Professional Thrifting Tips: Surviving the Goodwill Outlet


In earlier posts, Emily discusses both beginner and intermediate thrifting tips. Today I get down to the nitty-gritty about thrifting at the Goodwill Outlet, which is not for the faint of heart. Some might even say that the Goodwill Outlet is NOT even for the novice thrfiter, and I tend to agree. In fact, I'm a die-hard thrifter and it took a few trips before I was hooked.

A brief explanation of how a typical Goodwill store works is necessary here. So, the Goodwill Outlet is the last stop in the journey of donated second-hand items. This journey begins when the item is donated - either to a brick and mortar store, a donation center, or to a free-standing donation bin often seen in the parking lots of grocery and other stores. Either way, the items end up being sorted by the semi-trained Goodwill behind-the-scenes employees. These employees are the gatekeepers so to speak - they sort and price the items that are donated based on a rudimentary system that varies store by store. This is why the items at say, a Goodwill in a more wealthy, are priced differently than those in a less affluent neighborhood. Goodwill employees have a list of designer labels and price-points for each. They also have guidelines for "boutique" items, which is why you'll often see new with tags items from Walmart brands next to bonafide designer pieces. After being sorted, priced and color coded, the items are placed on the sales floor where they remain for up to one month. Once a week a new color goes on 50% sales to make room for the constant influx of fresh items. SO where do items go if they don't sell, even at 50% off? The Goodwill Outlet! It's sort of like a second-hand item's purgatory. If an item doesn't sell at the Goodwill Outlet - it goes to hell. Kidding. Seriously - if items don't sell at the Goodwill outlet they are either bundled and shipped to third world countries as clothing, they are compacted and salvaged (sent to landfills), or sometimes they are even sold as fabric to places that make rag rugs! Occasionally items donated actually circumvent the sorting and pricing steps altogether and are sent directly to the Goodwill Outlet. This is at the discretion of Goodwill store managers and often occurs when the volume of items that need to be sorted exceeds the manpower to complete the task.

Okay so now that you have a cursory understanding of how items end up at a Goodwill Outlet, lets DIVE into what happens once they're there. Pun intended!

Items arrive at the Goodwill Outlet after being discarded by the regular Goodwill retail stores. They are already semi-sorted but before the BINS are brought out they are further sorted into a few categories:

  • Clothing and fabric items
  • Shoes
  • Glassware
  • Luggage
  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Book/Magazines/Records
  • Accessories (Purses, belts, ties)
  • Miscellaneous (EVERYTHING)

Once sorted items are wheeled out onto the sales floor. The bins are rotated approximately once per hour. Pricing items individually isn't neccessary because a flat, per pound price is charged. The more you buy, the cheaper it is! Seems fairly simple right? WRONG! Here's were thrfiting goes from being a novice level activity to a PROFESSIONAL one. There are many unspoken rules at "The Bins," which is what the regulars call the Goodwill Outlet. Some of these rules are enforced by store management and fellow shoppers, while others are more common sense than common law. Here's a rundown:

1. Shop at your own risk - some people opt to wear rubber gloves while digging through the bins and I've even seen a face mask or two.

2. DON'T touch anything in the bins until all they're all rolled out, usually in groups of 4 or more.

3. Be polite. Give other shoppers their personal space. Don't remove things from other people's carts. Don't get into a tug-of-war over items. Don't be greedy.

To be continued...

In our next post we'll share personal stories of heroism from the bins in Hamden, CT!

How to Thrift: Intermediate Tips

So you know your way around a thrift store. Maybe you've been a few times, maybe you've been a few dozen times. When push comes to shove, though, you're still more comfortable in a retail store, and thrifting is more pleasure than business. How do you step up your game?

1. Sign up for club memberships

Of course the little mom-n-pop shops don't have them -- although they might have an email list! -- but the big chains do. If you're not sure if a thrift store has a club membership / rewards program, ask! You might get special coupons, a discount off every purchase over a certain amount, or access to special sales.

2. Go thrifting in another city

If you live in Boston and have a car, trek out to Natick or Framingham. If you live in Portland, take a day trip to Seattle (get thee to the Goodwill on Dearborn -- my grandparents shopped there! It's a Seattle institution!). If you're traveling to NYC, hit up Housing Works. Different cities have different thrift stores, different thrift cultures, and different styles. There are things you will find in, say, Montreal, that you'll never find in Phoenix and vice versa.

3. Make lists

Keep a running list in your head, in your smartphone, in your glove compartment, or wherever of things you want or need and which might be found at thrift stores.

