Alternative Careers: How To Become A Thrift Shop Owner In India

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a woman holds up a hanger with clothes on it in front of a clothes rack piled with clothes
13 min read

In Alternative Careers, Kool Kanya explores unique and lesser-known fields to give you insight into a more adventurous world of livelihoods! In this guide, we’re discussing the rise of thrift shops.

Did you watch the webseries Girlboss and feel a connection with the lead character? Her fashion sense, hustling sensibilities, and ability to curate and set up an international business are what made the series so interesting!

And it introduced many of us to thrifting, both as a spending choice and an occupational one.

Flea markets and chor bazaars have a long and rich history. And off late a community of enterprising folks have adapted the traditional second-hand, charity shop culture to make it work on the internet.

Indian Instagram is home to hundreds of thrift shops. From clothes to shoes and homeware to books — these social media boutiques have it all. All of them showcase and sell their wares to thousands of customers, who set reminders, turn on post notifications, and purchase on a daily basis. 

And if you’re interested in taking this up, whether as a side hustle, or for some extra pocket change, then this is the guide for you.

Table Of Contents

What Is A Thrift Shop?

A thrift shop is a store that sells used things such as clothes, books, and furniture

Originally, thrift shops were set up to raise money for charity purposes (some of them, such as the charity shops one might encounter in the UK or USA, still do). But today, the definition has expanded to incorporate for-profit ventures as well.

Second-hand items, ones with vintage or historical value, have been sold across the world for decades now. But India is just catching up with the times. Indian peddlers have decided to take their wares straight to the internet; eschewing traditional brick-and-mortar outlets for an Instagram shop front.

a chest of drawers with piles of clothes

Online thrift business owners sell second-hand clothes and wearables at lowered prices to people who do not want to contribute to consumerism, and the problematic fast fashion industry. They sell out of their own closets, or source their hand-me-downs inventory from external sources.

Who Can Be A Thrift Shop Owner?

To start a thrift shop, one needs to know what their own thrifting interests are, and have an entrepreneurial bent of mind.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of professional tools that can ease your way:

An Interest In Entrepreneurship

Although thrift shop owners do not require any commercial or professional qualifications, it is desirable to have an entrepreneurial spirit. This means networking, having interest in promoting and growing your business, keeping sales and accounts in order, and building strong customer relations.

Environmental Consciousness

Many thrift shop owners and thrift shoppers are actively invested in selling and purchasing second-hand. They find it to be a better choice than spending their money on fast fashion brands who mass produce clothes in an environmentally irresponsible manner.

Learning and becoming environmentally conscious is a good way to understand how to build your thrift business.

An Eye For The Goods

Whether you’re a clothes vendor with a keen fashion sense, or a bookseller with a world of literary knowledge; knowing your wares makes them easier to sell. 

Knowledge about how to upcycle and fix up old furniture, or how to pick out great clothes to sell and teaching yourself how to make simple mends, are great markers for someone who is interested in selling second-hand.

How To Become A Thrift Shop Owner In India?

To become a thrift shop owner in India, and a good one at that, here’s what you need to do. 

a woman holds up a hanger with clothes on it in front of a clothes rack piled with clothes

How To Start Out As A Thrift Shop Owner In India

Charity begins at home, so start by selling from your own wardrobe. You can ask your family and friends to pitch in by donating. You could also run a neighborhood drive, asking people if they have any items that are in good condition, but they are planning to throw away.

When you have found both success and a client base, you can scout for second-hand vendors to build an inventory beyond your home. More on scaling your business up a little later.

You can also reach out to thrift veterans to get their advice on how to go about it yourself. Here’s a simple guideline on how to approach a thrift shop owner on social media:

  1. Open with a compliment.
  2. Give a brief introduction of yourself.
  3. Be as specific as possible about your intentions.
  4. Request (don’t demand!) their mentorship.
  5. Be respectful or their time and effort.

Next, it’s time to make a business plan.

How To Make A Business Plan

  1. Decide what you want to sell. Is it clothes? Is it shoes, accessories and knick-knacks? Or will you stick to books?
  2. Learn who your audience is. This will help you in making a small marketing budget, develop a marketing strategy, and also in how you deal with customers.
  3. Research your colleagues. Since thrifting is almost always about unique, individual pieces, there are no competitors. But there are a bunch of colleagues to learn from, whether it is regarding pricing, display or booking system.
  4. Make a list of your expenditures. You will have to make a small amount of investment for your business, whether in building inventory or in purchasing packaging materials.
  5. Create a branding strategy. How you present yourself to the world, and to potential customers, matters. Here’s a quick guide to building a brand story.

Research: Chron

Now, you are ready to start setting up your shop!

(Continue reading below.)

Processes To Set Up For Your Thrifting Business

We spoke to Namrata Iyer who runs The Local Thrift, who gave us insight into setting up a thrifting business. Here are the steps you need to follow.

collage of the local thrift's instagram account

1. Build Inventory: For this, you’ll need to collect clothes, mark defects, and make a note of them along with the items’ measurement.

Pro tip: Make sure you maintain a master doc of all the items, their details, prices, photos, and sale details.

2. Set Up Your Store Front: Think of a name for your business, and create a business account on Instagram. This way you can use the app’s business features, such as user insights and promotions, to your advantage. Making a unique logo is also a must!

3. Take Good Photos: You will need a phone camera which can take decent quality images. To learn how to take good photos, you can watch some simple YouTube tutorials on photographing. Photograph the items you wish to sell against a plain, clean background in natural light.

4. Set Up Payment Methods: Most online thrift stores in India use UPI apps to carry out transactions, as they are the easiest way to conduct business. Some also request online bank transfers if they do not have a UPI app.

