As someone new to the reselling game (you can check out my Etsy shop of vintage home goods here), I follow numerous thrifters and vintage resellers on social media. Not only do I enjoy this content, it is often very educational. When I first started following these social media accounts, I noticed several references to “the bins.” At first, it was unclear to me what “the bins” were. After doing some research, I discovered that this is the popular name for Goodwill Outlet Stores. Intrigued, I decided to visit the nearest store. I got hooked and have since visited numerous times and even explored some other locations. Keep reading for my tips for making the most of your visit to “the bins.”
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What are “the bins?”
The bins, or Goodwill Outlet stores, are the the last stop for items donated to the chain before they are disposed of or sold to a textile recycler or other salvage vendor. Most of the inventory is made up of items that did not sell at the Goodwill retail stores. However, I have never seen any evidence of Goodwill price tags on these items (and I know from experience how painful these can be to remove). In addition, I have heard rumors that some of the items in the bins may have never been displayed at a Goodwill retail store before being placed in the bins. However, I cannot say if this is true.
Essentially, at the outlet stores, all of this unsold merchandise is placed somewhat haphazardly in large, shallow mobile blue bins. Of note, each outlet store operates somewhat independently by region. At the three locations I have visited there tend to be separate bins for textiles, books, and shoes, but each outlet organizes their bins somewhat differently. In Canton, everything that wasn’t clothing, books, or shoes was placed in the remaining miscellaneous bins together. They also had some furniture and larger items available in a separate area. In Columbus, this was mostly true except that they had a bin dedicated to media (e.g. video games, DVDs, and VHS tapes) and no furniture items. Neither the Canton nor Columbus stores had glass or ceramic (e.g. breakable household items) items available.
In my experience, the Akron store is the most well-organized. They have separate bins for textiles, shoes, bags/luggage, books, breakable glass/ceramic items, and miscellaneous items. They also have some furniture and larger items as well as specific sections dedicated to plastic storage bins, formal dresses/wedding gowns, wall art, and seasonal decor. The Akron store is also the largest of the three stores that I visited.
So you might be wondering why the bins are so appealing to resellers and thrifters. I mean, it’s literally like a giant pile of random stuff that has been twice rejected; first by its original owner and then again by shoppers at the retail stores. As I’m sure you have guessed, the primary reason people visit and love the bins is the pricing. Instead of paying by item, most Goodwill Outlet stores price items by the pound. Because of this, you can purchase a ton of items for a very low cost. But, like layout and organization, pricing does vary by store.
In Akron, glassware/ceramics are 49 cents per pound, books are 50 cents each, and everything else is $1.19 per pound. In Canton, books/media are 75 cents each, technology and breakable housewares are 69 cents per pound, and everything else is $1.59 per pound. And in Columbus, books are 59 cents per pound and everything else is $1.89 per pound. With this pricing, you can purchase an overflowing cart of clothing for $40-$50. On my most recent visit to Akron, for just over $4 I purchased an entire 12-piece set of Avon spice houses, two antique wooden spools, plant stakes, floral tape, a vintage Disney notebook, two brand new Sharpies, and eight vintage woven rattan trivets. Even after taking into account the 40 minute drive and cost of gas, you just can’t beat that pricing.
How it works
When visiting the bins, you will find items randomly tossed in large, shallow plastic bins. Your job is to sort through the junk looking for treasure. I find the search incredibly fun but it can be hard work. Sometimes, other shoppers can be very pushy. At the Columbus Outlet, where they place the rows of bins somewhat close together, I was told somewhat sternly by another shopper that they don’t normally bring their carts down the aisles. And although I haven’t had it happen to me, I have heard that people will sometimes steal things from your cart if you leave it unattended, so you will want to look out for this.
Note that the bins are switched out with fresh ones periodically. Typically, the employees will make an announcement and have all shoppers stand behind a designated line while they switch out the bins. Once all bins in that cycle have been replaced, shoppers are released all together to begin digging in the new bins. In Akron, they switch out half of the floor every hour (except on Sundays when it is every two hours). In Columbus, they seemed to switch out small sections about every 30 minutes. Canton seemed to do something similar.
Some of the shoppers at the bins can be somewhat aggressive, especially when new bins hit the floor. I find that most people are assertive yet respectful of personal space and the flow of traffic, but there are always exceptions. I just try to avoid the most aggressive people and look through other bins and then return to a bin after an aggressive shopper has moved on. It is important to understand that this process can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating for some people. In my limited experience, the crowds are a bit smaller right when the bins open, so this might be the best time to visit if it is your first time.
Once you have sorted through the bins and determined which items you want to purchase, you can take your cart to the checkout and (after sorting out items that are a different price), push it right onto a scale to be weighed.
