Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tips to Scoring Deals At Goodwill

Due to the response on the previous post about our finds at the local Goodwill and the Goodwill Outlets, I figured I'd inform others out there how they can probably stumble upon the same great stuff in there locations. We have shopped at Goodwill forever and I guess I figured most of you all out there did too. Apparently not.

Since this was a rather impromptu post, we headed out to Goodwill so that there would be pictures. This was just a regular Goodwill trip only armed with my camera. December is a good month to go because people are not only cleaning out their stuff in hopes of Christmas, but also kids have gotten bigger and need new snow clothes. Tax season is almost over and people are gutting their houses (and closets) for the write offs. The post is sprinkled with items we saw today on our visit. If I didn't visit the store myself, I'd say I was full of crap too. You have to go and go regularly to realize the awesomeness. Click on any of the images for a larger view.

Doc Martin Rain Boots and Haflinger slippers were both under 5 dollars.

When I was in high school, I had this idea of what thrift stores were. People with dirty children, no money, and run down lives shopped there. The clothes were very worn, always off brand, and never fit normal people. If they were certain resale shops everything was fancy, designer, vintage and extremely expensive. Then I dated a guy in college who has shopped at Goodwill forever. I went to impress him with how open minded I was. I was stunned. There were designer clothes. There were clothes I couldn't imagine getting rid of that someone had donated. Even more, there was an actual strategy to shopping and finding the good stuff. I have been a convert ever since.

If any others of you out there have such thoughts (no good stuff, diminished status, or ill fitting) remember that so do most of the rest of the population. They don't shop there and thus are leaving the great stuff to others. The first thing that is necessary to remember is to get over your standard misconceptions.
1. It's not like it used to be! Goodwill used to be a place where people just dropped off their undesirable items or the remains of a garage sale weekend. Not anymore! Not only do people drop off mountains of incredible things, but stores like Target, Kroger, and others now use Goodwill as a place to write off unsold sale items. In this way, you can find underwear and socks at Goodwill now as well. Tags on, never worn, entire rack (like 30+) bras which look exactly the same in varying sizes with the Target clearance sticker right next to the Goodwill tag. The stores can claim they are "greener" since it was not going to the landfill and also get a hefty write off. I interrogated the sales lady when we first saw this because underwear was definitely on the "not a resale item" list for our household.

All of Jules' Carhartts have come from Goodwill and most fleece is 7 dollars regardless of manufacturer.
2. People are lazy! They don't want to take the time (0r have the knowledge) to eBay their stuff. They don't want to garage sale it. They don't want regift it, or have it clutter their closets, or have outgrown it, or whatever. The best thing for them to do is donate it and have the accountant write it off their taxes. By doing it that way, the entire value of the item goes into the write off versus the supposed amount they might get from selling. They can also feel good about themselves for giving to "charity."
3. Every time isn't great. Sometimes you go to the store and you find nothing. Other times when you find the designer item it makes up for it. This means you have to go often and search through undesirable stuff. It also means to not have great expectations. Sometimes things don't fit correctly or have a broken zipper which can't be fixed. Other times, it is like Christmas multiplied by a thousand. Buy it when you find it, because the next day it will probably be gone.

4. Consumer Culture is Rampant.
I will admit we are in a gear rich area where there are many outdoorsy people. However, I do not think the finds we have at the local Goodwill are unique to just that. We have visited Goodwill stores in Oklahoma which also had incredible finds (an Osprey backpack). The problem is the desire for the latest and greatest item. Areas where outdoorsy isn't second nature would mostlikely have even better items because those who participate go out of their way to purchase or have the discretionary income to travel to the outdoors. The constant need to replace gear for greater stuff often leads to incredible items which are only a season old.

The most important thing to realize is that Goodwill is a company which trains people either in English or in job skills. Some of the people who sort the clothing have absolutely no idea what they are looking at when they see a Solstice fleece jacket or a pair of 7 of Mankind jeans. Some of them may have developmental disabilities, some barely speak enough English for an interview and cannot read the language yet, some might not care. The company is awesome for this very reason, but it also means as a shopper you need to look a little deeper than normal. To find out about the sorting process, visit this website.
5. Look Everywhere! Don't just hit the sportswear section. My Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear capaline have often been found in women's tops or blouses. Today, LL Bean turtlenecks in merino wool were in with knit tops as were numerous Columbia Sportswear items. Jules found men's XL Prana climbing pants tucked in with women's miscellaneous pants. Many of my Nike DryFit softshell pants (and my Burton snow pants) have been in the children's section because I am a small female. Sometimes fleece is in with sportswear; sometimes jackets; sometimes sweatshirts; sometimes it is in all the places at once.

