S'pore thrift stores draw new crowd

TREASURE TROVE: Australian Sarita Singh and her daughter donating items to The Salvation Army's Tanglin location. There are more than 10 thrift shops here now, from one in 1996. Also, the customers now are richer.


    Jan 18, 2016

    S'pore thrift stores draw new crowd

    THESE days, the clientele for thrift stores also include eco-conscious yuppies looking to recycle, fashionistas hunting for vintage pieces and eagle-eyed bargain hunters willing to plonk down $3,000 for a diamond ring.

    This has driven the expansion of the business, from one store in 1996 to more than 10 in Singapore now.

    Social enterprises that run these thrift stores have been able to sustain the business, even as there are more stores competing for customers.

    The Salvation Army's Red Shield Industries, which has five family thrift stores, including Tanglin Mega Family Store, started its first store 20 years ago.

    From its initial set-up, where customers had to rummage through piles of items, the stores now emphasise visual merchandising.

    Nicholas Tan, retail and marketing manager of the family stores, says: "We've been able to cover our costs and contribute to The Salvation Army for its programmes."

    Changing demographics in the buyer profile is one of the reasons these stores thrive.

    Mr Tan says: "We're starting to see an increase in students and housewives at our Tanglin Mega Family Store, for instance.

    "Kids look for vintage clothes and books while housewives look for dresses."

    And some of their customers have no qualms paying thousands of dollars for unique items.

    Mr Tan has seen a customer spend more than $3,000 on a diamond ring. It was donated by a woman who decided not to keep the engagement ring for personal reasons.

    It also helps that more people are donating their items.

    Mr Tan recalls how a retired businessman donated his entire collection of replica vases, with each of the hundreds of vases selling for between $300 and $10,000.

    Another donor gave a big boat sculpture made of jade.

    It is priced at $10,000 and remains unsold.

    Mr Tan says: "It was a centrepiece in a shop that had wound up."

    Lim Lye Hock, 54, a store supervisor with Hi-Thrift, says that people who move homes donate items to the store as well.

    Among the common items are washing machines, refrigerators and television sets.

    Mr Lim says: "An expatriate, who left Singapore after six months, donated his 40-inch TV set.

    "We sold it off for $300."

    Corporate donors too have been generous. Some shoe shops donate their display items, says a staff member at Tanglin Mega Family Store.

    Some lost-and-found items donated by corporations, such as iPads, are usually snapped up very quickly.

    The staff member says: "Depending on the model, an iPad Air can cost about $400 to $500 here. An iPad mini costs about $300 to $400."


    Thrift stores try to keep prices low.

    Mr Lim says: "If we price it too high, the item doesn't move. (But) we can't price it too low either, as it'll spoil the market.

    "Sometimes when customers buy a lot from us, we give them more discounts."

    The bestsellers are clothes, especially if they are designer items.

    At Hi-Thrift, Mr Lim says branded clothes like Gucci and Levi's are sold at an average of $20 per piece, depending on quality and newness.

    Despite the pricing, the shop has been able to make up to $8,000 a month. The revenue sustains its operations and supports the Highpoint Community Services Association charitable organisation.

    Mr Lim says: "Sales used to be better when we were actively collecting donated items door-to-door and through our house-moving service.

    "But now, we're depending on donors to bring the items to us, as we have a lack of manpower and transportation."

    Sarita Singh, 40, who was spotted contributing a plastic box full of books and bags of clothing at The Salvation Army's Tanglin location on Friday, says she does so about five to six times a year.

    The Australian mother of two, who runs regional operations in the consumer technology industry, says: "We do it every time after my kids' birthdays. The kids grow up so fast, they want new things.

    "So every six months, I'll put aside the smaller clothes to give away. And as they're just six months old, the clothes are as good as new.

    "It's better than throwing them away. Someone can make good use of them."