Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Getting the GOOD stuff at the Thrift Store. Here's My Tips, What Are Yours?

Particularly for the uninitiated the first question I'm often asked on thrifting is: How do you find all of that good stuff at thrift stores? Whenever I go all I find is junk. I'm a lifelong thrifter and have been a pro-reseller for a few years and learned these essential steps along the way:


1. Get "Thrift Aroused": Know what you're looking for and/or read magazines or look at websites for inspiration. (Remember my ancient tips for thrift love making? article?)

2.Visit Thrifts Often: Thrifting is like playing the lotto, the more you visit the more chances you'll score jackpots. Some thrifters stop at every thrift store they can while they're out and about, some plan days where they hit up as many as possible. Either way, increase your frequency when you're trying to build up merchandise or if you're looking for something special.

3. Try Something New: Don't visit the same spots over and over again, try new ones, get lost and discover new treasure troves. Thrift while you travel or travel to thrift!

4. Network: Ask locals and fellow resellers for favorite spots, get contact info for vendors or store owners that have more to sell and you may get an invite to shop their personal collections. Make friends!

5. Switch it Up: Try different days and times. Many thrift stores have discount days or certain days that they re-stock. Also, don't think you always have to be the early bird to yield the best scores. It helps, but thrifting is truly random. You can arrive anytime and still score quality finds.

Don't Forget: Buying directly from fellow resellers, yard sales, and flea markets are other excellent ways to hunt down quality second-hand and vintage goods. Think outside the thrifts!

I feel like most people who thrift and leave empty handed haven't opened their mind to the opportunities second-hand shopping offers. You have to dig through every crevice, go through dirty boxes, and get messy, but it's a truly rewarding hobby and job.

What are your favorite tips for getting the best quality treasures while thrifting and hunting second-hand? Let's help each other keep snagging the good stuff.
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44 comments:

  1. Another important one, don't buy too much or don't feel like you need to buy.

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    1. I have a whole 'nother post planned on this subject perhaps so I didn't elaborate on it in this one. GOOD point though, when I first started reselling while working full time I went crazy with the buying and a lot of it just had to be donated ;p

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  2. Great tips Van and totally agree if you're leaving empty handed especially after visiting a few you're possibly not exhausting you're options well enough.

    Some of my tips are:
    - don't pass on a thrift were things aren't organised and good old thrift in a disorganised state of affairs may require some rummaging and getting a little down and dirty but can yield amazing finds in unlikely places,
    - here in Australia (I don't know about the USA) but if you can get out of town and to some country or in land thrifts they often turn up with amazing finds for a fraction of the cost as to city thrift shops.
    - there are also so many other options to sourcing finds......ie. tip shops, ebay, gumtree, friends, family, garage sales, estate sales, auction houses, church rummages, hard rubbish days the list goes on.

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    1. All very good points, the junky stops often yield the best finds! I love digging through the flea market for cheap deals and finds most of my competition wouldn't bother to hunt for.

      Also, yep, same here on the country drives. We often score amazing goodies on the long country roads. The one to a nearby town, Gainsville is pretty fruitful.

      And hell yeh for using other sources too :D I need to check out gumtree, sound vaguely familiar but I've never used it.

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  3. Instinct. If my gut tells me to hit a certain store I listen and almost always walk out with something amazing.

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    1. Oh, and in regards to garage sales- don't pass up the small ones that look like they have nothing to offer. You'd be surprised at what you can find.

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    2. Instinct's a good one too, I wanted to touch on that a bit more in point one. Going with your gut instinct works well in thrifting. As does always breaking for sales. (And pissing off your SO, kids, or car inhabitants in the process, haha! )

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  4. Good post! I agree with reading blogs, browsing Etsy, magazines, etc. When you keep up with ideas and trends, items shout out to you at stores. The more you shop the thrifts and fleas, the better you get at it. Just like anything else: practice!

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    1. Yep, you just have to keep going and getting used to it.

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  5. Sometimes, if you go to a small (but good)thrift store often enough and its a really good one, they will let you dig around in the backroom. Yea all those unpacked items and you get first dibs! There is an awesome little thrift store by my daughters yoga class. For the past 3 years that she has been in yoga, I drop her off and then my son and I hit the thrift store. We have an hour to kill once a week. So for once a week for 3 years I have been going there...getting to know the employees...spending money there...bringing an occasional box of donuts...and now I ask if I can check out the back and they will let me. Whatever I buy means less things they have to unpack and find room for. First dibs!!!!

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    1. Hell yeah to first dibs! Very true, being nice and networking genuinely goes far!

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  6. Van - Excellent tips!

    In the city where I live is a GW Clearance Center. Since I got so burnt out on shopping at the chain thrift stores where they OVERPRICE junk and the pickins' are so slim, I rarely go into them.