5. Start Posting: After building an inventory, create ‘drops’ or launches of 10-15 items for your convenience. Post pictures with captions which offer the price, size, and details of each clothing in a crisp, concise manner. Make sure shipping prices are also mentioned.

Pro tip: Make sure you create a booking system for your drops. This is a set of rules for how a customer can go about purchasing from you — how to place an order, how to pay, what details to provide, and so on.

Here’s a great example of that:

booking instructions for an online thrift shop
Evergreen Thrift Store’s booking rules via @evergreenthriftindia

6. Get Packing: Start packing orders as you get orders, preferably with recycled or upcycled packaging paper to keep it sustainable through and through. Make sure your packaging is water-resistant and your items sanitised. You can add personalised touches with handwritten notes, illustrations and more.

7. Ship The Orders: Thrift stores in India usually opt to ship via India Post, as it is the cheapest and most reliable way to ship across the country. You can also partner with a courier service such as Delhivery for national shipping, or opt for a local partner for city-wide shipping.

8. Be Your Own Customer Service: Making sure that you inform your customers of the shipping details, and taking the time to hear their concerns and reviews can help you do better and build a loyal clientele.

What Does A Thrift Shop Owner Do On A Day-To-Day Basis?

Even side hustles require effort to be put in on a day-to-day basis, which is why it’s a good idea to know what being a thrift shop owner entails.

On a daily basis, a thrift shop owner would be:

  1. Sorting through wardrobe/home, collecting donations and/or liaising with vendors.
  2. Photographing items and creating visually appealing graphics to upload them.
  3. Uploading products on Instagram and engaging with followers.
  4. Cleaning, laundering and sanitising products as required.
  5. Packaging and preparing orders for shipping.
  6. Figuring out and finalising shipping, and following up on delivery.
  7. Updating business master doc with details of products and payments.
  8. Tallying accounts, and making sure expenses and income are in order.
  9. Speaking with customers to check on deliveries, getting feedback and collecting reviews.

How To Grow Your Thrifting Business

Like every business, running an online thrift shop also requires one to scale up; whether horizontally or vertically.

Horizontal scaling up would be expanding one’s customer base to reach a larger audience, create a loyal clientele, and build the hype around your drops. On the other hand, vertical scaling up would be expanding one’s inventory to sell more products and make more profits.

To do this, one has to first find clients and then explore the scope of your thrifting business.

How To Find Clients For Your Thrifting Business

Set aside a small marketing budget, and market your Instagram page with a fully-loaded drop by creating a reach campaign and get followers. You can also learn how to build an organic audience for free using this guide (it’s all about geo-tagging, hashtags and consistent posting!).

a mock up of messages exchanged between a thrift shop owner and customer

Once you make a couple of sales, upload reviews and positive responses on your stories and make a highlight on your Instagram page. Make sure you follow up on your clients, because building that one-on-one relationship with them is key to keep them coming back.

Thrifting is not just a business; many shop owners see the industry as a community. And in this community, many build their client bases by giving one-another shout outs on stories! So start giving thrift shops you love a shout out, and be genuine.

You could also reach out to pages who curate and review thrift shops, and introduce yourself kindly and request a shout out.

What Is The Scope Of Thrift Shops In India?

Owning a thrift shop doesn’t mean you have to just stick in one lane. In fact, it’s a great idea to branch out.

Don’t plant your roots too deep; and consider other avenues. You could build a marketplace with fellow freelancers, and (once it’s safe again) host in-person garage sales. 

You could also shift base to a website, and when you get successful enough, you can start considering opening up a brick-and-mortar shop.

posh past store
Posh Past’s multuple verticals via @posh.pastt

For a brick-and-mortar, you’ll need to invest in the following:

  1. Overheads on rent, utilities and taxes
  2. Laundry and dry cleaning service (you can link up with a local vendor to get it done at a discounted price)
  3. Packaging and branding material in wholesale (bags, stickers, receipts, etc.)
  4. Marketing and promotional budget (website, social media presence, ads, etc.)
  5. A photographer on an assignment basis
  6. A graphic designer on an assignment basis
  7. An accountant

How Much Does A Thrift Shop Owner Earn?

a flatlay of a pink sweater surrounded by pastel-coloured knick knacks

Namrata says that mark-ups depend on the store owner. They could be 15-20%, they could be 40%, and sometimes, they could even be 100%. Based on cost price, overheads and delivery cost, a thrift shop owner can make ₹10,000 per month when you’re selling from your own home, to ₹1,00,000 per month from a fully scaled-up business.

It is recommended to keep a well-maintained accounts book, because if you are earning anything upwards of ₹50,000 a month, you will have to disclose your income for tax purposes.

Thrifting is a great way to venture into the world of entrepreneurship, especially if you have a love for unique items and wish to share it and them with the world.

Additionally, thrifting shouldn’t add to the ongoing environmental crisis, and a good thrift shop owner must ensure that they do not create more waste. So go on and start your very own thrift shop! Its perks include greeting to join a caring and conscious community that supports and uplifts.

With all this in mind, and all the information we have put together in this guide, we hope you will venture into the world of alternate career paths armed with the knowledge and skills to succeed!

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.

Priyanka is a poet, a feminist, and an Ophelia conspiracy theorist. She can often be found yelling "Pray you, mark!" at rooms full of condescending men in positions of power. She believes that there is a tremendous dearth of tenderness in this world, and that we need to shift perspectives from acute compassion to chronic empathy. Trust her, she's learned that the hard way. She spends her life drinking coffee, playing with eyeshadow, and ricocheting between bawler and baller.

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