How to Start a Thrift Store for a Non Profit: A Quick Guide

(Last Updated On: 08/16/2022)

Written by POS Expert Martin Nikolaev

thrift store for non profitHaving the right thrift store POS software is an essential part of running a thrift store, among a plethora of other aspects. There are, however, a lot of other considerations to make, as well as several steps to follow. If you want to know how to start a thrift store for a non-profit organization, keep reading and discover the step-by-step process. We’ll throw in additional tips on how to find the best thrift store POS system and all the functionalities it must feature.

But why would you open a thrift store for a non profit in the first place? The answer is simple: funding. A non profit always requires continuous funding to keep functioning as it should, as there are probably many people relying on it. If you’re running one, then you know that donations are often not enough, and raising funds the usual way does not always go according to plan. This is where starting a thrift store comes as the right solution. Although not always applicable, a thrift shop equipped with the best thrift store POS system would likely turn into a much needed source of funds for your non profit.

Managing such an endeavor is not hard if you have the right toolset, but starting one is a different story. If you’ve never been involved in running a thrift store before, you need to be prepared for the multiple aspects of planning, preparing, and launching it. Read below and find out all about how to start a thrift store for non profit and how to equip it with the best thrift store POS system. 

What Makes Opening a Thrift Store to Fund a Non Profit at Good Decision?

If you’re running a non profit, opening a thrift store to fund it would be a meaningful decision. Thrift shops are always popular among different groups of shoppers, mainly due to the affordable prices and the variety of goods. In other words, you would always enjoy having clients, regardless of the economic environment. Plus, managing such a business is different compared to most retail stores because you never know what kind of assortment you’d be able to find tomorrow. This makes it a lot more exciting.

To take full advantage of opening a thrift shop, you need to follow all the steps to succeed in this adventure, including finding the best thrift shop POS system.

How to Plan Your Thrift Store

Like any other project imaginable, starting a thrift store requires meticulous planning. It all begins with creating a structure to build on top of. When you prepare the legal part of this new establishment, you need to abide by any possible specifics related to the non profit you’re running. You must also check all requirements and local legislation terms and conditions to make sure you’re a good fit. Once you are certain that your concept would be acceptable and there would be no legal obstructions whatsoever, you should proceed with crafting a detailed blueprint of your idea.

The first thing you should do next is set a budget. Opening a thrift store might be a lot more expensive than you expected it to be, so do your research and plan a realistic budget if you want to achieve good profits in the end.

One of the major differences between a classic retail operation and a thrift store for non profit is the plethora of alleviations you would be entitled to, such as cheaper rent (or no rent at all), tax exemptions and deductions, and more. This comes at a price: you are likely to have more weight on your shoulders from a managerial point of view. However, if it’s easy on your budget, then it’s a good thing. Here’s a tip: when thinking about your budget, make sure you include the average cost of a thrift store POS system. Make sure you consider the prices for POS hardware as well. Even when you use a cloud-based POS system that doesn’t involve a classic cash register and a local-based server, the prices of mobile devices and peripherals such as barcode and QR code scanners and receipt printers can be steep.

Next, you need to prepare all the paperwork required, including permits, declarations, licenses, insurance policies, and more. This is an important part of the preparation process, as without all the documents you need, proceeding with additional steps would be pointless.

If you’re certain you have everything you need, you’ll have to think about the area you’d like your future store to be located in. You might even look for specific locations. When it comes to choosing premises, your main goal is to reduce initial setup costs. Ideally, you will rent a location that used to be a store or a similar establishment before. Consider everything important for a thrift store: heavy foot traffic, nearby parking, large window displays, etc. Settling for a mediocre location would significantly reduce your profit, despite the probably lower rent.

Once you have a good idea of where you would locate your thrift store, you should proceed with creating a layout for its interior. This would also be the moment to decide on the inventory you would sell at the store. It’s a crucial step to determine the number and type of stands, aisles, displays, and checkouts you would need. You will attract more clients with a well-planned interior giving shoppers lots of space.

When you’ve completed every step of your preliminary plan and you’ve estimated all the expenses to come, then you should be ready to proceed with the actual steps of making it happen.

Setting up and Launching Your Thrift Store: The Masterplan

When you think about how to start a thrift store for a non profit, you should consider its numerous benefits. Except for being popular throughout the year (resulting in regular clients) and among most types of client groups, a thrift shop is also a great way to support a cause such as funding a non profit. The moment you announce the purpose of your efforts, you are likely to receive the support you need, both from people willing to donate goods for you to sell and from clients who are ready to purchase the goods and help you achieve your ultimate goal. Of course, there’s a long way to go before setting up a marketing campaign.

