Starting a Thrift Store
STOP! Last Junk Store for 30 miles!
Remember ... Antiques are being made while you wait to buy!
My Junk...Your Treasure!
Sometimes, life’s opportunities are staring you right in the face. I have been a “junker”, “treasure hunter”, “finder of forlorn follies” all of my life. And my dream job is having a little cluttered shop full of interesting curiosities. This dream is about a truly flexible be your own boss money making venture ... one you can start with a little time and effort. Build it up to something big. And be happy happy happy surrounded by incredible junk. This business is my very own little thrift store.
I recently moved into a new home… a much smaller home. I brought everything from the old house having very little time to sort and discard. I just kept thinking I would do the eliminating later. But, now that I am in the new house, all of that stuff is now piled in boxes on top of each other reaching the ceiling. The new house feels like walking through the Grand Canyon. So, as I find areas to put things away and arrange other things into adorable vignettes on top of tables and shelves, I have decided to put the things that don’t work into other boxes marked “Store”. I am going to seriously figure out how to open my own little vintage shop.
With a little research, I found that there are “To Do” lists that guide you through the process. Here is what I found:
*Prepare and file all required documents.
*Choose a location.
*Sketch a basic floor plan and decide what type of merchandise you are going to sell in each area.
*Stock inventory to sell.
Now, I have always been aware that a thrift store can prove to be a lucrative business venture, especially if you open one in a location that gets plenty of passersby. Because I have frequented thrift stores for decades, I knew which ones worked and which ones seemed to just be happenstance. For me, I knew that opening a thrift store was going to involve a good deal of planning and preparation, and more than likely, the start-up process will be lengthy. So, I have decided to create a new list with a timeline. Since I have just moved, I want to take the time to get the new house set up and make sure that how I set up this new business will last me for years and years to come.
To begin.. The first category is the 6 months to 1 year category. Find location that works. Having just gone through the looking for a house routine, I know that this process is the longest one. So many variables to research and study. Does the location have foot traffic? Does it have car traffic where people will see your sign and stop. Is there a parking lot or a parking space in a crowded area situation? Is the space big enough? Is the space too big? What are the rules and regulations of the area, the shopping center, the community? What kind of signage can I have. What are the store hours that work in conjunction with other shops? Is there a merchant’s association? Is the space handicap accessible? Are there water and toilet facilities? What kind of storage is offered? Is there the ability to load and unload large pieces? I want the location to be close to home, have a lot of traffic and is in an area where other thrifts survive and succeed.
Once I find a suitable property, then I will have to negotiate a rental contract. This could take a couple of months if the spot is perfect but the contract is not. Negotiations are always a way to get the perfect situation, but you have to be willing to make some changes. Then, the legal process begins. I will need a tax ID and a business license. I am also going to find out if I need a dealer’s license since I plan on buying and trading from others. There are a few things as a secondhand dealer I won’t sell because I am not going to get a special permit. Those things are plants, food and mattresses. The property will need to be inspected by the local safety inspector to make sure that doors and bathrooms meet specifications. I am not going to go non profit in the beginning because the Internal Revenue Service can take up to a year to approve the status. So the beginning plan is to open up a normal for profit business.
Next is the 3 to 6 months category. This is the business license and zoning approval part. If the location is not approved commercial or retail, I have to keep moving. Or, if the property does not already have the proper zoning and I really want the location, I will have to pursue an exemption or zoning changes through the zoning board. This process of obtaining business licensing and zoning could take weeks or even months to complete in some places.
Then, the category of 1 to 3 months is all about the stock. Yes, I already have lots of stuff to sell, but when it sells, I need to replace it with something else. Buying is really more important than selling. You need to stay on top of your pricing because you have to make twice what you paid for the item. I am very pleased that over all the years of thrifting I have developed the ability to size up salable merchandise. I am not sure if I will specialize in one type of item such as furniture or dishware, but I do know that I will have to have a few valuable pieces in my inventory to create a desire for customers to come back looking for more “special items”.
I have decided, in order to keep my inventory flowing, I will purchase items for resale from people who bring things in to my shop. I have learned in watching other thrift store owners, that buying used items in quantity is almost always a good idea. One friend bought the contents of a local hotel that was to be torn down. They bought the furniture, rugs, plumbing, light fixtures, dishes, etc. He sold everything in his shop and it went fast when he put in ads that said where the items were from. There is a certain sentiment about anything that belonged to an old landmark. When some things didn’t sell quickly he would rearrange the merchandise and set it in an “out of the box” type of situation and it always sold immediately. I know that I will also have to go out early Saturday mornings before the shop opens to go to garage sales to keep the shop loaded! I will more than likely not carry clothing as they are too costly to prepare for sale. Washing, drying, ironing all take too much time to make it cost effective. It takes time to stock a thrift store and, just like my new house, it takes time to arrange everything so that it looks so good that someone will buy it! I will need to find racks, display tables and cases in which to place items and then I will have to create a system for pricing items. I will need a cash register and signage and proper lighting.
One month before opening is the time to get things finalized and in order. Painting walls and floors and arranging display centers and start pulling the place together. I am going to run my store by myself so I won’t have to worry about training employees or setting up paperwork, but those are the things that should be performed during the final month before opening. Advertising should be arranged and scheduled and a bookkeeping system should be designed before the doors open for business.
And finally, the day before my grand opening, my to do list is probably still very long. I have to make sure that I have bags for purchases, cash in the register and fine tune all of the displays. I will strive for perfection, but in the thrift business, perfection is in the find! I have this vision in my head of what my shop should look like and what I should carry. It will take some time to get there, but I have my To-Do list for the next year and my vision to drive me forward. Now, for the perfect Welcome sign!