Knoxville is blessed with an abundance of thrift stores. Goodwill, KARM, Am-vets, American Council for the Blind, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Teen Challenge, and literally hundreds of others.
As Journal readers know, there is no other person in the city who appreciates the thrift store industry as much as I do. I have devoted many articles describing the attributes of these area stores. However, over the last year, I have been hearing rumors and people have called and talked to me and sent e mails about situations involving pricing on specific items in some of these stores. When the Letter to the Editor on this topic arrived , I decided to visit a few of the stores and see what I could find out. Keep in mind that I would prefer to be able to report about all the great things going on, but this will not be that kind of article.
Let's remember, we are taking about thrift stores. The items in these stores have been donated which means the stores received them for free. Oh sure, I get it, they have to pay rent and expenses, but they also use hundreds of volunteers and are known for paying the lowest of wages to their workers. Except, you need to know, the folks working in the administrative offices are earning high salaries. The directors of some of these agencies are being paid well over $150,000.
Also remember, people shop at thrift stores for a few main reasons. (1) They cannot afford to shop anywhere else. The values they get at a thrift store allow them to put shoes on their children and clothes on their backs. (2) They are looking for collectibles or they just enjoy searching through junk. And (3) Dealers are looking to buy low and resell to earn an income for themselves.
Generally, prices in most thrift stores appear to be holding at relatively low places, but everything has gone up in recent months. From what I can tell from my own research and from what people tell me who are long-time thrift store shoppers, Goodwill remains the king of low prices. For one thing, Goodwill holds the end of the month l/2 Off Sale in all of their locations. Teen Challenge has low prices, especially with children's clothing and shoes. American Council for the Blind's prices are acceptable and they do offer discounts for seniors and have a store policy of marking down items that do not sell. They have been known to bargain with customers on higher prices items, too, by giving a 10% discount to help the deal go through. The prices at Am-vets are about what you would expect, but they do mark some specialty items higher than acceptable for their customers.
Now for the bad news. All KARM stores and the Habitat for Humanity Restore must have been taken over by someone who thinks they are on Madison Avenue in New York because the pricing of their inventories have gone through the roof. In order to do research, I visited several locations for KARM and found the same thing to be true in all stores. The prices are outrageous and are even higher than retail. I had been told to take a special look at the prices on women's shoes. I just had to laugh when I saw USED shoes marked at $15, $20, and $30 per pair. Shoes that had stains and were of no special name brand, were priced higher than shoes I could buy at Old Navy, Wal-mart, or J.C. Penny's. Art work was another area in which the prices were so high it was comical. The kinds of pictures and paintings you might purchase to hang behind a sofa or bed were over $100. Really? Are the people putting prices of these items nuts? (Yes) I saw dresses for $15; $22; $29 and even higher. Most furniture items in their stores are prices about 25% too high.
At one KARM store, I questioned the price of a book on tape. It was marked at $12, while others on the same shelf were $3. The clerk became very agitated with me and said that they have a lady who does pricing who goes by prices on the internet. So, I pulled out my cell phone and looked up the price and it was $2. She seemed shocked that I knew how to use the internet.
There are two other things that drive folks nuts about KARM. One is that they play gospel music and secondly, they play it too loudly. By the way, KARM advertises on Craigslist that they are looking for workers who are "Christians who love the Lord." Isn't that discrimination? It should not matter what a person's religion is, if they can do the job.
All in all KARM’s prices are way too high and some of their workers display disrespectful attitudes towards their customers.
Whoever is running Habitat for Humanity Restore seems to have lost his/her mind. I visited their store for three weeks in a row to make sure I was getting a clear understanding of their prices. I am still in shock. I keep thinking, these items are USED and they are priced higher than for new, retail items.
Doors and windows that should be priced no higher than $20 were $75 to $150. A builder told me he can buy a window at Home Depot and pay for it to be installed for less than $150. Lighting fixtures that should cost no more than $10 to $15 were priced at $85 to $200. Rugs that were not even clean at $35 to $50. I could go on and on.
I noticed that the store was empty and there used to be a steady stream of customers before the pricing maniac took control. I also noticed that items that were on the shelves the first week I visited were still there on my third visit.
I’d like to recommend to KARM and to Habitat for Humanity Restore that they stop the greed and fire the folks who are setting the prices. High prices will be the downfall of any thrift store. Remember, you got the donations for free. Your customers know that and resent being gouged.