A thrift store business focuses on reselling items such as clothing, home goods, and furnishings. Some sell a little bit of everything, while others focus on a niche such as vintage clothing. Many thrift stores are focused on charity and/or nonprofit work, such as funding job programs or feeding the hungry. However, some thrift stores are for-profit businesses that seek to maximize revenue as any other for-profit business would.
Learn how to start your own Thrift Store Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a thrift store business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Thrift Store Business
- Form your Thrift Store Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Thrift Store Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Thrift Store Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Thrift Store Business
- Get Thrift Store Business Insurance
- Define your Thrift Store Business Brand
- Create your Thrift Store Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your thrift store business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
What are the costs involved in opening a thrift store business?
According to one previous thrift store owner in Nevada, opening a store costs between $20,000 and $30,000. That is if you do it right and have enough capital to stay open long enough to build a business. Among other things, you’ll need to rent space, purchase shelving and display cases, obtain merchandise, and implement a marketing plan.
What are the ongoing expenses for a thrift store business?
The ongoing expenses for a thrift store include rent for the commercial space, utilities, internet, and phone. Storage is often an expense as well unless you have enough space to store plenty of merchandise. Probably the most significant ongoing expense is merchandise purchases. These businesses have to keep purchasing merchandise to keep the shelves filled.
Who is the target market?
The target market for thrift stores is typically bargain hunters. Many of these are elderly and on fixed incomes, but not all. Some are just excited to find the best bargain or the hidden gem like they see others do on TV. There are also certain types of thrift stores, such as vintage clothing shops, that target a more specific market like fashion-conscious customers.
How does a thrift store business make money?
A thrift store makes money by selling merchandise. This process begins by finding merchandise for sale that the businesses can buy at the right price. These businesses need to acquire merchandise for a low enough price to turn a profit when they resell it.
How much can you charge customers?
As a general rule, thrift stores should price their merchandise at a quarter of the value of retail. So, if a good costs $100 in a store, you should charge $25 for it in your thrift store. There are exceptions to this rule, such as if you find a desirable product in great condition. However, you want to avoid overpricing your products because you want repeat customers.
How much profit can a thrift store business make?
Thrift stores are not the most profitable businesses. Many are lucky to make $100 to $200 a day – just enough to keep the lights on. If you are trying to start a business with serious profit potential, a thrift store is not it.
Most of these businesses are labors of love and/or charity organizations.
There are exceptions. Large national chains like Goodwill are quite successful.
How can you make your business more profitable?
The biggest key to profitability in the thrift store business is learning how to buy the right merchandise at the right price. Far too many thrift stores fail to be profitable because they don’t buy the right merchandise or spend too much on merchandise. For example, they may pay $1,000 for a storage unit sale but only make $500 from the merchandise they find in the storage unit. If you want to increase your profitability, pinpoint where you can get the most bang for your buck in merchandise purchases.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your thrift store business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a thrift store business
One of the most effective ways to market a thrift store is to use social media. Platforms like Pinterest and Facebook have groups dedicated to thrift store shopping, antiques, and similar hobbies. If you can become a part of all of these different groups and post high-quality photos of your most desirable merchandise, you can attract customers to your store. Once they get there, they are likely to look around at all of your merchandise.
How to keep customers coming back
For most thrift store customers, the reason to frequent a store is to find a great deal. You can only deliver on these expectations if you are good at finding merchandise for your store. The better your inventory, the more likely you will get repeat customers.
Another way to ensure customers like your store is to avoid excessive markups on merchandise. If you try to charge too much for your goods, shoppers will notice and may steer clear of your store.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
A thrift store is right for people who love a good deal and are willing to work hard to get one. If you love shopping at thrift stores, have a passion for guessing the value of merchandise, and are motivated – either to pay your bills or to contribute to a good cause – you may be the perfect fit for a thrift store business.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a thrift store business?
Thrift store owners spend their days on two primary tasks – obtaining merchandise and running their store. They obtain some merchandise through donations, but they also seek out storage unit sales and estate sales. A typical day may include scanning publications for potential merchandise purchases, organizing current merchandise, selling goods to customers, and designing displays.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful thrift store business?
Running a successful thrift store requires good instincts for estimating merchandise value. If you spend $500 on merchandise that you can only sell for $400, you are going to struggle to get by. But if you are skilled at identifying a great deal – merchandise that you can buy low and sell high – then you are more likely to be successful as a thrift store owner.
Other skills and experience that can prove useful are sales experience, negotiation skills, organizational skills, and retail display design experience.
What is the growth potential for a thrift store business?
The growth potential for a thrift store is usually not that great. Depending on where you live, you may have seen multiple thrift stores open and close in your area. That’s because it is difficult to turn a significant profit in the thrift store business – unless you are one of the big players. However, that does not mean growth is not possible. With the right model and some luck, you could hit upon a system that leads to growth for your business.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a thrift store business?
One of the most often overlooked aspects of the thrift store business is obtaining merchandise. New business owners often assume that people will just bring them merchandise for free or that they can go to a storage unit auction and get all they need. The problem is that these strategies tend to result in a lot of sub-par merchandise that you can’t make a profit on.
To be successful in this business, you need sources of higher-quality merchandise. Estate sales are one source that can be fruitful. Estate sales companies often want to get rid of stuff as effortlessly as possible. If you can get them to call you first, you will have access to merchandise that can help keep your store profitable.
How and when to build a team
Thrift stores are not the most profitable businesses, so the more you can keep your labor costs down, the better. Ideally, you and perhaps your partner can do all of the work. Of course, business could be so good that you can’t keep up with everything. If that is the case, it is time to start looking for help.