How to Get Inventory for a Thrift Store

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Finding inventory for your thrift store can be a bit like treasure hunting; you’ll have to explore many avenues in order to obtain merchandise that will readily sell. Don’t limit yourself to conventional methods. A willingness to think outside the box will lead to finding inventory that is unique and will give your business an edge over the competition.

Decide the type of inventory you want to sell. You can specialize in a particular type of merchandise or carry a little bit of everything. Specializing too narrowly, however, can limit the amount of inventory you will be able to acquire. Instead, if you are going to specialize, choose several types of items that complement each other.

Purchase items you want to resell. The bulk of your inventory will be things you purchase from various sources for low or discounted rates. Buy your stock through any of the following places and means: storage unit auctions; estate sales; manufacturer overruns; clearance sales; online auctions of items in bulk; garage and yard sales; wholesalers; church rummage sales; liquidators; and ads you place looking for items.

If your thrift store is for a nonprofit organization, you can request and accept donations. Estimate the value of the donated items and furnish the person or entity making the donation with a charitable gift receipt.

Find trash you can turn into treasure. While “Dumpster diving” and scouring neighborhoods on garbage day might not be your cup of tea, it can yield great finds for your store. Often people will throw away items that need only minor repairs or cosmetic fixes to make them suitable for resale.

Take consignments. While most thrift stores rely on merchandise they purchase outright, find or have donated, setting up consignment agreements can add items to your store. With consignment, you agree to display another person’s goods in exchange for a percentage of the profit once the items sell.

Replenish and rotate your stock often, even when business is slow. For your thrift store to be a success you need to continually bring in new inventory. Your customers won’t come back if what you have in stock this week is exactly the same as you had last month.


  • You can often pick up unsold garage and yard sale items for free or for nominal cost. Contact the sellers before the event and arrange to take anything they don’t sell off their hands.

    Know your potential customers and your market; just because you think crystal baby seal figurines should be a hot seller doesn’t mean they will be.

    How you display your inventory is just as important as the items themselves. An eye-catching and attractive arrangement can motivate people to buy.

    Let your friends, family and colleagues know that you would be interested in things they would like to get rid of. Offering to clean out a closet, basement or garage in exchange for things you find can produce a substantial amount of goods you can resell.


  • Stick to your spending budget. While it might be tempting to go overboard buying items to fill your shop, especially when you are starting out, you don’t want to tie up all of your cash in goods that may not sell.

    Getting inventory for your store is an ongoing task. Set aside the time and money to continue hunting for goods while keeping your store open to customers.



About the Author

Lisa Wilson has a diverse background that includes starting and running a construction company, working as a business consultant, and three years as the development director for a Catholic high school. She has freelanced for 10 years and has been published in "Irish America," "Woodcraft" and various trade journals and newspapers.

Photo Credits

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