Tips for visiting the bins
To have a successful visit to the bins, you need to be prepared (both mentally and physically).
#1: Bring gloves
I strongly recommend bringing gloves. I prefer a reinforced gardening glove that offers protection from dirt and sharp objects but allows for full movement of your hands.
#2: Bring reusable bags
You will also want to bring your own reusable bags. I have a large utility tote bag that I actually purchased on a previous trip to the bins that I like to use. In Akron, they charge for bags and in Columbus they simply don’t have any available (I don’t remember seeing bags at the Canton store either, but I’m not sure).
#3: Put it in your cart
As you are shopping, I recommend putting anything in your cart that you might even consider possibly buying. If you are on the fence, put it in your cart. If you wait and try to go back for it, it will probably be gone. Once you have finished looking through the bins, I recommend finding a spot out of the way and spending time sorting through the items in your cart to determine which you want to keep and which you are going to put back.
#4: Shop with an open mind
I also recommend shopping with an open mind. Although my primary motivation for visiting the bins is to look for items to resell, some of the most valuable finds are items that I can use for other parts of my business. I like to look for vintage note cards (to include thank you notes with my orders), butcher/packing paper to use when shipping orders, and even pool noodles (actually very handy for shipping certain items). I will also pick up items for family and friends. My vintage-loving sister and mother-in-law have gotten numerous text messages and video chats about items I have found at the bins.
#5: Bring a friend
Another tip for making the most of your trip to the bins would be to visit with a friend if possible. Having a friend makes it a lot less intimidating and you can work together to guard your cart and find items for each other. Or, if you are a reselling team, one can look up items while the other searches for treasure.
#6: Have a plan
Having a general plan is also very important. Know which bin type is most important to you. As a vintage home goods reseller, I always check out the glassware/ceramics bins first followed by the miscellaneous and book bins. Once I have searched through these, I will sometimes quickly browse the bags or wall décor. You might also want to set a time limit. I regularly spend 2-3 hours at the bins and could easily spend much more.
I have the most thought-out plan for the Akron store because it is the one I visit most frequently. This store only rotates their bins every two hours. Typically, I will try to arrive when the store opens (usually 8am on Saturday). I will spend about an hour going through the bins (first housewares bins followed by the miscellaneous bins and book bins). Once I sort through my finds and check out, I usually have about 45 minutes until the next time new bins come out. Conveniently, the Akron outlet store has a traditional retail store in the same building (this is also true for the Columbus outlet). I will typically visit the retail store (it is quite large and well-stocked) and then return to the bins in time for the next switch. Update: The Akron outlet just updated their bins to rotate every hour (except on Sundays when it is still every two hours) so I will have to re-think my shopping plan moving forward.
#7: Come prepared
There are a few other items that might be helpful when you visit the bins. You might want to bring a measuring tape. I always have a small tape measure with me and lists of any dimensions that are relevant. I also recommend bringing hand sanitizer (Bath & Body Works Sunshine & Lemons is my favorite). Even though I wear gloves when digging, I have to remove them when sorting through my cart and making final decisions because I am often looking up items on my phone or recording videos for social media. I also bring a black light flashlight. This allows me to check for uranium glass (e.g. glass that glows under a black light due to the chemical composition). Really serious shoppers recommend bringing batteries to test electronics or magnets to test metal type. These aren’t typically in my arsenal, but if you are shopping for technology or a specific type of metal, they might be helpful.
Finding a store
Some preliminary research suggests that the Goodwill Outlet Stores are available in most states (the exception seems to be some of the north central states and southwestern states). A quick Google search will help you to determine if there is a store near you. Since I live in northeast Ohio, the nearest store to me is located in Akron. About 25 minutes further south is another location in Canton which I have also visited. There is also one in Columbus which I was able to check out when visiting family a few weeks ago.
If you don’t have any Goodwill Outlet Stores in your area, I recommend searching for outlet stores for the thrift store chain that is most popular in your area. I know that the Salvation Army has a few outlet stores and it is likely that other thrift chains do as well.
If you enjoy hunting for unexpected treasures and getting amazing discounts, then the bins are definitely the place for you. I have never left the bins empty-handed, but some trips are definitely more successful than others. I wish you the best of luck and hope you enjoy visiting the bins as much as I do!
Have you visited the bins in your area? What other tips would you give to new bins shoppers?
If you love thrift shopping and live in the northeast Ohio area, check out my post on the best Cleveland thrift stores. If you aren’t in the area, you might also enjoy my post on tips for attending your first estate sale. Estate sales are my absolute favorite place to shop for my business and I highly recommend looking to see if they are offered in your area!
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