Traffic woes? Turn on the pizzazz: A dash of energy and new promotions may help this rural thrift store

Knowing Your Business is a regular feature in Antique Trader in which editors or experts from the antiques trade answer questions or highlight successful business practices. This week, Antique Trader editor Eric Bradley suggests a few ways a rural thrift store can increase traffic. These ideas aren’t limited to thrift stores – all can be employed or adapted for antique stores, group malls or even shows.

Q We live in a small town in Indiana, population less than 2,500 people. My husband and I volunteer for (and were the founders) of a really nice, clean, big, church based thrift store. All the proceeds go to support the church food pantry and to help people with medical bills, and other needs.

We get tons of donations in and I process all the household, collectibles and antiques. My husband and I owned an antique shop for a number of years back in the 1980s so we try hard to keep up on what things to recognize as treasures. Our problem is that we have very little market for antiques in this area. I have put things on CraigsList and eBay, without much success.

I wonder if you might have any marketing ideas we haven’t come up with. We have a once a year sale of antiques and collectibles and that is somewhat successful, but only if the prices are low. For example, we have had a Hummel figurine in perfect condition that only went when we marked it down to $25, which just killed me. Same thing for a Lladro figurine. In the antique line, we have had a beautiful string of pearls that we had appraised  at $750 that still hasn’t sold!

Ginny Coppedge
The Mark of Discipleship Thrift Store (The Mark, for short)


A Your shop sounds like the perfect picking grounds for collectors, dealers and online merchants. Here’s a few tips that may help you reach new customers. We’ve seen these work for shop owners as well as show promoters:

First, reserve a moment with your staff or fellow volunteers to talk about where your target customer shops, visits or hangs out. Figure out what type of customer you want to attract and then talk about where those customers are already congregating.

  • One of the best methods to advertise a charity such as yours is to start building a local community of customers around the sale. Learn more about Facebook and how people who have profiles there can create “pages.” These pages promote or advertise companies and non-profit groups. This allows you a free way to build a fan base around  your shop. This is done by inviting and linking the page to other Indiana-area antiques businesses. Once the page is created, you may update it with news of current sales, great donations, fun finds and more; then word spreads to everyone who “likes” or “subscribes” to your page or its newsfeed.

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  • When using Spencer, Ind.,-area Craigslist, are you posting ads on the Indianapolis pages? This would help folks far away become interested in your items. If not, try posting them on these bigger-city pages. If the buyer wants them, they will be willing to travel to your store or contact you for a purchase.
  • You could try the silent auction method. Some charities highlight a valuable item on a special table or shelf in the front of the shop (maybe even in the front window). Customers may then write what they are willing to pay for an item on a slip of paper with their phone number or address and add it to a covered box or booklet. The person who writes the highest amount “wins” that silent auction. This may not get you full price for an item, but it may get you more than usual while offering your customers a fun and entertaining distraction.
  • Host an appraisal day! If you find yourself with a trove of great items, ask local antiques dealers or auctioneers to visit the shop and host a two-hour appraisal day. Perhaps the appeal of volunteering would be enough to compensate them, but you could always offer them a lunch at the very least. Promote the event ahead of time by sending press releases to the media, mentioning the dealers’ shops and the auction houses. The main goal here is to introduce your thrift store to new customers and make shopping trips there are regular habit.

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  • Want to know who shops our local thrift stores religiously? Hint: It’s not the same people who make donations. Try getting permission to hang fliers at your nearest colleges, universities, coffee shops, libraries and other places where young people hang out. Too many dealers dismiss the younger generation as just not interested in vintage finds and collectibles. I say hogwash. This generation was raised on 24/7 interior decor shows, “Antiques Roadshow,” eBay and now, “American Pickers” and the like. Try some innovative fliers at these locations and see how they work at attracting new customers. I have seen college-age shoppers drop up to $400 at local country auctions just to stock up online shops. They could be doing the same at your thrift store.
  • Perhaps you can strike up a partnership with a larger thrift store in a larger city? If your board could manage the relationship and it falls within your charter, maybe a store in a larger city could sell your higher-ticket donations and split the proceeds with you. If you spot items that would sell for double or triple what your shop can get for them, maybe it’s time to enlist another non-profit to help you reach a larger audience.

These ideas are just a start for Ms. Coppedge. What say you loyal readers? Do you volunteer? What works at your thrift store? What ideas can you brainstorm for Ginny and The Mark? Send them to Antique Trader, c/o 700 E. State St. Iola, WI 54945 or or to Ginny directly:

The Mark of Discipleship Thrift Store
95 W. Franklin,
Spencer, IN 47460, or

Eric Bradley is editor of Antique Trader magazine, a former producer of the Atlantique City Antiques Show and author of the Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Gudie 2012.


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