So it’s safe to say that the second consumer tragedy has struck our home this past week with the loss of my cell phone in a snowbank on the side of the road, though rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated. There are times in your life where you wish you would have taken advantage of the extended warranty or insurance or “protection plan” or whatever, and this, dear friends, is one of those times. While I was clairvoyant enough to realize that I needed a super-protective case for my smartphone (phone=smart, me=not-so-much) I did not ever anticipate losing my phone inside of a slush puddle for hours.
Archive for Local Business
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit us at Thrift & Thrive, perhaps you’ve come to notice that when you return home, your bag may have the name of an area grocery store, discount retailer, or pharmacy. That’s because every single time we bag your purchase, we’re using a bag that was used at least once before. We’re extending the “first” life of the product and, metaphorically, increasing its percentage of post consumer waste value by rescuing it from the trash or recycling bins, using it, and then passing it on to the next user. Perhaps then, and we hope, that next person uses it again, passes it to someone else, or disposes of it in a way that is responsible.
We started the practice of reusing shopping bags on day one, and I estimate that in the last year and a half, Thrift & Thrive has saved both the need to create approximately 27,500 new plastic bags, and the wholesale to retail direct cost of about $530 during that period of time. Add on shipping expenses from a supply distributor (both in terms of $ and environmental cost) and you’re just now beginning to see a true picture of the cost. As well, we have diverted the original 27,500 we reused away from the expense of recycling or carting to the landfill. It’s amazing to quantify the impact that one small retailer, in one city, can have on the big picture. As they say (and aren’t “they” so wise) change begins at home.
The principles in our personal lives bleed over into our business, and as you can see from our resolution this year, vice versa. When we first opened up back in July of 2011, it was a “no-brainer” that we were going to find an alternative to purchasing new bags since we did not ethically agree with it. Not only was it more in line with what we do in our industry, but for a start-up business that was boot-strappin’ it, it just made plain economic sense. We started with the grocery bags that we saved at home, coupled with some more that were collected for us by friends and family. As the donations started to come in, we were thankful that they were coming in reused plastic, paper and sometimes even cloth(!) retail bags. Every one of them got used. Pretty soon it was easy to see that the demand was going to outpace the supply, and so the need to find an alternative source was born. We put out shouts on Craigslist and Facebook, and have since even resorted to liberating them from the recycling bins at the neighborhood grocery stores. Talk about a last minute pardon!
There are so many items that you can recycle in your home, and even better, those that you can reuse multiple times before you recycle. We haven’t bought a trash bag in years, (among other common disposables) opting to re-use our plastic shopping bags instead. While this means that we don’t “traditionally recycle” every single one of our plastic shopping bags, it does mean that we have reduced the need for the manufacture, transport, sale and disposal of another plastic product. It’s funny, because even though we bring reusable shopping bags with us to the store, we still end up with these plastic bags in our house. They multiply on their own, and in rapid fashion! We’ve gone from throwing out probably one full-size brand name kitchen bag a week when we first got married, to one average grocery-size bag a week now with a family of four. That’s about a 75% reduction in waste over 10 years, simply by changing habits. Recycling and composting has made a tremendous difference, and now we look for ways to challenge ourselves to reduce even the amount that we recycle, which begins with the life-cycle of any product we bring into our home. This is not for the faint at heart!
I am not advocating that every retailer needs to have used bags in their stores, after all, that is not practical. Even I draw the line at using someone else’s used bag at the grocery store (so we bring our own!) When Melissa lived in the UK years ago, she became quite accustomed to bringing her own bag to stores with her (long before it was trendy in the US) because there, if you forgot your bag, they would charge you for one if they even had them available for sale at all! It’s an interesting spin on a problem that plagues our country, and might not be a bad solution. There are already stores that don’t offer bags (discount clubs and chains like Germany’s Aldi come to mind) here in this country, and I would hope scores of others at this point that use the same idea we do at Thrift & Thrive. Just yesterday I saw a plastic bag in a tree on my walk home from work, and it made me reflect on how glad I am that we have the ability to be part of the solution. So do you!
