For retail stores in many industries, store owners buy their inventory from a store supply warehouse. But this isn't the case for thrift store owners. By design, a thrift store sells second-hand clothing and other items, such as furniture, accessories and home goods. Thrift store suppliers include online sources, wholesalers and the communities where thrift stores are located.

Donations From the Community

When most people think of thrift stores, they think of stores that sell items donated by members of the local community. Community members are common thrift store suppliers; this model is employed by many small, independent thrift stores as well as large chains like Salvation Army and Goodwill. When an individual donates to a thrift store, she may write the donation’s value off on her taxes.

This model is often used for nonprofit thrift stores and charity shops. Many organizations, like hospitals and churches, operate thrift stores as a way to raise funds while serving their communities by providing jobs and making consumer goods available to low-income individuals.

Online Thrift Store Suppliers

One of the thrift store secrets many shoppers don't know is that in many cases, the secondhand merchandise they purchase came from a wholesale supplier. This supplier could be a store supply warehouse the owner physically visited or an online wholesaler that exclusively serves the secondhand apparel market. Companies that operate in this space include USAgain and A&E Used Clothing Wholesale.

Another thrift store secret some consumers don't know about is that thrift store owners frequently shop for inventory on websites like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and, in some cases, Etsy. In fact, many thrift store owners operate online stores of their own. Today, it's not uncommon for thrift shops to operate eBay stores or to conduct e-commerce on another platform. Operating an online shop enables a thrift store to reach a wider audience than it would be able to reach with only a brick-and-mortar location.

Yard Sales, Estate Sales and Moving Sales

Yard sales, moving sales and estate sales are also popular thrift store suppliers. Some thrift store owners exclusively buy inventory from these types of sales or build them into their business models. For example, a thrift store owner might also offer estate clean-outs, making the process of clearing out a deceased individual’s home easier for his loved ones while giving the thrift store owner quick access to a high volume of potential inventory.

Thrift store owners don't always limit themselves to sales held by private individuals. Items sold at store liquidation and going out of business sales often find their way to thrift store shelves.

Operating a Consignment Shop

Another popular way for thrift store owners to stock their shelves is to operate consignment stores. In the most typical consignment store model, the store owner resells clothing and other items for private individuals and takes a cut from the profit. The individuals bring their items to the store, the owner appraises them and lists them for sale, then if the items sell, both parties profit. If the items don't sell, their original owners can either take them back or have the seller offer them for a discounted price.

Some consignment stores, like Plato’s Closet, operate a bit differently. At these stores, the store owner buys clothing and other items from individual sellers outright. Under this model, the store owner assumes all the risk associated with selling a particular item, but the transaction between the seller and the store owner is much less complicated.