Ten Ways to Make Money Selling Shoes in a Thrift Store
It has always amazed me how many shoes are donated every day in thrift. Even more amazing is how many pairs of good to great shoes are donated. Nike, Air Jordan, Boston the list goes on and on. Providing quality shoes at a bargain price is a true community service.
There is money hiding in those shoes. We love shoes. they are so ubiquitous that it’s an easily overlooked segment. Done right shoes can be a top revenue department.
There are plenty of ways to maximize revenue on shoes at the store and beyond. What’s not to like?
Ten ways to generate revenue from shoes:
- Consistently maintain a well-merchandised shoe department
- Save out of season donated shoes
- Quality/brand sort and value price
- Minimize single shoes
- E-commerce pairs
- E-commerce small lots
- Local resellers bulk sales
- Developmental clean and polish program
- By the pound
- Bulk salvage for export
Let’s break Them down
A well-merchandised shoe department
Thrift shoppers are down for a voyage of discovery. Few are interested in playing hide and seek for what they are looking for. How well the shoe department is sorted and presented makes a huge difference in how well they sell.
One store in my area of responsibility was number one in shoe sales year in and year out. They weren’t located in the high rent district, they didn’t have the prettiest store, their donations were middle of the road. Yet they were always number one. Dollars sold, percent of store sales, pieces sold, they ran the table.
Their process was crazy simple. Keep the department full and well organized every day no matter what. In that store, exceptional standards in the shoe department were a religion. That manager had picked shoes as a signature department, made it so, and kept it so.
It’s a truism in retail that it’s easier to keep a department nice than it is to get it nice. They kept it nice. It was always fresh, full, and organized.
They maintained that standard for so long that they became a destination for people looking for shoes. Customers knew there would always be a nice selection. That sustained effort and merchandising discipline were the keys.
Several stores tried to take their spot. They would start strong, see a nice sales increase, and generally do better. None ever sustained that high level over time, they didn’t weave the expectation into the fabric of the store.
The value of a consistently excellent department or store, can’t be underestimated.
Out of season shoes
Those insulated Sorrell winter boots can be gold in winter. The blinged-out women’s flats are the same in summer. The tricky part is that both come in all year.
There is a tremendous value in sorting and saving out-of-season goods like this. On the first warm, sunny spring day in the Midwest and points north, customers will be looking for those blinged-out flats.
The best way to serve them is to have a reserve supply ready. Otherwise, the shelves will be empty, sales will be lost and customers will go elsewhere.
There is a space cost to storing goods for future sale. In this case, the return on that investment is substantial. Not every store has a lot of room, if you have it it’s a great investment.
Building reserve supplies for each season is money in the bank.
Some thrift stores have “rack pricing”, meaning everything in a category is the same price. Men’s shoes $5.99, winter boots $9.99, and so on. That makes sorting and ringing up quick and easy. Customers love it.
Rack pricing leaves money on the table. Selling a Faded Glory pair for the same price as Cole Haan, well, makes no sense. Perceived brand value carries through to the thrift store. That extra couple dollars here, five to twenty dollars there adds up. Where rack pricing may make sense in textiles, it’s a lot easier to price to quality and value.
It does take more time, effort, and training in processing shoes. The payoffs can be substantial.
Minimize single shoes
This one makes me a little crazy. Where do they come from? There just aren’t that many people donating single shoes.
An abundance of single shoes is a clue to larger operational issues.
There is a funny thing about single shoes. It’s been my experience that well-run stores tend to have very few. Stores that struggle with backroom operations have an abundance of them.
Single shoes represent a very direct loss of revenue. In some cases thousands of dollars a month. I have had stores that sent in a handful a week while others sent in gaylords a week. The difference has always been in the execution of donation and backroom processes.
An abundance of single shoes is a self-inflicted wound.
A quick check on eBay for used women’s shoes at the time of this writing showed 650,000 listings. That’s a lot of used shoes, and that’s just women’s on a single platform.
The more specialized the brand, size or type the more valuable they can be online. A pair of size 13 Adidas basketball shoes needs a wider audience than a few dozen people that might walk down that exact aisle on a given day.
I have seen hundreds of examples of specialized items that sold many times what they would sell for in a store.
E-commerce small lots
There is an entire cottage industry of home-based internet resellers that need inventory. The more experienced sellers prefer to buy in bulk rather than constantly trolling thrift store aisles.
These micro to small businesses are on a huge growth curve. All it takes to get started is a computer, internet connection, and something to sell. Becoming a supplier to them can increase sell-through.
Supporting small businesses is never a bad thing.
Goodwill blue box is a great example. Their whole blue box concept is worth investigating.
Local resellers bulk sales
If you have enough shoes that don’t make the cut for retail, this can be a very profitable alternative. There are local resellers that can buy in bulk up to Gaylord lots. These are full-time resellers that need a steady stream of inventory.
This group will pay substantially more per pound than the per container load commodity shoe buyer. Allowing them to pick up on-site saves them freight costs as well. It’s important to be clear about what they are getting and that they have to take the whole batch.
One time I sold a Gaylord of books this way and the guy sorted what he did and did not want in our parking lot. He abandoned the rest leaving a big mess. It pays to specify they take it all. Maybe they can donate back, or get a token amount for what they can’t use on their next return trip.
This process supports local small businesses and helps maximize post-retail shoe revenue.
This is one of my favorites because of the multiplier effect. Shoes that are in good shape but are scuffed, dirty, or just need a good polish can be cleaned up. It’s an excellent way to build development programs for those with various limitations.
Everyone wins, someone that needs a job and some training is helped and shoes that might go to salvage are sold for decent money. There are help agencies all across the country that are happy to partner on this type of program.
It’s amazing how much more that Kenneth Cole pair will sell for when it looks good.
By the pound
It usually takes an outlet store or hybrid. It’s a great way to provide selection at great prices. In an outlet store goods are dumped on tables by general categories for people to sort through. Most items are sold by the pound. It’s reseller heaven, especially for shoes.
It’s amazing how many good shoes that have had multiple opportunities to sell end up in the outlet store. Those resellers have sharp eyes, they pick out those missed gems.
This almost goes without saying. Shoes have value on the commodity market. The value is often pennies per pound, in volume those pounds add up. A container load sells for thousands.
There are so many ways to sell even mediocre shoes, this should be the last stop in the journey.
Putting sustained attention to this category can create outsized benefits. Taking advantage of the many avenues to sell shoes no matter the grade maximizes revenue with existing donations.
You may have noticed that several points revolved around independent resellers. Thrift stores can take indirect advantage of the online boom by creating products and systems to serve this specific reseller segment.
They are already shopping thrift for inventory, it’s a short leap to actively engage them.
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