Let’s follow the basic steps and discuss how to start a thrift store for a non profit.

thrift store inventoryChoose your location and rent it: This is a fundamental step to take. As mentioned above, you’d be halfway through the path to success if you choose the best location for your thrift shop. This does not mean you need to opt for an exclusive location downtown. Even if your store happens to be in a lower rent area, its proper setup would attract enough shoppers. Having all the amenities a proper store would need is a must, but the retail space you select must also be big enough to fit the inventory you’d been planning for. Having the premises redecorated and zoned correctly is very important as well. Ideally, you will find a place that requires minor finishing touches and little to no extra expenses. 

Design your own policy: Once you’re happy with the place you found, you need to compare it to your existing competition. When you analyze their pros and cons by reading customer reviews, you will know what to do (and what not to do, for that matter). 

Usually, a good thrift store policy comes down to a few components:

  • Adequate and consistent pricing
  • Rich inventory
  • Clean premises with lots of space between shelves
  • Friendly consultants 
  • Fast checkout process (thanks to proper thrift store POS systems)
  • Marketing campaigns attracting donors and shoppers

Choose a sales strategy: Nobody’s perfect when starting a new project. This means that your initial efforts to set a correct price level might not be successful, meaning that you should start thinking about discounts. Next, you need to be prepared for returns. Clients will require refunds from time to time, meaning that you need to be prepared for that. It all comes down to foreseeing these activities and creating the terms and conditions that regulate them. This is one of the many aspects of a retail operation a thrift store POS system could help you with. 

Your sales strategy should also regulate negotiable prices. Some clients would demand discounts on regular-priced items, but it’s up to the price policy you’ve created if that would be possible or not. To help you with that, your thrift store POS software will allow you to set price points on groups of items. In other words, you can categorize different product groups and set fixed or relevant prices.

Start collecting inventory: You can either rely on donations to fill your inventory, or you can buy in bulk from a wholesaler. When it comes to clothing, buying wholesale could be incredibly profitable once you sell the merchandise at your retail operation.

Of course, no thrift store sells clothing only. The bigger the variety of goods you offer, the more shoppers will come to buy something, resulting in higher profits and, respectively, more funds for the non profit your run. Sourcing returned items from other businesses and relying on donations is usually enough to enjoy a rich inventory. The key is to never leave your store empty, as many of your clients will be regulars. They would expect to see variety each time they pay a visit.

Other ways of sourcing goods for your inventory include garage sales, storage unit auctions, and online marketplaces. If you get a good deal on new items, you should also consider accepting it, as long as the goods fit the theme of your thrift store.

Pre-launch activities: Having enough goods in stock is one of the last steps before the time for the grand opening comes. If all the renovations are completed and you have already created the shelves and displays you need, you would need a thrift store POS system set up before your first customer comes through the door. Such a system would allow you to accept payments from customers and organize your inventory at the same time (we’ll discuss the benefits and must-have features of such software in a separate section below).

Once that’s taken care of, you will need to set up a special area for accepting donations. It should include bins for clothing and a counter for other items. 

Prior to the opening ceremony of your thrift store for a non-profit, you need to make sure you’ve spread the word as far as possible. Notifying local press representatives would be a good idea. Announcing the grand opening via posters and flyers would also work wonders when done locally. Of course, you should never forget your social media channels. Creating business profiles across several social media platforms is a must if you want to reach a larger audience. Last, but not least: consider having a strong online presence. You can achieve that by running an online store. This would require you to integrate your thrift store POS system with an e-Commerce platform.

Go all in during the opening day: The first impression you make is always a strong one, and this is also valid for your business. Having volunteers help you out on your first day would be awesome, as you’d be able to focus your attention on your first guests and clients. Make sure you come up with a promotion or a special discount for everyone who crosses your threshold on the first day. This is one way to make people want to come back and spread the word.

Why Do You Need a Thrift Store POS System?

thrift store POS systemThe variety of items in the inventory of your thrift shop would likely be a headache to manage on your own. Luckily, you could save yourself a lot of effort by utilizing the best thrift store POS software you could find. The large and miscellaneous inventory of a thrift shop is the main difference from any other retail operation. 

