How to Operate a Thrift Store

store front image by Derek Abbott from Fotolia.com

Operating a thrift store is very much like running other types of retail shops, with some differences. Like any other retail shop, you need to have a plan, license your store, figure out a location, determine what type of inventory you will sell, and possibly hire staff to run your store. Many thrift stores are non-profit institutions that benefit charity. Some sell items that were donated. Some are more like antique shops that sell used items that are actually valuable. It's important to consider what kind of thrift store you want to open.

Setting up shop

Write a business plan. The business plan comprises the fundamental underpinning of any enterprise. Writing the plan will not only allow you to express your ideas to other people, but also to organize them into a set of steps that will get you from your idea to a working store. In writing the plan, you should consider where you want to set up shop, who your target clientele is, what kind of goods you want to sell, and what kind of financial returns you need to be successful enough to continuing operating. It's important to take a realistic approach in determining how much it's going to cost.

Choose a location. It is often said that the three most important things to consider in opening a store are location, location, location. Since you are opening a retail shop, an open storefront would be the best option. It is also important that it is easily accessible to the public you plan on serving and that it is appropriate for the stock you will be selling. If you want to operate in an urban area, is it accessible by public transportation or is there enough parking? If you are going to be selling large items like furniture, is there enough space to house your inventory, and will it be convenient enough for your customers to pick up their purchases?

Acquiring inventory. A lot of the inventory you see in thrift stores is donated. However, you are not likely to have enough donations before you first open. An alternative is to tour flea markets and yard sales to find inexpensive items that someone would want to buy. Depending on what items and how much you plan on opening with, it may be helpful to have a truck or van to carry them back to your store. Although you may not have to be completely stocked before you open your store, you should make sure you have enough items to make it worthwhile for people to come in and browse. After you have been operating long enough, people in your community will likely start bringing in some of their unwanted items to donate or sell.

Opening and operating

Opening up shop. You will likely want to advertise your store before you open. This can be done by having large "Grand Opening" signs on your shop if you have a storefront where there is a lot of traffic. You can also advertise in the local community newspaper, local online sites, and by posting fliers in other local businesses. You may want to consider having a special "grand opening" a few weeks after you actually open so more people are aware that your business is there.

It is extremely important that you keep records of all of your transactions. You may have to charge your customers sales tax if you are a for-profit business. You will have to declare your net profits and losses on your taxes, and you will want to know how you are doing anyway. Your monthly net profit is determined by subtracting all of your expenses (such as the cost of your inventory, rent, employee payroll, utility bills, and any other operating expenses) from your gross receipts (the total income from all of your retail transactions).

Take stock. After you have been operating awhile, revisit your business plan and see where you are. You should periodically reevaluate to ensure you are headed in the right direction.

References

Resources

About the Author

Carmen Russell is a career journalist who began writing in 1995. His articles have appeared in the "Chicago Tribune," "Orlando Sentinel," "Washington Times" and "asia! Magazine." His video work has been featured on "20/20," PBS and MSNBC.com. Russell has a Master of Studies in law from Georgetown University and a Master of Science in journalism from Columbia University.

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