method of shopping, the special sale dates can particularly create a bond to go back again and again. Thrifting during sales hooks you to search and scour for hours, and as the prices drop, the treasures seem much more reasonably attainable. Many die-hard thrift-aholics have been hatched out of the therapeutic euphoria created when finding a whole collection of (fill in your passion here) and quickly glancing left and right to make sure no one else is close enough to pounce on your booty.

A Betsey Johnson dress purchased for $7.50.

Make sure that you allow yourself enough time to shop, and remember to look on the top shelves, the bottom shelves and maybe in other peoples carts (you didn’t hear that from us). Don’t be afraid to “follow” someone around if they are holding a precious gem that you desire, as they may just place it back on a shelf anywhere, or even change their mind at the register.

As you decide to make thrifting part of your sourcing routine, it pays to be friendly with the store workers who just may remember to show you something in the back room that has just arrived or contact you when your style of items land on the dock. When checking out, be courteous and remove hangers, and maybe even bag your own fragile purchases. Make sure you leave enough room in your vehicle to carefully transport items. You may consider bringing boxes to protect the breakable items in transit back to your house. Always ask about any coupons or special sales you should be aware of for your next visit.

Thrifting can be fun and profitable with minimum investment and a little research using tools such as WorthPoint to help make buying decisions easier. Now is the time to venture to your local thrift store for some real-time education and enlightenment. Good luck if this is your first time checking out a thrift store. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Bryan Goodman and Jason T. Smith are Thrifting with the Boys. They are motivational speakers teaching thrift store resourcing techniques at seminars throughout the country. They have a popular Facebook group devoted only to thrifting and have run thrifting excursions around the country.


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19 Responses to “How to Make the Best of Your Thrift Store Experience”

  1. Excellent article and thanks for sharing. TWTB is really an amazing group of guys and we find the information that they share to be both generous and relevant.

  2. Kat Simpson says:

    Great article from two favorite thrifters!

  3. Vicki Conley says:

    I have learned so much from TWTB, you guys rock! I keep finding cool stuff that I want to keep though!

  4. Karin Banghart says:

    Great article!! I have “thrifted” since I was a little kid….it all started when I would go to garage sales with my Grandma. My parents also owned a “Trading Post,” that carried all sorts of different items they would purchase at auctions, storage unit sales, etc. I guess it has always been in my blood. But, after meeting the 2 of you, it became “FUN” again!! Thanks guys!!

  5. Brilliant article, Boys. Did you warn that thrifting can be addictive?

  6. Debbie says:

    Great article, I always learn so much when these guys speak. They are such a great inspiration, and they make learning fun. Looking forward to future articles.

  7. I grew up in thrift stores, having been a single mom definitely knew the value for providing discounted wares for the family… then when eBay came along it helped support my family! It’s the ultimate “green” re-purposing and reusing just about everything!
    Great article!

  8. Good Feature !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Over my 45 years of collecting , I have found some very “out Standing ” treasures in the most unusual places including “Thrift Stores “.

    Collectors need to realize , it is in places like Thrift Store some of the best items can be found . You need to have a educated Eye and Knowledge of what you are looking for, So your home do not look like a “thrift Store ” but a lovely collection with a “smart Look and value !

    James Stow

    Candlewood Yankee Fine Arts

  9. So proud of you guys with all that you are doing with “Thrifting with the Boys”. Keep up the great work.

  10. Carol Ritter Wright says:

    If it were not for thrift stores, I’d have a lot less (and a lot less valuable and interesting) furniture than I own and use every day. Latest great find: a vintage 1898 Heywood-Wakefield fancy wicker chair in mint condition for $16 at a Goodwill store. Chair is pictured in the H-W 1898 catalog reprint, and a spokesman for H-W told me that particular chair has never been reproduced by anyone. It looks great with my other wonderful finds.

  11. I laughed out loud at the advice to look in other people’s carts. I’ll never tell, Bryan and Jason!

  12. Thrift stores are my passion, my therapy and eBay let’s me turn it into a business. Have been doing so since 1999. Can make a great profit. All good tips and points!

  13. Cathy Thompson says:

    I know already alot of this as I do my sourcing at alot of stores, and I wanted to say I always see other people looking at what I have so I always cover it up LOL!! You have to but I will look at their items also so it goes both ways. Also when you buy this way you are donating to great causes and helping out in many ways. Pick the one you like supporting, but me I love them all :) Thanks guys you are great I just signed up for the newsletter!!

    I shop for others with vintage and sell in my spaces and will do more online soon.

  14. Cathy Thompson says:

    So true also my true passion is vintage and jewelry and selling…I also make my own jewelry out of all the recycled pieces LOVE IT!!

  15. As a treasure hunter myself, you took the words right out of my mouth. Love the article. Now off to a thrift store I go.

  16. Fantastic article. Many people do shop thrift store to resale items and find great low price items that bring high profits. TWTB group has great people that are very knowledgeable in helping others with their finds.

  17. You guys are right on, at a Goodwill store I am searching around and this lady was by my side and had this awesome looking canister or cookie jar in her hand. It was sooooo cool, I thought to myself wish I had seen that first. Did not know what it was but it look adorable.

    Followed her to the check out. She had put the cookie jar behind the counter with some of the other things she wanted to buy.

    When she was done paying the cashier she realized that they had not included the cookie jar. She got a little irritated and walked out of the store. I watched as she got into her car, was not sure if she was coming back to get the cookie jar. Well she took off and was out of there!!! probably a little tifted.

    So as she drove out of my sight, I ask to see the cookie jar,( it was signed on the bottom Penzo, did not know a thing about that name, but for $4.00 I said heck why not, what do I have to lose), and to all a GOOD BUY!

    It sold for $78.00 I guess my 10+ years of “treasure hunting” works.

  18. Debra Conrad says:

    We wouldn’t have our Amazon business if it weren’t for thrift stores.

    I am still finding it very difficult not to grin like the cat who ate the canary, while wheeling my full cart of Great Scouting buys up the checkout stand.

    The gals at the counter are all becoming very friendly with me (and patient) – they have even stopped asking “Why are you buying all those games?”

    I qualify for Senior Discount day and of course the twice a month 50% off day is fantastic. Plus – most of my local thrift stores will take returns, when I buy a lemon instead of desert.

    Thanks for this great article – you all find the coolest stuff a thrift stores.

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