    However, all of the OVERPRICED stuff that didn't sell {at GW} ends up at the GWCC in one of 60 rotating bins! I bring my $2 Home Depot work gloves and start digging! The bins are rotated every 90 minutes and stuff sells for .99 cents per lb...books are .50 cents each! I bring a ziplock baggie for small stuff. Junking heaven! ♥

    Of course, I am very selective about what I get there ~ just because it's .99 cents per lb, I always ask myself, can I resell it for a profit? ;)

    -pj

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    1. Everyone calls our GW Clearance Center "The Pound Store". It's crazy competitive and they have security on duty to prevent fights, but it's definitely a low-priced, great way to hunt. There's no normally much vintage merch there for me (quite picked over!) but it's an excellent way to get supplies. I need to hunt it more often.

      Thanks for the tips!

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  7. All great tips Van! You're so right about hitting out of the way, out of town thrifts and stopping frequently. That is often how we score treasure. For some reason we seem to have really good thrifting mojo. A few examples of our scores include: teak Danish modern daybed $75 (Goodwill), Paul McCobb walnut low table $15 (Salvation Army), Drexel Projection line hutch $60 and Paul McCobb Planner group desk $50 (both Goodwill) to name a few! Sometimes we grumble about having bad luck in other areas (omg ask me about our luck with cars! bleh!), then we laugh and say it's because for some reason it all goes to our thrifting mojo! HAHA! :)

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    1. Dayum that IS some good thrifting mojo! I'm photographing everything I have in stock for now, then I can't wait to go out for some replacement furniture bits. :D I have decent thrifting mojo but dear GOD I'm bad with computers. I know I'm a heavy PC user which helps account for their short lives but man, I've lost my life's work 3 times now at least. I had the work on a couple of back-up drives which also failed me at the same time. I now store things online...

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  8. Very much going with the echo of instinct and frequency. For me that's about all it boils down to!

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  9. And now and then you just have to take a risk and wish for the best.
    More often than not you will be pleasantly surprised.

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    1. Yes indeed, I found some of the best scores and favorite thrifts turning down random roads I hadn't before.

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  10. I agree with the "go, and go, AND GO" advice-- the more frequently you hit the thrift stores, the more likely you are to find things. And inspiration is a good tip, too-- you're more likely to "see with a collector's eye". Sometimes there's just nothing...but 8 trips out of 10 I come home with SOMETHING, and 4/10 times it's something amazing! Love this post.

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  11. Become familiar with your area, the second hand stores, and how different estate sale liquidators operate as well as auctioneers.

    The best estate sales are in the inner city with 100 year old run down homes and in neighborhoods built in the mid 20th century. Estate sales in high end neighborhoods are usually filled with over priced Walmart crap. The exception to that rule is older high end neighborhoods where it can be hit or miss.

    Locally owned thrift/second hand stores are the best in my location. The Salvation Army and Goodwill usually suck. Goodwill is the worst. I tend to believe they scrap all metal because I have yet, in several years, to see a pot or pan on their shelves. In the city, look for second hand stores in run down neighborhoods. Church thrifts are also pretty good.

    I don't give up on the thrifts that rarely produce, but I have learned to spend my time more wisely.

    Church rummage sales are the best.

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  12. Thanks so much for the detailed tips. I live in a historic area and need to hit up yard sales more for great scores. Church rummage sales really are the best, gotta get back to doing those again, too!

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  13. Lips sealed! Too much competition & pickers in my area to let any secrets slip.

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  14. It really is a numbers game. The more you go, the more likely you'll score that awesome thing!

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    1. Yep! Can't 'til I can go out more. I'm forbidden 'til all the stuff behind me is photographed!

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  15. Like most of you I find my best items at church rummage sales and an occasional yardsale. I do find some quality vintage items at estate sales, but I live in a rural area. When we go traveling I always try to stop at the small town thrift stores and usually find some great deals. Our Goodwill savage yard charges $1.29 lb for textiles, which can be a good deal when I find designer labels, newer stuff goes to ebay. I have found some lovely 1950s vintage dresses still on the metal hanger thrown into the bins, a great find, these dresses mostly sold to Australia. There is one employee at the salvage yard that I think overcharges for some of the other stuff that is not marked by a listing price, like books .50, DVD .50, hats, $2.00, etc., but for the most part I always find some good stuff. For yard sales I go to craigslist and enter 'vintage' in my search before I go out, helps narrow my locations down.

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    1. Thanks for the tips and sharing your story. I can't wait to hunt hardcore again. For now, clearancing stuff out and photographing the last of the hoard.

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  16. I have a revolving list of shops I hit up around my area. I go at least once a week and usually on weekdays. Whenever I travel I use Yelp or Google to find unknown non-chain thrift shops. I try to thrift in small, older towns as I have much better luck there with finding vintage treasures. Larger cities are picked over by other resellers and newer/wealthier areas don't have as many thrift shops or don't get donations of old junk. I always keep an open mind and stop in any shop, even if it looks eh on the outside. You just never know! Another tip I've found helpful is to find out where there are large retirement communities and look for thrift shops there. Palm Springs, CA and the surrounding area is a goldmine, but it's starting to get picked over.

