Interview With A Thrift Shop Insider!

Ever wonder about best way to pack up donations? How about the strangest items management has come across? We scored a one-on-one with a thrift shop insider to field these questions and more!

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Ryan Cassidy is the Assistant Manager of the Goodwill Thrift Store and Donation Centre at 340 Woodlawn Rd. in Guelph, Ontario. He recently shared some great information about where he works, and what we can do to make his life a little bit easier...

Q: Can you give us a run down on the store?

Our particular community store is a bright, clean, nine thousand square foot thrifter's paradise housed in a building that used to be a movie theatre, employing a staff of 23 awesome people. We're a fully registered charity, so you're supporting a worthy cause by shopping and donating with Goodwill (and it also means you don't pay tax on anything in the store!). Our charity's mission is work. We strive to empower, provide jobs, training, and work experience to members of the community disenfranchised from the workforce. This means we're an equal opportunity employer, and every store is staffed by diverse groups of people with diverse abilities.

Q: Spring is just around the corner and many of us will be cleaning house and packing up boxes of donations. What can we do to ensure the process is as smooth as possible once the box is in your hands?

Don't get me wrong, we'll clean up and process almost anything that comes to the door, but it's always nice to receive donations that have been thoughtfully packaged and cleaned beforehand. If you can box things up into merchandise categories (shoes, books, apparel, etc.), all the better, but the main thing is keeping your usable goods out of the garbage by bringing them to us. Once you pull in to the donor's area, a friendly Donor Greeter will unload everything for you. Also, if you need boxes or bags to put your donations in, just come by the store and we'll hook you up.

Q: Are there any particular items you get a lot of requests for? Not really. Everyone's looking for something different, either necessities or collectibles. I think a large part of the whole thrift-store experience is the 'treasure hunting' aspect. Our regular shoppers are after certain categories of stuff; they're fashionistas, music collectors, new parents, paperback fiction addicts, people furnishing a dwelling, hi-fi stereo buffs, wicker furniture enthusiasts... There's also the folks who browse through the entire store over the course of an hour or two and go home with all kinds of stuff they they didn't know they needed until they found it there.

The most common trait of our core clientele has a lot more to do with changing attitudes about value and the true price of consumer goods. Buying a teapot at our thrift store means you're donating to a community-based charity, you're keeping a teapot out of a landfill, and you're getting that great one-of-a-kind teapot for a third (or less) of it's retail value - that's a triple whammy of value you won't get at any other type of retail outlet, and people feel good about doing it.

Q: Are there any items we should avoid donating altogether?

We only refuse donations for health and safety reasons, and we'll always guide you to an alternate service or organization for your goods if we can't take them. Things like mattresses and boxed springs, large appliances, safety and medical devices, aerosol cans and flammable chemicals, etc. etc. are not acceptable. There isn't much we won't sell though, but while I'm on the topic, I should mention that we ship out our store's old stock to a salvage outlet to be sold by weight. Anything that doesn't sell there is then auctioned off to recycling contractors or charity groups for shipment overseas, for instance. There are multiple tiers to the waste management system which prevent your goods from ending up in landfills as much as possible.

Q: How often do donations go out on the floor? Any tips for snagging a great find before the next person?

Merchandise is being rotated on and off the sales floor every hour of the day. When we're running full steam, a cart full of wares or a rolling rack full of clothing is en route every 10 minutes. We follow a schedule that allows us to refresh the entire store's inventory each month (even quicker in the busy seasons). We always have the shelves and aisles completely full for the weekend because that's when most of our customers visit. The early Saturday morning shoppers generally know they will be walking into a fully stocked store with at least 25% fresh inventory.

Unfortunately, I don't really have any tips for beating the competition to your prized item other than be quick, and get it in your cart. It's pretty much finder's keepers out there, however, if you want the insider's edge on upcoming sales and neat stuff happening at the store, you should sign up for our newsletter next time you visit.

Q: Speaking of great finds, what are some of the best things you have come across on the job?

We find incredible stuff all of the time. We had a genuine WWII Canadian-issue haversack come through, complete with all of the straps, rations and ammo pouches. It even had the soldier's name written on the inside and was date stamped 1945! We donated it to the civic museum's educational program. One day we were given the leftovers of a large-scale Lego building project. It ended up being two shopping carts' worth of building blocks which were sold to a Mennonite woman with 6 young boys at home. We also had a nice gold bracelet donated to us that we took to be appraised which turned out to be worth $800. I'm amazed at the generosity of our donors on a pretty regular basis.

Q: How about the craziest?

The current champion of crazy donations has to be the giant taxidermied deer head we were given around Christmas, which we appropriately nicknamed Dasher. The guy who dropped it off had a pretty funny story about beginner's luck on a hunting trip, and a wife whose taste in interior decor was much less... rustic. Some other notable favourites include an oddly beautiful shellacked seashell assemblage on a Mexican sombrero, one marriage license (which we did investigate and found to be no longer valid), an industrial jackhammer, numerous custom-bedazzled jean jackets, the list goes on and on and on.

Thanks Ryan!

(Images:Ryan Cassidy)

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