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How to Start a Thrift Store

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Published on December 31, 2021

Updated on September 23, 2022

How to Start a Thrift Store

Disclaimer: Step by Step Business’ content is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional legal or tax advice. All of our articles are thoroughly reviewed and fact-checked by our editorial team. Read our editorial guidelines for more details.

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Fast Facts

Investment range

$2,550 - $35,100

Revenue potential

$156,000 - $780,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 – 3 months

Profit potential

$125,000 - $234,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

How to Start a Thrift Store

Thrift stores can be full of treasures that someone else didn’t want, from clothing to trinkets to furniture. The US thrift store industry is valued at over $10 billion and growing. Whether you decide to specialize in vintage clothing, furniture, or a variety of items, you can make a profit by opening your own thrift store. 

You could also follow the path of a business like Goodwill and have a social mission with your thrift store. Goodwill’s mission is to divert items that would be discarded away from landfills to offer them at affordable prices to customers, while actively helping job seekers find employment in their stores.

Launching and running a thrift store will have challenges and will require work and time to get started. This step-by-step guide has all the relevant information and insight that you need to move forward and begin your entrepreneurial journey.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Every business, including a thrift store business, has pros and cons that you should consider before deciding if it’s the right path for you.

Pros

  • Community Service – Save items from landfills and provide them at affordable prices
  • Online Opportunity – You can start your thrift store as an online business
  • Growing Market – Re-sale items are in high demand

Cons

  • High Startup Costs – Costs to open a physical location are high
  • Time-Consuming – You’ll have to find merchandise as well as sell it

Thrift store industry trends

Younger consumers are driving the growth of the market. Over 40% of resale apparel shoppers are Gen Zers and millennials.[1]https://www.thredup.com/resale/#whos-thrifting-and-why 

Companies like Poshmark and ThredUp are booming, buying and reselling high-end fashion items. This presents a tremendous opportunity for a go-getter entrepreneur to start an online thrift marketplace without the startup costs and overhead expenses of a physical store.

Industry size and growth

  • Industry size and past growth – Market analyst IBISWorld values the US thrift store industry at nearly $11 billion, after an average annual growth of 1% in the past five years.[2]https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/market-size/thrift-stores-united-states/  
  • Growth forecast – The $35 billion resale industry is expected to grow more than double in the next 5 years to reach $82 billion, according to a report by ThredUp, a resale company.[3]https://www.thredup.com/resale/#size-and-impact 
  • Number of businesses – More than 26,000 thrift stores are operating in the US.[4]https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/number-of-businesses/thrift-stores-united-states/
  • Number of people employed – Thrift stores in the US employ around 140,000 people.[5]https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/employment/thrift-stores-united-states/
thrift store industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends shaping thrift stores are:

  • Online thrifting, resale, and vintage shopping are becoming popular
  • Employment of content creators and use of social media in promoting thrift stores
  • Growing awareness of environment-friendly and sustainable fashion products

Challenges faced by thrift stores include:

  • Overcoming the negative stigma associated with secondhand or recycled clothing
  • Highly competitive landscape
thrift store industry Trends and Challenges

What kind of people work in thrift stores?

  • Gender – 72% of storekeepers in the US are male, while 28% are female.[6]https://www.zippia.com/storekeeper-jobs/demographics/#gender-statistics
  • Average level of education – 33% of storekeepers hold a bachelor’s degree and 31% have a high school diploma.[7]https://www.zippia.com/storekeeper-jobs/demographics/#degree-level-types
  • Average age – The average age of a storekeeper is 39 years old.[8]https://www.zippia.com/storekeeper-jobs/demographics/#age-statistics
thrift store industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a thrift store business?

Startup costs for a thrift store range from $2,500 to $35,000. The low end represents opening an online store with the largest costs being inventory and a website setup. The high end reflects the cost of opening a physical store.

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your thrift store business. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Shelving and counters
  • Storage containers for items
Startup CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance $100 - $300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Initial inventory$1,000 - $20,000$10,500
Retail space security deposit$0 - $6.000$3,000
Retail space preparation$0 - $5,000$2,500
Total$2,550 - $35,100$18,825

How much can you earn from a thrift store business?

Typically, the markup on resale items is between 5 and 8 times the purchase price, but it can vary greatly. If you start an online store from home, you can expect a profit margin of about 80%. 

In your first year or two, you could work from home and sell 200 items a week at $15 average per item, bringing in $156,000 in annual revenue. This would mean around $125,000 in profit, assuming that 80% margin. As your brand gains recognition, sales could climb to 1,000 items per week. At this stage, you might rent an office and hire staff, reducing your profit margin to around 30%. With expected annual revenue of $780,000, you would make about $234,000.

