03 Oct Picker’s Paradise: Treasure-Hunters Keep Coming Back to Goodwill’s Outlet
To some folks, it’s an obsession — a strike-it-rich addiction like panning for gold. To others, not so much.
But anyone who has visited the Goodwill Outlet at 780 Berry Road in Nashville will agree: it’s a unique shopping experience. Consider Angie Mullins’ advice for folks who have never been there: “Go in with a thick skin, watch the videos about it on YouTube, wear comfy shoes and bring some water.”
The St. Louis, Ohio, resident shops at the Outlet whenever she is in Hendersonville visiting her mother. “It helps to have a passion for this like I do — the passion for finding something great at a really affordable price,” she said.
One of the things that differentiates the Outlet from Goodwill’s other stores is pricing. Clothes, accessories, shoes and home goods are all sold by the pound. Books and furniture are sold by the piece but also at other deeply discounted rates. Shoppers fill their baskets and roll them onto a scale beside the cash register.
Another difference is the merchandise. The Outlet is Goodwill’s “second chance” store for the donated, gently used items that fail to sell quickly in its 35 other retail stores or on its e-commerce site, onlinegoodwill.com. No question, there are treasures.
In 2015, a young man purchased a wood and brass table at the Outlet for $10. The mid-century Harvey Probber piece, it turned out, had a retail value of more than $10,0000. That’s an extreme example, but all regular Outlet shoppers have a “big catch” story. Mullins says she found a Coach luxury handbag worth hundreds of dollars at the Outlet, and once, she thought she found a Louis Vuitton purse.
“When I took it home it turned out to be a fake, but that was OK. It was really nice, and I was really excited about it,” she said with a laugh.
Walk in the front door of the Outlet and row upon row of long, deep tables piled high with jumbled items greet the eye. As new tables full of merchandise are rolled onto the sales floor, customers huddle side-by-side behind yellow lines painted on the floor. When an Outlet employee gives the signal, they dive in like synchronized swimmers and start digging for bargains.
Tony Fisher casually leaned against one of the tables on a recent Friday afternoon, looking over the Outlet like Mufasa surveying his pridelands in Disney’s “The Lion King.” He was wearing a dark blue Polo shirt that cost him pennies at the per-pound price.
“Tony is like ‘Mr. Goodwill’ himself,” said Outlet Assistant Manager Tameka Robinson. “He knows everybody here, all the kids, everything.”
Fisher used to run a “no-name” thrift shop on nearby Nolensville road, but when the Outlet opened on Berry Road in 2000, his customer base dried up, and he eventually closed his store. He decided “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and has been shopping at the outlet eight hours a day, six days a week for the last five years.
Fisher now makes his living reselling the merchandise he buys at the Outlet on a variety of Internet sites and phone apps. He won’t say what he buys.
“I don’t want people to know where I got it,” he said. “Loose lips sink ships.”
Fisher may be the best-known reseller at the Outlet, but he is far from alone. He said at any given time a majority of customers at the Outlet are involved in reselling.
“It’s big business,” he said, noting that the store not only provides a source of inexpensive clothing and other necessities for families who couldn’t otherwise afford them, it also provides a means of support for resellers like himself and their families. And it returns revenue that helps funds Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.
“Goodwill does a lot of good,” Fisher said.
Fisher sees plenty of first-time shoppers at the Outlet, too. His advice for them — be patient.
“It’s like poker, and the most important thing about playing poker is patience,” he said. “Have a good idea what you are looking for and some knowledge. It’s a marathon.”
Nearby, Chuck Evans of Memphis was playing a few notes on a silver flute he discovered among the home goods. Evans is a reseller who drives to Nashville every few weeks just to peruse the Outlet.
“This place is very unique as far as how much good stuff you can find ‘picking,’” he said. “If you are into that, this is the place for you. But most of the people that aren’t pickers don’t last long. I’ve got one daughter that picks and another who wouldn’t be caught dead here.”
A few aisles over, Jalana Franklin of Loretta is trying to make room in her overflowing buggy for a few more items. Franklin keeps some of what she buys at the outlet, resells some and also donates some to her church which has a “store” where children can redeem “points” given for good behavior for toys and other goodies.
“I come once or twice a month. It’s not quite a hobby, but it is therapy. When I find something good I’ve been wanting, it’s like “aaaaah,” she said, sighing contentedly.
Franklin said she loves shopping the Outlet so much that she chose it as a way to celebrate her birthday on June 12.
“I told my friend, ‘You can’t complain, you can’t say you’re hungry, you just have to stay with me the whole time.” They shopped for eight hours straight.
Even dedicated treasure-hunters like Franklin and Fisher can’t corner the market at the Outlet.
“There’s so much out there,” Fisher said, looking over the dozens of tables of merchandise, “there is not one person who can ever know it all or get it all.”
For those customers who have never shopped at the Goodwill Outlet before, we’ve compiled a little information to introduce you:
THREE TIPS FOR TREASURE HUNTING AT THE GOODWILL OUTLET
1. Arrive early and plan to stay awhile: Experienced Outlet shoppers say the early bird often gets the worm when it comes to valuable finds. The real treasures, they add, are often on the bottom of the piles of merchandise, so come prepared to spend time sifting through the tables piled high with clothing, accessories, books and other goods.
2. Be patient and be ready for a different type of shopping experience: Regular Outlet customers say that spotting especially valuable items takes a keen eye that comes from practice and familiarity with the Outlet environment and procedures. For instance, tables full of merchandise are wheeled onto the sales floor throughout the day, but shoppers must stand behind a yellow line and are not allowed to begin going through those items until an employee gives the signal.
3. Make friends and have fun: Many Outlet regulars know each other by name and enjoy chatting as they look through the merchandise. One longtime shopper said, “It doesn’t take long to become a member of the Goodwill family here.” Most are more than happy to tell you what they know about treasure-hunting at the Outlet or boast about their all-time best finds.
FALL GOODWILL OUTLET SALE
When: Oct. 13-15
Where: Goodwill Outlet Store, 780 Berry Rd., Nashville
Time: 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
GOODWILL STORE VS. OUTLET STORE
We recently compared items of similar type and quality at a Goodwill Retail Store and at the Goodwill Outlet. Here’s what we found:
$5.99 – Goodwill retail store vs.
$1.46 – Outlet (75 percent off)
$4.99 – Goodwill retail store vs.
44¢ – Outlet (91 percent off)
$7.99 – Goodwill retail store vs.
$1.46 – Outlet (81 percent off)
SHOES (one pair):
$7.99 – Goodwill retail store vs.
$3.41 – Outlet (57 percent off)
CLOTHING, TEXTILES, ACCESSORIES (HATS, BELTS, ETC.) AND HOME GOODS
79¢ per pound. (Clothes and shoes are tax-free)
$1.39 per pound (the price drops to $1.09 cents per pound for purchases of 100 pounds or more).
25¢ per book – Paperback
50¢ per book – Hardbound
FURNITURE: (and other large items)
Sold at the outlet, but at deeply discounted per-unit prices, rather than by the pound.
HELPING YOUR COMMUNITY
As always, when you shop at Goodwill, you help us change lives through the power of work. In 2015, Goodwill served 36,081 people in Middle and West Tennessee and placed more than 15,00 people in jobs. See how your support is helping us change lives.