I profile all the twists, turns, and finds from a perfectly average trip to the thrift store. (Or maybe just a little above average).
I noticed I’ve done a lot of posts on “outlier” stories of big yields and exceptional finds, so this post is long overdue: A perfectly “average” trip to a thrift store.
The (average) story
I spotted a thrift store that advertised on Craigslist, of all places, late one night. It stood out of two reasons. One, I’d never heard of it and it was only 20 minutes away. Two, it had a virtual record store built into its basement – fully alphabetized and organized. The photos in the ad looked amazing, so I had to check it out.
Its always immediately apparent if a thrift store is “real” thrift store, or one that feebly tries to cultivate an image of “respectability” and orderliness by throwing everything good in the dumpster (I’ve worked at these place. This is what they do.) This was definitely a “real” thrift store: Way more merchandise than room, and every shelf and table was brimming over with disorganized chaos. Just how me (and my bank account) like it.
I hit the VHS shelves first, and found some gems. Five very long tail documentary and instructional titles (ranked 500,000+) but each going for $20+. Will they ever sell? Who cares. They were 50 cents.
Also found were two rare, early-90s Alex Jones / Infowars.com documentaries on VHS. (I’m keeping these for myself).
Then I moved on to the CDs. I usually don’t give a lot of time to CDs, but I quickly noticed some business audio books mixed in (Brian Tracy, etc), so I spotted some potential. I ended up with 12 CDs, each in the $7 to $15 range. They were $1 each, so I was happy. CDs are very hit-or-miss, and in my experience do not do well when priced more than $3.99 above the lowest merchant fulfilled offer. So I allot my time to these sparingly, but at this particular store it was time well spent.
And because its important to treat yourself, I found the ultra-rare “Best of Phil Hendrie Show 2005” CD. If you don’t know who Phil Hendrie is, he’s created the most ingenious form of improv comedy ever devised by the human mind. His fans are also rabid, and every “Best of” Phil Hendrie CD on
They didn’t have many DVDs, but I quickly pulled found 4 selling for $10+. Three were how-to titles on making arts and crafts, and one was on repairing your credit. They were $2 each, so even at $10 I was still tripling my money after commissions.
Then: The books. The basement was filled with them. I could tell right away they were heavily, heavily picked over. Its part sixth-sense, part every sticker covering every barcode being scratched away, but it was obvious. This would be much more like a slow, methodical gold panning operation than bank robbery.
When a store has been previously visited by a thorough bookseller, you have to do a few things to extract profit:
- Hit the bottom shelves. The lazy ones miss those.
- Look up books without barcodes manually. The lazy ones miss those too.
- Get comfortable buying books with high sales ranks (1 million+). A lot of booksellers need a quick turnaround, and won’t buy anything they can’t flip fast.
When it comes to looking up books manually, the trick is to have a deep knowledge of books, what categories hold their value, and what to give your time to. You can’t look up everything. I go into this in depth in
And then there are just those books the last person missed, or ones put out since they were there. I wasn’t surprised when, by the time I was done, I had 75 books.
I know I called this an “average” trip to the bookstore, and I would put 75 books as a somewhat above average score. But I got this because I put my time in, looked a ton of books up by hand, and was very thorough. It took me about 90 minutes to get those 75 books.
And, the quality of the books was below average, because it was so picked over, which put me at a handicap. There’s a lesson here: I got an above average yield from an below average selection. You just have to put the work in.
It got even better when I lumbered up to the register with everything, the cashier looked down at the 6 boxes I had filled, confronted herself with the daunting task of counting everything up, and just said “How about $50?” That amounted to a discount of almost 50%. (When you buy in volume, this actually happens more than you’d think.)
Here are the total stats for my “average trip to the thrift store”:
Total books: 75 (9 textbooks, 2 audio books, 15 books without barcodes, 49 misc books)
Average sales rank: 860,000 (this is definitely a worse-than-average number, pulled down by several $50+ books ranked 5 to 8 million, and 18 books total ranked worse than 1 million).
Total sales price for books (projected): $1,370.
Total profit on books (projected, using the 60% rule): $822.
Average sales rank: 192,000
Total sales price for misc media (projected): $288
Total profit on misc media (projected, using the 60% rule): $173
TOTAL PROJECTED PROFIT: $995
And that concludes my story of a (just above) average trip to a thrift store.