13 Things Your Consignment or Thrift Shop Isn’t Telling You

Consignment shop owners share their secrets, tips, and best etiquette advice.

 Don't expect to make serious money

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This usually isn't the place to make a fast buck. Some shops issue checks quarterly—and pay you only if your item sells. When donating anything make sure you follow these guidelines of things you should just throw away.

 We carry new items

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Some of my merchandise is brand new: When a boutique goes out of business, I'll pick up the inventory and flip it to you. Looking to pick up new items yourself? Make sure to not pick these things up at garage sales.

 Our inventory is always changing

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The recession means times are changing, and so is our inventory. Suits and formal wear aren't selling the way they used to, but smaller furniture for smaller houses is in demand. Here are six things to be on the lookout for so you don't end up buying cheap, poor-quality furniture.

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 Beware of our toys

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We're not testing toys for lead. Retailers have to, but re-sellers are exempt. (It's still not legal for us to sell this stuff.) This is how to properly clean your kids toys to prevent mold.

 Nicer neighborhoods means nicer items

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Stick to stores in the nicer neighborhoods, where people have more disposable income, and more disposable high-end merchandise.

Don't leave things behind

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Please don't leave "donations" on our doorstep. That three-piece sectional couch that's been sitting in the rain all weekend? Now I have to pay somebody to haul it to the dump.

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 Don't give us broken items

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A Wedgwood urn with a little chip? I can probably work with that. I need complete sets of buttons. I need working zippers.

 Take our word when we say something won't sell

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If I say, "That's adorable, but I don't have a market for it," take the hint. I've probably been doing this a long time, and I know what will move. It's not personal, it's business. If you get belligerent with me, I will not want to build a working relationship with you.

 We get some gross things

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And do you really want to buy someone's used potty chair? I can't believe I even have to mention this—but some of my competitors do sell this stuff, so someone must be buying it. (Here are some other childhood items you should probably just toss.)

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 We're very good for the environment

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Consignment shopping is probably the only consumption that's environmentally friendly: When you buy an item you're keeping it out of the landfills, where an estimated 85 percent of used clothing winds up every year. Want more ways to go green? Try these simple swaps to reduce your carbon footprint.

 Check the condition of clothing before you drop it off

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Sometimes it's a fine line between "vintage" and "hideous." Jodi Miller of Designer Renaissance asks herself, "First, is it icky? Some materials of old just seem flammable and you can't see anybody ever wearing it."

Ask about my markdown policy

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Designer Renaissance in Nashville puts merchandise on sale every Thursday: If an item hasn't moved at full price after five weeks, it's marked down 25 percent, the next week it's reduced 50 percent, and the week after that 75 percent.

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Sometimes it is personal

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We get to know you through what you buy and what you discard due to boredom, bad karma, or your metabolic ups and downs. "I'm growing old with some of my customers," says Miller of Designer Renaissance. "When they're dating they get all these hottie clothes, then they get married and you don't see them for a while, then in their later 30s their sizes start changing every year, so I get them again. We discuss medical problems, emotional problems, who the good divorce lawyers are. This job's a blast."

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