COLUMN: Business lessons from the thrift shop

Every Tuesday, around 12:30 p.m., the sidewalk outside our office picks up in foot traffic.

Every Tuesday, around 12:30 p.m., the sidewalk outside our office picks up in foot traffic.

Parking is at a premium on our street and in the parking lot.

The Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store is the place to be. The Summerland Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store donated almost $320,000 into the Summerland community in 2015.

Their success is remarkable and I refuse to believe that it is simply because they sell gently used items for cheap.

So what is it about this store and what can other retail businesses learn from its success?

Here’s my two cents.

Consistent hours of operation. The thrift store is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. These hours don’t change and create an urgency in their customer base.

They are closed the customary holidays but they never change their hours mid-week, mid-month or mid-year.

They don’t decide to take the afternoon off and put a sign on the door.

They are predictable.

Few things are more frustrating than thinking a business will be open, getting to their door only to find out that they decided to close or change their hours.

Sense of urgency. Due to the nature of their business, they deal in a lot of one-of-a-kind items.

If you want something, you had better get down there and get it because chances are it will be gone.

The staff do an excellent job of merchandising their front windows on a weekly basis, so there is always something to bring in a customer.

It is so important to rotate stock, freshen up windows and displays and generally look like you are selling through inventory, even if that isn’t necessarily the case.

Reputation. The thrift store has long been the established best place to find a treasure.

They work tirelessly to curate their item donations and only put out that which will sell.

They price things fairly and as a result, it is hard to walk out of there without something in your hand.

They know their customer and have an instinct about what is saleable.

This is a hard skill to obtain quickly.

One must be diligent about reading the customers over time and tweaking business methods to best serve them.

Staff. This thrift store relies heavily on a volunteer staff.

These folks are always quick with a smile and are efficient at their jobs.

It is hard enough to find a paid staff with these qualities but to do it with volunteers is really impressive.

Customers are fickle now and seem to be extra-sensitive to even the slightest of inconvenience.

Your staff are the difference makers.

Training and product knowledge should be a priority so they are prepared to answer any question and go that extra mile.

Hats off to the thrift store on their continued success!

For those in business here in Summerland, take a moment to study this busy place and draw your own conclusions about what makes them one of the busiest retail stores in Summerland.

Rob Murphy is the sales manager at the Summerland Review.


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