Don't forget to check out shoes and other sections as well. Most shoes seem to have never been worn and lots of the dishware can be bleached easily.
6. Forget About Size. My son is a women's extra small. He is 6. There isn't a children's sportswear section, so we look in the women's section. The colors are happy and bouncy, we don't tell him it came from this aisle, and we take a Sharpie to the word "womens" or "girls" on the label. I'm a childrens size large or extra large for shirts, but pants won't work because I have hips (thank you pregnancy) which look funny if I can even get the pants on. Sizes also fluctuate with the year they were made. I'm now a Patagonia extra small; however, I am a Patagonia small if the clothing was produced in the 80's to early 90's. Jules has found many pants which fit in the waist, but are high waters because he has a 36 to 38 inch inseam. They become knickers or shorts. So try it on and see if it works. Don't allow yourself to be married to a size or gender. Part of this is due to the above where many things are miscatagorized, but also lots of retro gear was never made for women and thus is unisex.
7. Know Your Brands. The icon on a piece of clothing often catches our eye long before the rest of the item. Nike, Salomon, Lucy, Prana, North Face and others often have a very recognizable logo which is placed on sleeves, legs, or back collars. The cut and cloth are also a great indicator of price. You can tell Patagonia and L.L. Bean fabric often from quite a distance. The tailoring and cut of Keens, Sorel, Kamik, Burton, and older Columbia Sportswear make them stand out from the rest quite readily. Skimming the shelves for quality can make searching much simpler.

Lucy makes some of the best gear for women, hands down. They only make women's clothes, are designed by active women, and the tailoring shows.
8. Consider the Price. I would never purchase Columbia Sportswear clothing for our family if I had to purchase it new. I don't believe in their company, the things they do overseas to their workers, or the quality of the product. However, I do believe in Goodwill, how they treat their employees, and the quality of their service to the neighborhood. I have to keep these things in mind. Columbia doesn't see a dime of the money and if a 7 dollar jacket it will get us through till The Barracuda needs a new one, the purpose has been served.

Some Goodwill stores are better than others or have a specific clientele of donators. Suburbs where money is ample generally have better stuff than lower income areas. They also have fewer people shopping at their stores. If you don't have luck at one Goodwill, try another in town. Sometimes only a few blocks can make a big difference.

Each week there is a color which is half off the posted price. The red plastic piece in the Columbia shirt indicates its color. If the color was red today, the shirt would have been $2.50. Those Prana pants were under 4 dollars for this reason.

The Bins!
The Goodwill Outlet is by far the best place we have found for deals. However, it is not for the faint of heart. Many people wear latex gloves and carry sanitizer with them because you literally have to root through stuff. This is the place where unpurchased items go. Items can only live on the Goodwill's shelves for 2 weeks to a month. After that, regardless of what they are, they are sent to the Outlet (aka As Is Store or The Bins). In this place everything is dumped (unsorted) into giant trough like bins and then sold by the pound. Some of the items are ripped or stained, some are completely soiled, others are pristine. My designer jeans have come from the Bins, The Barracuda's REI down jacket and Columbia Titanium soft shell are both from there as well. Most of our capaline has also been found there. It is rad. Clothing costs less than 1 dollar a pound. For more information about the process Goodwill's clothes go through and shopping at the Bins, this website is awesome. This is an outlet in our area, but not the one we attend. To find a local outlet this website has a few listed (though I have found out not all of them).

The long and short of it is LOVE YOUR GOODWILL. You will be amazed at what you find if you take the time to frequently look. It is beyond rad. You can not only get all teched out in gear, but regular clothing as well. I only took pictures of gear related stuff, but Banana Republic, 7 of Mankind, Gap, Ibex, Lucky, Gucci, Chanel and others have all graced the shelves. I look at the clothes and still wonder "Why on Earth would anyone give this to Goodwill?!"

Update: I have since learned that Goodwill Outlet stores are called "Blue Hanger" stores in Texas and "As Is Surplus" stores in Hawaii. If the outlet has another name where you are at, please let me know.

2 thoughts:

Renee @ FIMBY said...

I shop at Goodwill every couple months for "extras". In the past I shopped there frequently for our clothes but where we live there are very few high quality outdoor-gear purchases to be found at goodwill. In our immediate area people aren't that "into" the outdoors, which is insane considering where we live.

After years of buying clothes at goodwill (that were not good for the outdoors) Damien took over the clothing budget and purchases for our family and now does most of it on-line and at the patagonia outlet sales a couple times a year.

I really think it depends on where you live and the culture of people there as to what you'll find at goodwill. Also your body size (smile). Finding small mens wear at goodwill in years past for damien was very difficult.

Mel said...

We don't have a Goodwill around here. The one disadvantage of living in a town of 7,000 people. We do have a community thrift shop, though and they donate the proceeds to community organizations, so you can feel pretty good about shopping there.

Like you said, you have to go often. And I love our kiddie consignment shop. I sell a lot of our kid stuff there and use the credit to get the next size up.

When I was in high school I used to buy all my clothes at thrift shops and remember coming away with a huge bag of clothes for $10. I still love finding great deals and helping keep things out of the landfill.

I'll have to look into Columbia. I didn't realize they were such a bad company...

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