A thrift store POS system that’s a good fit for your business will help you overcome a lot of managerial challenges. Not only that, but it will also allow you to monitor sales, track inventory, manage employees and payroll, and help you understand the preferences of your regular clients by storing and processing data from each sale. 

To enjoy a well-structured toolset that will assist you in running your thrift shop and to provide your clients with the best customer experience, you would need a suitable POS for thrift shops. Let’s check out the important features of this type of software.

What Are the Must-Have Benefits of Thrift Store POS Systems?

Your thrift store POS system will be more than just a solution for accepting payments. This software is capable of helping you with almost every aspect of running such a business. Having in mind that running a thrift shop is something new to you, then you’d need all the help you can get. Here’s how a proper thrift store POS software can be of assistance:

  • Inventory management: The system will help you with your inventory, as it’s a different situation compared to retail operations. With retail inventory, you have regular suppliers and supply chains that hide no surprises. The inventory of thrift stores consists of countless items that are hard to predict in terms of procurement. Projected sales are also hard to estimate, given the situation. To avoid confusion and even chaos, the point-of-sale software you choose should have inventory monitoring and tracking functionalities that update your inventory after every transaction.
  • Pricing support and management: We already mentioned considering discounts and promotions, but the best thing about these aspects of your future price policy is that the POS system of choice could handle them. Organizing discounts and applying them would be a seamless process with the right thrift store POS system by your side. Plus, it would be a lot easier to organize pricing around the store.
  • Loyalty program management: Attracting new clients and retaining the old ones is a must for every retail business. Your clients need a reason to come again and spend more money. This means that they need to be treated in a special way. Loyalty programs are a great solution for keeping your clients. Thanks to your thrift store POS system, you will be able to create personalized offers and give your clients awards and bonuses. The secret is the client data stored by the point-of-sale software. The data is processed alongside purchase details. As a result, you will be able to understand your clients’ preferences better, which would lead to a more appropriate assortment and a closer relationship between the clients and your business.
  • Easy-to-use interface and structure: The best thrift store POS should have an intuitive interface. This is important, as it would make your employees’ work easier and allow for a smooth customer experience and seamless checkout process. Avoiding extensive training for using complicated software is the best-case scenario.
  • ECommerce integrations: The good old days of going through hidden treasures in thrift stores in person have been partially replaced by an online experience. If you want to make the most of your operation and support your non profit, then your thrift store POS system would need to integrate with various add-ons and third-party software, such as e-Commerce platforms. This will allow you to sync your inventory across both sales channels (online and offline). 

There are many other important features to look for in a modern thrift store POS system, but the right price/quality ratio and the best set of features are always specific, as they are based on the scale of your business and your requirements.

Read the 5 Best Thrift Store POS Systems.

The Conclusion

Running a charity or a non profit is always full of difficulties and challenges, but there are ways you can help such an organization. If you’re managing one and you need additional funding, you can set up a thrift store as a good way of supporting your main activity. 

The fact that you chose to support a non-profit cause needs to go hand in hand with the purely business aspect of running a thrift shop. It’s different from any other retail operation, but most of the differences are either beneficial for you, or you can help yourself overcome them by utilizing a state-of-the-art thrift store POS system. 

All the benefits and features of using such specific software have one goal: to attract and retain as many clients as possible. This is the most important aspect of running almost every business on the planet and your profits depend on that. To make it possible, you need to provide shoppers with a quality customer experience and personalized attention in the form of loyalty programs, bonuses, and promos. A fitting thrift store POS system could certainly help with all of them.

Choosing your thrift store POS software is not extremely hard, but you still need to consider your budget and the type of business you intend to run (if you’re planning an online branch, make sure the point-of-sale software you choose can integrate with third-party software and hardware, including e-Commerce platforms.


What is a thrift store POS?

A thrift store POS will accept payments and serve you in a plethora of different ways, including pricing, inventory tracking, loyalty program management, sales monitoring, and online sales if needed.

Do all thrift store POS systems support online sales?

Even if the POS system you choose can’t integrate directly with an e-Commerce platform or another type of software, it needs to be compatible with specific plug-ins to make it work.

How do thrift store POS systems track inventory?

Using a clever way of categorizing inventory based on product types, the system is capable of tracking the store’s inventory much easier. This is why having a thrift store POS is a must, as it would save you a lot of headaches and reduce your error rate as well. 

What is the average cost of thrift store POS software?

The prices of a fitting thrift store POS software may vary a lot, depending on the features you need, the compatibility with different peripherals, and the transaction costs and licensing fees.