Few objects in life make me powerless, and as to not give away my kryptonite all in the first few weeks of the year, we’ll devote this article solely to my records; that is to say, my record habit. I’ve been collecting records since I was about 9 or 10, I can’t remember, exactly. I do distinctly remember, however, that my first album was the Best of the Beach Boys, some compilation that just happened to have a catchy cover and was probably on top of my Mom’s record stack at the time. I played that album to death, and to this day it sits on the shelf, next to approximately 2,500 of it’s closest friends.
Today we paid a business visit to a friend of ours who deals in leftover estate lots. This is the stuff that is literally going to get tossed to the curb or inside of a dumpster when the estate sale is over, so folks like this are as integral to the whole process as any thrift store or resaler. While most of our clothes and smaller general merchandise is community driven donations, there are certain pieces that we do not get frequently enough to meet our customer demand. Sometimes it’s men’s clothing, other times it’s rings or bracelets, sometimes it’s furniture, but today it was records. Men’s clothing I have. Men are easy to clothe. Rings and bracelets are just fine, and I’ll let Melissa discuss her accessory addiction in a different post. Furniture is nice. I like furniture. Unluckily for me (and luckily for our shop) I have a house full at the moment, and can never seem to find an extra space for some of the amazing mid-century pieces we’ve come across. But records. Mmmmmmm. There’s always room for more records.
At a price of $1.50 a piece, which is what we retail them for, I paid just under $15 for 9 albums. Some of these will have some greater value, but none that are show stoppers in terms of high resale value. This is probably the main reason I love records. I seem to have a love for things that weigh a TON, have little monetary value but huge intrinsic value. (This is why my living room is full of books and records, and my basement is full of my Great-Aunt Mary’s slides. 11 cases of them.) So, in case you’re keeping score, this was our (my) first frivolous spending of the year, and I believe the first physical thing that we purchased as well (everything else was food and other supplies.) I’m OK with it.
The memories we make with our media can last a lifetime. My boys love when we turn on the record player…they really got into it this Christmas with all of the awesome holiday albums we have collected over the years. Looking back on my childhood, after I was done digging through my parents records as a boy, as a teenager I mainly stuck to thrift stores and garage sales. The Johnny Cash collection I bought at the Mustard Seed Thrift Shop back in High School. The David Bowie album I picked up at a garage sale. The 3rd copy of Billy Joel’s The Stranger that I had to buy because I burned the other 2 out…when you find those gems, they immediately have a story and mean so much more. By college my tastes had become discerning, and there was this fantastic record shop on University Ave. in Gainesville that you could not keep me out of. These days I still enjoy record shops in Chicago, but really get excited when I find the scores out and about, you know, the stuff I’m not even looking for.
What is the value of this, you ask? If you don’t own a record player, very little. Essentially, I purchased 9 full albums for less than the price of one CD at a big box store, or one full album download online. By all means, download the tracks so the artists can get their royalties (again) and you can get it on your AY!pod. But when you have 35 minutes to sit down like a human being and listen to an album, please, if at all possible, do it on a record player. Thrift shops and garage sales and estate sales and auctions and dumpsters are FULL of them, right there for the taking, for next to nothing. I’m not the kind of person that is obsessed with the condition and grading of LP’s, so some would argue that I’m not a “real” collector. This has worked in my favor, because there are plenty of copies of whatever album you might be looking for in super-fine n’ listenable condition. Probably with a really nice jacket, to boot. And probably for under $3. The biggest challenge when looking for any kind of second-hand media is that you have to search through it, but a little work always pays off. Don’t worry, we brought in a ton of records today, and I only took home 9, so there’s plenty leftover if you get a chance to stop by soon!
