While our “Buy Nothing New for a Year” resolution is mainly a family commitment, as business owners whose lives completely revolve around, inside, above and beneath our business, we do the best we can to integrate the challenge in both of our worlds. Such was the case yesterday for our first successful barter of the year, which completed about a month of negotiations and netted us a pretty cool (and extremely needed) fixture for our store!
When we opened Thrift & Thrive in July of 2011, we did so on a shoestring budget of around five thousand dollars. Much of the money was spent on initial rent/security deposit for our storefront, which left about half for merchandise, equipment and store fixtures. As you can imagine, this was not an easy feat! We were lucky to find a resale shop in the suburbs that was liquidating, and we spent a little over a thousand dollars purchasing all of their leftovers, which included quite a bit of merchandise (though much was below our standards), and most importantly, their fixtures. We also spent another couple hundred or so on 8 other clothing racks from a ski shop that was upgrading their fixtures, and that comprised the bulk of who we were for our first year. We were also very privileged to have friends donate an unnecessary cash register (though we never could figure out how to program it…prompting us to use a pen and paper to record the first 6 months of our sales) and the cool vintage green grocery shelves were actually unearthed from what used to be the scary basement in our building! We certainly made due with what we had, and knew that eventually, if this was meant to work, we would figure out our own upgrades along the way.
One of the fixtures that we have so desperately needed since the beginning was a proper handbag display rack. While these fixtures are typically not that expensive (generally under $100 plus shipping) it is not always easy to find an “extra” hundred dollars when you are bootstrapping your first couple of years. Besides, on the priority list, this fixture was so back burner, it was in a different kitchen. So the handbags have been on constant rotation in the shop, starting in baskets, graduating to the grocery shelf, and finally ending up on a standard “4-way” fixture that was intended for hanging clothes. While it looked o….k….., it was a total nuisance in terms of shopability for our customers, not only being difficult to navigate through, but also around. If you were too short, you were getting whacked in the face with a bag. If you were too tall, you were getting stabbed in the chest with a fixture arm. Much like Baby Bear’s porridge, you had to be just right to defeat the wrath of the 4-way challenge.
Craigslist has generally provided us with what we need when we need it, but after we made the huge investment in our new wall racks, we were unable to find the handbag rack we needed to complete our fixture upgrade. Search after search, day after day, we kept turning up nothing. Sure, the fixtures were available new online in abundance, but a $80 rack quickly doubled in price with shipping costs factored in, plus they were new. We wanted used, and we wanted it to be local. Several weeks passed by with fruitless internet searches, and finally a neighbor of ours suggested a fixtures store that wasn’t too far away. We called and spoke with the owner who was more than willing to barter with us. We had three 4-way racks that we no longer needed after the renovations, and thought that it was a good place to start the negotiations. Our three used racks for your one used rack. He agreed, though he didn’t have any in stock at the particular time, but said he’d get back with us. Several weeks later the rack came together, and yesterday I dropped off the three racks that had been sitting in our back room collecting dust, and picked up our first official, proper handbag display rack. We think it looks fabulous, and the best part about it…not only did it cost us nothing, but it also helped clear out some much needed space…our most precious commodity!