Everything from thrift shops (resale shops run by nonprofit organizations) to consignment stores (they sell items for patrons, earning a percentage of each sale) make up this multibillion-dollar industry, which is growing by 5 percent each year, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops.
Today's successful resale stores aren't your grandmother's thrift shop--they're welcoming retail locations. "The stores are brightly lit, beautifully displayed and well-organized," says Adele Meyer, executive director of NARTS. "We have experienced a change in attitude. People are proud to be shopping resale. They are savvy shoppers who love to save."
In the high-end resale market is Boulder, Colorado, entrepreneur Margaret Miner. She started Rags Consignments in 1995, specializing in designer handbags and clothing that her customers are eager to buy at a discount. With annual sales of about $1.3 million, keeping up with growth is her main challenge. "When we first started, there were a lot of women who would walk in [to consign their items] but wouldn't [shop]," recalls Miner, 46. "Now those same women have tuned in to it." Her customers run the gamut from teenage girls to women in their 60s.The advent of Craigslist and eBay, which were once expected to destroy the brick-and-mortar resale industry, has actually boosted local resale shops by turning shoppers on to the variety of gently used items available, says Meyer. Hot and growing niches in resale include furniture, specialty apparel (like plus sizes, teens and men), sporting goods, music and computer-related items. Meyer predicts that resale will continue to grow, especially as the economy slows. "This is a recession-proof industry," says Meyer. "If anything, this industry increases during slow economic times. People who may not have shopped resale before have to find a way to save money somewhere."