Living on the Northwest Side of the city now for six years, I’ve become accustomed to the abundance of barber shops that line the main corridors, all flashing promises of transforming you into Don or Betty Draper for the pittance of $5. I’ll admit, it’s hard to trust such a good deal, especially considering that $5 is what I paid for a haircut over 20 years ago when I was in middle school. Much like my mom likes to tell me, “when things look too good to be true, they probably are…” finding a good, really good $5 cut (even on the NW side) can be equivalent to spotting the Loch Ness Monster.
Truth be told, I had to endure a few brutal clippings before meeting Sandro, who by all accounts is a true craftsman, and as professional as they get. Reminiscent of the old-school (and being in my mid-30′s, I believe I was lucky enough to catch the tail-end of old-school) this is the kind of treatment that you would expect from any $35 cut. Really, this is not going to be a business review, but the entire story is predicated on talent and relationships, which requires some back story. Stay with me! You walk in, you’re greeted by name, you wait your turn, you sit in the chair, pleasantries are exchanged but no direction is needed…you are in the hands of a professional…he knows what you want and he will deliver. While his price has increased from $5 to $8 since he opened his own shop (a small premium but well worth it) I just cannot imagine going anywhere else. I’ve built a relationship with a professional, and I trust him, much like I would a mechanic or a doctor. I’ve seen him go from 2nd chair to 1st chair to owning his own shop within a few years. Yes, this is still America, land of opportunity, and dreams still can come true for hardworking people!
Now those that know me know that I was dealt a weak hand in the hair department. At least this has been true since my mid-20′s. Prior to that, I had luscious Kenny G-style locks (not really), but those days are behind me. While there may not be much left on top, I admittedly do not have the easiest head to cut, and therefore require a relationship with a professional. Had I been so skeptical that I skipped the $5 circuit, I would probably have spent well past $2000 on haircuts (yes, 2 grand in haircuts for a bald guy) in the previous 6 years.
Let’s do the math:
$35 haircut at a men’s salon x 1/mo. x 6 years (72 months) = $2520
$5 haircut at discount salon x 2/mo. x 6 years = $720
As you can see by the example above, not only was I able to cut my costs by approx. 66%, but as well, I doubled the frequency of visits! Not only am I saving money, but I’m looking twice as good doing it. BOOM! Of course I did not factor in the tip (which you would give in both places) nor did I account for the past year where his prices increased $3 a cut, but you get the point without me breaking out the calculus, right?
Relationships are everything when it comes to saving money, and when you’re building those relationships with small business owners, you’re also supporting the local economy. My relationship with Sandro has saved me thousands over the past 6 years, and yielded me a great look and the satisfaction of being a small part of the success of another local entrepreneur. Additionally, Melissa has been lucky enough to meet a stylist who does house calls to Thrift & Thrive (YES! HOUSE CALLS!) and barters with us for clothes and furniture at the shop. Just recently we traded her a really cool vintage couch for a bit of cash and 6 haircuts (2 each for Melissa and our 2 boys.) There’s so much more to be said about the wonders of bartering, but that’s another blog entry for another time!
Even though haircuts would be exempt from our resolution, falling under the “personal hygiene” category, there is still no reason why it shouldn’t be an area that we are conscious of and able to save money in. We expect that our resolution will both be about saving money AND jump-starting the local economy. There are treasures to be found in no-frills products and services in every single category…you just need to make the effort to find them!
Small non sequitur: I once made a sales call to the worlds largest private-label nut processing company, and in doing so, found out that an overwhelming majority of the nuts on the market originate out of that same facility. In other words, you’d have to be nuts to not buy the generic brands! Once you can get past the fact that there’s not some character with a cane and a top hat telling you that his peanuts are the best, you’ll be amazed at the money you can save. Even better if you can find them from a local farmer, boiled, salted and in a paper bag. What does that have to do with haircuts? Absolutely nothing. I just love boiled peanuts.