These days, the clientele for thrift stores are eco-conscious yuppies looking to recycle, fashionistas looking for vintage pieces and eagle-eyed bargain hunters willing to plonk down $3,000 for a diamond ring.
Which can explain the growth from one store in 1996 to more than 10 thrift shops in Singapore now.
Social enterprises that run these thrift stores have been sustainable, even as there are more stores competing for customers.
The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Industries, which has five family thrift stores, including Tanglin Mega Family Store, started its first store 20 years ago.
From its initial set-up where customers had to rummage through piles of items, the stores now emphasise visual merchandising.
Mr Nicholas Tan, retail and marketing manager of the family stores, says: “We’ve been able to cover our costs and contribute to The Salvation Army for their programmes.”
Changing demographics in the buyer profile is one of the reasons these stores thrive.
Mr Tan says: “We’re starting to see an increase in students and housewives at our Tanglin Mega Family Store, for instance.
“Kids look for vintage clothes and books while housewives look for dresses.”
And some of their customers have no qualms paying thousands of dollars for unique items.
Mr Tan has seen a customer spend more than $3,000 on a diamond ring. It was in turn, donated by a woman who decided not to keep the engagement ring for personal reasons.
It also helps that more people are donating their items.
Mr Tan recalls how a retired businessman donated his entire collection of replica vases, with each of the hundreds of vases selling for between $300 and $10,000.
Another donor gave a big boat sculpture made of jade. It is priced at $10,000 and remains unsold.
Mr Tan says: “It was a centrepiece in a shop that had wound up.”
Mr Lim Lye Hock, 54, a store supervisor with Hi-Thrift, says that people who move homes donate items to the store as well.
Among the common items are washing machines, refrigerators and television sets.
Mr Lim says: “An expatriate, who left Singapore after six months, donated his 40-inch TV set. We sold it off for $300.”
Image: The New Paper
Corporate donors, too, have been generous. Some shoe shops donate their display items, says a staff member at Tanglin Mega Family Store.
Some lost-and-found items donated by corporations, such as iPads, are usually snapped up very quickly.
The staff member says: “Depending on the model, an iPad Air can cost about $400 to $500 here. An iPad mini costs about $300 to $400.”
Thrift stores try to keep prices low.
Mr Lim says: “If we price it too high, the item doesn’t move. (But) we can’t price it too low either, as it’ll spoil the market.
“Sometimes when customers buy a lot from us, we give them more discounts.”
The bestsellers are clothes, especially if they are designer items.
At Hi-Thrift, Mr Lim says branded clothes like Gucci and Levi’s are sold at an average of $20 per piece, depending on its quality and newness.
Despite the pricing, the shop has been able to make up to $8,000 a month. The revenue sustains its operations and supports the Highpoint Community Services Association charitable organisation.
Mr Lim says: “Sales used to be better when we were actively collecting donated items door-to-door and through our house-moving service.
“But now, we’re depending on donors to bring the items to us, as we have a lack of manpower and transportation.”
Madam Sarita Singh, 40, who was spotted contributing a plastic box full of books and bags of clothing at The Salvation Army’s Tanglin location on Friday, says that she does so about five to six times a year.
The Australian mother of two, who runs regional operations in the consumer technology industry, says: “We do it every time after my kids’ birthdays. The kids grow up so fast, they want new things.
“So every six months, I’ll put aside the smaller clothes to give away. And as they’re just six months old, the clothes are as good as new.
“It’s better than throwing them away. Someone can make good use of it.”
Thrift shop bargain buys
A treasure hunt – that’s what shopping at thrift shops is like. Look hard enough and you’re bound to find gems that will not burn a hole in your wallet.
From chic outfits to vintage furniture, Chai Hung Yin, Seow Yun Rong and Catherine Robert pick up little goodies from three thrift stores in Singapore.
WHERE TO BUY
Something Old Something New @ Simei Care Centre: 10, Simei Street 3, Singapore 529897
Hi-Thrift, Highpoint Community Services Association: 1, Lorong 23 Geylang, Singapore 388352
The Salvation Army’s Tanglin Mega Family Store: 356, Tanglin Road, Singapore 247674
The story was originally published in The New Paper. For more stories like this, head to www.tnp.sg
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