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    1. Thanks for the awesome tips! Gonna keep the car clear for my travels so I can fill it with merch :)

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  17. I'm sure someone has already mentioned getting to know the employees of the thrift stores you frequent. At least the small ones; I find the employees at the larger stores in my area are pretty mean. But I've gotten to know the people who work at the smaller stores, and they tell me when they get new inventory and the best times and days to shop, so that's helpful. And they're also more willing to come down on prices!

    Another tip is to check every aisle. I used to skip the toy aisle if my son wasn't with me, but then I started discovering some great treasures that had been set down there by mistake, including this awesome mid-century carved wood cat. I need to do a post on him! But my mom took him from me... :( Darn those mid-century lovers! But check all the aisles, including ones that you don't think you'll find anything in!

    Thanks for all the great tips! I need to work on thinking outside the thrift especially!

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    1. I make sure to snake through all the aisles, too. It REALLY helps to do it twice. I don't always do this but often when I do I discover a treasure I didn't see before. I have the same trouble befriendly chain store owners, but it still pays to always be polite.

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    2. That's a good idea to go through everywhere twice. I tend to go a little more quickly through stores than I should, so maybe going through twice would help me!
      I posted about that cat I found here. I have to say I'm kind of glad my mom took him so that I didn't sell him. I love the mid century finds!

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    3. The cat is gorgeous. Well that settles it, definitely going to look hard through kid's stuff, too. :D

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  18. I have been thrifting long before it was considered cool. Let's just say the shoppers were wearing a lot of polyester and platform shoes. The previously mentioned tips are all long-standing and true: shop often, go through the store again, shop out-of-the-way areas, don't buy it unless you love it, etc.

    People ask me, like many others, how do I find such treasures among the junk. My most important tip is really a skill - develop a keen, observant eye. That may seem obvious to most, but it really is the key to scoring great, unique items. Many thrifting neophytes shop thrift stores like they do traditional stores. They expect things to be presented and laid out to catch your attention. Thrift stores require you to constantly have a wandering eye.

    There is usually more than one of an certain item in a different color, size, etc. in new stock stores. In thrift stores, everything is "one-of-a-kind", so when it's gone, it's gone. Customers are trained to respond to attractive, descriptive packaging in stores. Thrift store items often do not have it's original packaging so the customer needs to be observant, examine, and decipher things for him/herself. Traditional stores have everything neat and tidy on shelves. Thrift stores tend to be a kaleidoscope of items on a shelf.

    When you develop a trained, keen eye that shops from a different perspective, you can pick out the cashmere sweater amongst the acrylic ones. You know automatically with a single touch if the chair is real leather or naugahyde. You can scan the shelves with a discriminating lens when you know what you really love and magically ignore the other stuff.

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    1. Thanks for the awesome story and tips, excellent way to explain it. It's true, after years of thrifting you develop an "eye" for it. Digging fast and deep never hurts, either.

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  19. i go often, well as often as i can, and i root through and make sure i really 'see' things before i discount items. I love it x

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  20. Great tips. I would add to try looking at other secondhand sources like live auctions. I went to my first one recently, and got a whole bunch of stuff to resell. The prices are better because for many items, you are paying for the entire lot, not just one item. Plus, you get a lots of stuff from different donors and estates all in one place, so it's a more efficient way to shop.

    For garage saling, I like to go through Craigslist and look at all the advertised sales and go through the ads to see which ones look promising in terms of what I'm looking for. If my city doesn't have a whole lot going on that weekend, I will look at the ads for garage sales in cities close by.

    Finally, it helps to see what seasoned shoppers buy to resell. It's impossible to be an expert on everything, so it's good to see what other resellers who specialize in categories you don't are buying. This is a good way to develop an eye for things, like Keith describes.

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    1. The seasoned shopper's tip is an excellent one. I think another one I learned/thought of at the flea market today is to hunt -quickly- and efficiently at the same time. Missed out on some killer items today by going a bit too slowly. Still scored big time so I shouldn't complain ;D

      I like to do the Craigslist yard sale hunting when I remember to, haven't be intensely hunting yet but definitely want to do that and auctions next.

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  21. I never come out empty handed when I thrift shop. I always end up with some things. I miss thrift shopping now and the last time I went was he 2nd of August. I want to go thrift shopping now! Especially for some furniture. Anyway, that Bamboo Shelf looks exactly like the ones we have back in the Philippines. You have some amazing finds. :)

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    1. Thanks Adin. I used to be like that but now I'm more cautious with what I bring home.

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  22. Don't tell anyone but we got mom a volunteer job at a thrift store with the absolutely best finds. It's right next to a huge retirement community. She loves it and my sister and I love the great finds she brings home.

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I love reading your comments. Thank you for adding to the discussion! I always reply to any and all questions.

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