Thrift Store earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a thrift store. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • You’ll have to find inventory to start with which will take some legwork
  • Competition, particularly online, is high

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a thrift store, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research other thrift stores to examine their products, price points, customer reviews, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the market is missing an online home goods thrift store. 

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry such as glassware.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products or services

You can decide to specialize in a certain type of product such as clothing, or you could offer a variety. If you decide to purchase items at garage sales to re-sell, you could find any number of things from clothing to glassware and home goods.

How much should you charge for thrift store items?

Your prices are going to vary based on what you buy items for and how much people are willing to pay for items. Keep in mind that your customers are going to be looking for items that are significantly less than they would pay for new items. 

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will depend on the type of products you decide to offer. If you specialize in trendy or vintage clothing, your target market will likely be younger, so you can find them on sites like Instagram or TikTok.

Where? Choose your business premises

If you have an online store, in the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on Craigslist, Crexi, and Commercial Cafe.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
thrift store business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • The name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “thrift” or “thrift store”, boosts SEO
  • Choose a name that allows for expansion: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
  • Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
  • Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
  • Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
  • Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
  • Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
  • Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
  • Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
  • Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to thrift stores. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your thrift store will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Benefit Corporation – A B-Corporation is a business of any entity type that has a social mission but can still make a profit. By passing rigorous standards and “meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” they can get a B-Corp certification from B Lab, a non-profit organization. Not all states recognize the B-Corp status. The B-Corp is taxed based on what type of entity it is. For example, a corporation that has B-Corp certification is taxed as a regular corporation.
  • Non-Profit Corporation – A corporation that does not generate profits and works toward a social mission. The owners are not personally liable for debts. Funding comes from donations or fund-raising activities. 

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.  
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Friends and family can help fund your company either for a stake in the company or as a loan. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.      
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund an entrepreneur’s vision. Other crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder allow you to invite multiple investors to fund your business for a stake in the company       
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings, or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best options, other than friends and family, for funding a thrift store. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Starting a thrift store business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments. 

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account. Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your thrift store business as a sole proprietorship. 

Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You can use industry-specific software, such as ConsignPro, AccuPOS, or MicroBiz, to manage inventory and sales.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Marketing

Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but still, you should invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness. 

Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products: 

  • Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area. 
  • Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
  • Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Buy Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
  • Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.

Kickstart Marketing

Take advantage of your website, social media presence, and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include: 

  • Competitions and giveaways – Generate interest by offering prizes for customers who complete a certain action, such as 20% off on Sundays.
  • Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your store and website. 
  • Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events.
  • Post a video – Post a video about your products. Try using humor and maybe it will go viral!
  • Email marketing – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal.
  • Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share it on multiple sites.
  • Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
  • Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to come up faster from searches. Research your keywords first.
  • Payper-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that set it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your thrift store meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your thrift store business could be: 

  • Thrifty home goods that fit your budget
  • Sustainable clothing that sustains your wallet
  • Re-sale jewelry at rock bottom prices
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a thrift store, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in the resale market for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in thrift stores. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.

Step 12: Build Your Team

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a thrift store business would include:

  • Sorters – sort and price items
  • Store clerks – make sales if you have a physical store
  • Marketing lead – SEO strategies, social media, other marketing
  • Buyers – find items for re-sale

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Start Making Money!

Thrift stores are great for the community and the planet, and your own store can be good for your bank account. It’s a nearly $11 billion industry and growing, so why not make money while doing a service for others? It’s fairly easy to start an online store, and you can do it for very little money. You can also start from home.

You could grow your business to include physical locations later. Now that you’ve read all about it and have all the information you need, you’re now ready to start your entrepreneurial journey and open your own thrift store! 

Thrift Store Business FAQs

Can you make money having a thrift store?

Yes, you can make money from a thrift store. While some operate as nonprofits and take donations, others are for profit. With an online thrift store, you can earn a high profit margin, as much as 80%.

How much does it cost to start a thrift store?

You can start an online thrift store for as little as $6,500. The main costs are inventory and a website. A physical store can cost $25,000 or more to start. 

Do I need a license to have an online thrift store?

As with any business, you need business licenses and permits at the state and local levels. Check with your local government offices for requirements.

How can I get merchandise for my thrift store?

Many re-sale stores extend offers to buy people’s used items and then re-sell them for a profit. You can also go to garage sales or estate sales to find quality items to re-sell.