Running a small business can be expensive, ever wonder where to shop to save a few bucks? When I mention shopping for my massage business at thrift stores, I sometimes get a sideways glance or two…but there’s a method to my madness. The trick to fabulous finds at thrift stores is to make small trips often. It is unlikely that you will find all of this great stuff with one or two trips, but if you stop in every once in awhile, you’ll soon start to make great little discoveries. I usually pop in to various stores for a 20-30 minute trip once or twice a week. Since I am a mobile massage therapist, I usually make these trips between clients or on my lunch break in different parts of town.
If you have never shopped at a thrift store before, or if you find thrift stores unsavory, this post might not be for you…but if, like me, you enjoy a good thrift store and find shopping to be a relaxing experience – you might find yourself scanning the shelves with a fresh pair of eyes. Here are some of the things you can look out for.
- This one is as obvious as it is surprising: professional massage equipment. It isn’t likely to be found, I have only come across a few things in my thrifting excursions, but when you do find some, it is especially exciting. I once bought an extra Earthlite facerest platform for my massage table for $7, and a professional leg bolster for $5. There was an Oakworks Nova massage table for $80, which I didn’t purchase at the time because I didn’t need one. My latest find, that I am really excited about, is a Medi-Rub foot massager machine for $10! If you have ever used one of these bad boys you know what a steal that is. I use it for myself, as well as bring it with me to office and convention chair gigs as an added perk for my chair massage clients.
- Self Massage tools – from foot massagers to finger massagers, to vibration and percussion tools, people are constantly sending their self-care devices to thrift shops. These can be a great way to practice a little of what we preach between clients to take care of ourselves. Some of the things I have purchased include a Homedics shiatsu massage chair mat for $12 (this works incredibly well to ease my scoliosis symptoms when I can’t get in for a massage right away), an “Original Foot Log” for $3 (hands-down amazing for people with plantar fasciitis – I bring it with me to appts for clients to try out), and a calf-stretching rocker for $3. I am also the proud owner of a vintage Spine-a-Lator which I purchased for $125. My favorite recent find is a Spoonk acupressure mat which I paid $5 for. I LOVE this thing. I use it before bed or sometimes after a hot shower and find it incredibly relaxing on my back and the soles of my feet. It is a huge stress-reliever.
- Office organization supplies. You can find everything from briefcases to sample cases, binders and new packs of filing folders, executive planner cases, mail sorters, magazine racks, bulletin boards, white boards…and even smaller items such as three hole punches. I have bought all of my mobile massage bags at thrift shops – I usually use business traveling cases – my last one was a nice Kenneth Cole which I purchased for $10, and my current one is a Franklin Covey equipment bag which I purchased for $2.50.
- Decorative Items. This one is pretty self explanatory. You can find many decorative items at thrift shops, the biggest problem here is really knowing what/when not to buy, so that your massage room doesn’t end up cluttered and messy. Often I find great deals on candles here. Such as the big three-wick candles usually used on coffee tables for a buck or two, or wooden wick candles, or huge bags of tealights for a buck. My favorite find so far would have to be my Himalayan salt glow lamp, which I purchased for $3. I know it is pretty cliche for a massage space, but I just love the golden pink glow from a pretty salt lamp…and they can be expensive in health food stores. My second favorite find would be the old style glass bulb Young Living essential oil diffuser which I purchased for…wait for it…75 cents!
- High quality massage sheets and blankets. The concept of buying used massage linens came up in a massage group awhile ago and it seemed people were pretty divided about it. If you are someone who is comfortable using secondhand sheets (and really, aren’t they all secondhand once one client has used them?) then you can potentially buy much higher quality and/or higher thread count sheets for a fraction of the price you would pay for much lower quality new sheets. It is incredibly important that you thoroughly inspect every inch of the sheets to make sure there aren’t any stains, rips, or loose threads and that the sheets are thoroughly sanitized before going into rotation with your other sets. This means hot water, detergent and bleach, as well as a hot and thorough drying cycle.
- Promotional display items: Comment card boxes, raffle boxes, picture frames, poster frames, A-frame signs, business card holders, etc.
- Client gifts. I know, that sounds cheap as heck…but give it a chance. Thrift stores are actually an amazing place to find small special client gifts. For instance, one of my clients just loves Disney, she takes her family to Disneyland every year for their annual trip, and a lot of her Christmas decorations are Disney themed. When I saw a gorgeous limited edition Disney Christmas ornament at a thrift shop for $8, picking it up for her as a Christmas gift was a no-brainer (after inspecting it very thoroughly for any defects). The original box was a bit banged up, so I tossed it and instead wrapped it in a satin organza bag and put it into a little sequined re-usable Christmas box which I picked up at the same store for $1. She loved it. For my client who loves The Little Mermaid, a tiny snow globe for $2. For my client who is a chef who loves French cooking – a little kitchen sign with a quote from Julia Childs was a great personalized gift at only $3. Shopping this way allows me to give something my client will like, rather than something impersonal yet affordable which they don’t need. We all have/receive enough of that stuff.
- Stationery and paper goods. Honestly, here is where I save the most money when it comes to thrift store shopping for my business. I send out a lot of cards, and you can buy big packs of greeting cards, beautiful stationery, envelopes, etc for a fraction of the price you would buy new. My newest great find for my summer promo mailers were these beautiful Papyrus notecards. There are 14 cards, envelopes, and gold hummingbird seals in each box and I got 5 boxes for $1.09 each. I’ll send these out with a little personal note and some summer promotions to all of my regulars, possibly with a coupon for a friend or family member. Photo paper is also always available in abundance for a tiny fraction of the price you pay at the store. Another paper good you can almost always find is Avery printable business cards. These aren’t really good for using as actual business cards (you can buy inexpensive, much better quality cards online) but they work very well for promotional purposes as coupons or referral cards. I like the versatility of thinking up a promotional idea and being able to print up a sheet or two the same day, possibly tailored to a holiday or specific event. You can usually pick up a pack of 250 for $1.
- Furniture. Desks, bookcases, filing cabinets, lamps, chairs, good condition throw rugs, etc. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
- Attire. If you are looking to build a professional wardrobe, but on a smaller budget, thrift stores are a great option with clothing that is often higher quality/longer lasting than the cheap new stuff you can buy at your local EverythingMart. You can buy a cheap polo shirt for $10 or $15 at your local big box store, or you can and buy a name brand Nike (for example) polo shirt of much higher quality at a thrift store for about $5. They cost less, you get more use out of them, and you keep goods out of the landfill. Not to mention many thrift stores are connected to Charities in your local community, so you may also be helping out those in need depending on where you shop (My favorite local store is Savers – which benefits SafeNest). That’s a win-win in my book.
Always check items very thoroughly for defects, and remember to have fun! Do you have an awesome thrift store or garage sale find in your office or in use in your business? If so, please share in the comments