Secondhand Shops Supersize To Maximize Potential

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The interior of the Used Book Superstore in Nashua, N.H. i i

The Used Book Superstore in Nashua, N.H., occupies the space that once housed an electronics chain. The store has an inventory of 100,000 books that are organized on metal shelves. Courtesy of Brittany Jasper hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Brittany Jasper
The interior of the Used Book Superstore in Nashua, N.H.

The Used Book Superstore in Nashua, N.H., occupies the space that once housed an electronics chain. The store has an inventory of 100,000 books that are organized on metal shelves.

Courtesy of Brittany Jasper

When the economy sours, people look to save money any way they can. That often translates to more conservation and recycling. And that's been a boost to local resale and thrift shops.

Now some of these secondhand businesses are seizing an opportunity created by the downturn: They're moving into the empty spaces bankrupt big-box retailers left behind. Today's new superstore is not a Wal-Mart. It's a for-profit version of the Salvation Army.

In Nashua, N.H., a secondhand superstore called Savers is about to open on a busy retail strip. About 30 employees are in a warehouse sorting donated dishes, furniture and books.

Out on the sales floor, the workplace is quieter.

"This is one of our most interesting things," says employee Tonya Mounce. "We have a 'Learn Russian' record set from [the] late '50s, early '60s."

The store is musty like a Goodwill shop, but well-designed like a Marshalls. It's in an old Circuit City building. And it's huge — more than 23,000 square feet.

100,000 Books For Sale

Two miles away, there's a Used Book Superstore. The parking lot is packed and it hasn't been this busy since the building housed a now-bankrupt electronics chain called Tweeter.

As she grabs a shopping cart and browses the children's section, customer Rose Watne says there are many good deals: "Love the fact that you're not paying full price for them, but you're getting really good books. I always walk out with more than I came for."

There are 100,000 books stacked on metal shelves. The store may not have the warm vibe of a cafe, but it's well-lit and organized. As with the Savers store down the street, the used bookstore partners with a non-profit organization.

Used Book Superstore gives a tax write-off to donors. Owner Bob Ticehurst says in turn, it pays the nonprofit five cents a pound for the books.

"The nonprofit raises money and we're able to keep all of our operations going," Ticehurst explains. "So, kind of a win-win for everybody."

Finding Profit In Small Increments

Ticehurst says the margins are small, but his operation is able to make a profit.

"It's volume. At these prices, being a $1.99 and $2.99 — it's not like you're making a lot on every book, but it continues to add up."

Ticehurst now owns five stores. Like other secondhand merchants, he sticks to a simple business model: high volume, low cost of goods and cheap rent.

According to the National Association of Resale Professionals, the multi-billion-dollar a year industry is growing. Over the past three years, the number of secondhand shops has increased five percent.

"It seems like every time there's a new retail concept, sooner or later, somebody decides to supersize it, if you will," says Gary Mucica, a marketing professor at the University of Massachusetts.

He says thrift shops are typically nonprofit and now that they've demonstrated their potential during a recession, the for-profits are targeting the same frugal customers. Those businesses are helped because of the leasing bargains they're getting on empty storefronts. What's unclear is how this new business model will play out when the economy turns around.

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