4. Hit sale days and shop sale items

Many thrift stores have sales on major holidays. Many also have weekly sales working on the "color tag" model. Since thrift stores get new inventory all the time, color tags track how long the inventory has been in the store. In the last week a particular round of inventory is to remain on the sales floor, stores discount those items by 50%. Check with your local stores to see what their sale calendar is. If you sign up for a club membership, you might just get this notifications automatically, too. Like regular retail, thrift stores also often have sales on major shopping holidays, so check in about President's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.

5. Trust your gut

If you don't like a store, don't keep going back! Lots of thrifters who offer tips online tell you to hit as many different stores as you can. Well, if the Salvation Army near you is smells of eau de pee and you can't deal, don't force yourself back. This is your time. Don't waste it going places you hate. Yeah, there might be some great gem there one day (although maybe with the frequency we get to see Venus transit the Sun), but who cares? There are gems everywhere -- trust me. Go elsewhere.

6. Find a tailor and a dry cleaner you trust (or bite the bullet and DIY)

Let's be real for a second:  not everyone can afford to have their clothing tailored -- even thrifted clothing -- or have everything that is marked "dry clean only" actually dry cleaned. If you can, however, find specialists that won't ruin your clothes. If you know you can take a great pair of pants to get hemmed for $10, then you'll feel more confident purchasing items in thrift stores that are almost perfect, but not quite. If you can't afford these extras or don't want to deal with them, consider how much risk you are willing to take to, say, dump that stained shirt in a bucket of OxyClean for a day or to drop the hem yourself.

7. Give back

If you love a store, review it online. Don't be greedy; spread the love and tell other thrifters about it. If you love and a store and love what it stands for, definitely give it your donations! Encourage other people to give, too. And, again, if you don't know what cause a store supports, if any, ask.

8. Buy only what you love

It bears repeating. The better you get at thrift shopping, the more things you will find and want. The more efficient you are, the more you'll throw in your cart, and you probably really don't need that lime green sweatervest even-though-it's-cashmere, right?

Branding Your Etsy Shop - Creating a Shop Logo and DIY Sign

Today's post is the first in a series about Etsy shop branding.  Creating a successful online shop, whether it's on Etsy, Big Cartel, Copious, or any other online fashion platform, begins with the quality of product you sell and the strength of your customer service.  Once you've successfully mastered these crucial features, shop cohesiveness and branding are the next steps.  Whether it's handmade craft, artwork, or vintage items, presenting your shop as a cohesive brand is key.  Branding has become a buzz word in the burgeoning market of small indie businesses. Branding is the experience you create for your customers before, during, and after their visit to your shop.  Consumers have come to expect a shopping experience.  Creating this experience for them ensures a lasting impression and  is very important to having staying power and a loyal customer base. Some of the most successful brick and mortar fashion retailers (think Anthropologie or LL Bean or Victoria's Secret) have very developed, cohesive, and recognizable visual branding. They sell an image, not just a product. This package included a store's visual merchandising in window displays, store props, catalogs, shopping bags, price tags, gift wrapping, and even the music and scents that are piped into the store. The result is a recognizable experience that hooks the customer.  In an online store, this branding may consist of the store's avatar or banner, business cards, the style of the shop's photography including backdrops, gift packaging, stickers, price tags, and sale avatars.  If these items are crafted cohesively, the result is the creation of a shop brand. Creating a logo is the first step in a successful branding.  Your logo should capture the spirit of your shop and be unique enough that people will remember it.   Emily created Vintanthromodern's logo based on a DIY sign I made for the shop when I first started out.  I was doing the East Rock Street Festival in New Haven (my very first) and needed a sign to hang in my booth. While diving at the bins at the Goodwill Outlet, I found some  buttery yellow cloud shaped vintage placemats.  I  painted and cut out banner cloth letters in a font called Sybil Green, and strung them together.




Emily created the graphic logo in a vector graphics editor, building all of the pieces of the logo by hand. I wanted a shop logo that was clear and easy to read but whimsical and kept the DIY feel of the original real life sign. The end result is a banner for the Etsy shop and for the blog that mimics but streamlines the original Goodwill-placemat banner. I also love birds, so she included a bird sitting atop the "clothesline" that holds the clouds together.


If I can't use the full shop logo, like for an ad, Emily can take some elements of the full logo -- the clouds, the bird, the clothesline -- and use them individually or put them together in a new way while maintaining a consistent brand.



Once your shop has a logo the next logical step in branding is creating business cards. In the next post, you'll learn about the business card design process!