Outfitting kids for school can be costly. With prices on the rise on everything from gasoline to cereal, we’re all looking for ways to make our dollar go further. Buying back-to-school fashions at resale shops can help. Why shop at thrift stores? Here are six reasons to give it a shot.
1. Resale shops are choosy
Unlike non-profit thrift stores that take whatever people donate and use the proceeds for charities, resale shops are selective. They pay sellers for their gently-used clothing and turn a profit selling those clothes to customers. And resalers carefully pick merchandise based on quality and the likelihood they can resell it, says Susan Baustian, former director of Once Upon a Child resale stores, which includes 14 shops in Michigan, with six in the metro Detroit area.
There are two business models for resale shops. The first, and more popular in the greater Detroit area, is cash payment: Individual sellers are paid on-the-spot for the items they bring in. Consignment shops, on the other hand, don’t buy items right away, but instead display them for a certain amount of time. If the item sells, the original seller typically receives 40 to 60 percent of the asking price, and the store pockets the rest. If it doesn’t, the price is reduced – and if it still stays on the rack, it’s returned to the original seller.
2. You can get brand names for a bargain
Abercrombie & Fitch. Limited Too. Hollister. You’ll find all these brands at your area resale shop. Like any retailer, resale stores need to move merchandise to make a profit. Storeowners look for the brands they know your child is hunting for when selecting merchandise.
For younger children, you’ll find popular brands, like Gymboree and OshKosh B’Gosh, share the shelves with other brands like Target’s Circo and Kohl’s Sonoma. “But we don’t focus on brand as much as we do quality,” Baustian says. So expect to find a wide range of brands, but all in near-perfect condition and at great prices.
3. Resale shops have the latest fashions
Think you’re only going to find velour shirts from the ’80s and ratty ’90s flannel? No way. Resale stores stock many of the same styles as retailers. “We’re looking for current styles,” Baustian says. “So clothes from the past year or two” will find their way onto resale racks.
Elyssa Mount, co-owner of Ann Arbor’s Grow With Me, agrees. Her shop prides itself on its boutique feel and up-to-date fashions. In fact, Mount frequently purchases merchandise with the tags still attached from sellers that never got around to using them. “I’d say about one-fifth of our clothing has original tags on them and have never been worn.”
4. Resale shops carry a range of sizes
You’ll find plenty of baby clothing, cribs, toys and furniture at resale shops, but clothing sizes don’t stop once a child’s ready for school. Grow With Me, for example, carries sizes for girls up to size 16 and for boys up to size 18. Some sell clothing for infants and teens, all under one roof.
So don’t be put off by the cribs and strollers on display at the front of many resale shops. You’ll also find sizes for older elementary school-aged kids and middle schoolers. That said, some stores, like Plato’s Closet, cater to specific age groups.
5. Resale shops are thriving
Resale shops are opening often, offering an even greater variety to the cost-conscious consumer. According to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops (NARTS), resale shops are “one of the fastest growing segments of retail,” making it a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry.
“As consumer interest in resale increases, more and more people are opting to open their own resale shops, resulting in an industry growth of approximately 7 percent a year,” NARTS notes on its website.
And a soft economy only strengthened sales a few years ago. “The resale industry is one of the few recession-proof segments,” explains Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the NARTS headquartered in St. Clair Shores.
6. Resale shops are for everyone
“There’s no typical resale shopper,” reports NARTS. Instead, resale shoppers come from every socioeconomic background. That said, Baustian notes that Once Upon a Child, “primarily target moms ages 25 to 45.”
Perhaps the one common thread among shoppers is the search for a good bargain.
This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.