Giggles Thrift Shop expansion reflects growing trend in resale merchandise

Monday, September 10, 2012 | 4:02 p.m. CDT; updated 12:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Giggles Thrift Shop in Columbia illustrates the increase in resale shops across the country

COLUMBIA — Fran Giboney was on a hunt to revamp her grandson's new Missouri-themed bedroom. Not just anything would do.

The gold walls were already lined with tiger-head decals and a 2012-13 football season schedule poster. A black bedspread coordinated with gold pillows to reflect the team colors, but something was missing.

Giggles Thrift Shop hours

Noon to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment 

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Giboney wasn't quite sure what it was, but she intended to find it.

After scouring the Internet, her quest ended at 720 Grace Lane in northeast Columbia. She found a black wrought iron base lamp for $7.50 at Giggles Thrift Shop.

Since opening in March, Giggles Thrift Shop has been a destination for a growing number of mid-Missourians. After six months, owners Dan and Teresa Nelson have expanded their showroom space, customer base, working hours and delivery area.

Resale shops are flourishing across the country in response to the economic downturn, residual guilt about frivolous spending, a niche market that loves antiques and another that loves recycling.

Columbia can also take advantage of a transient college population. There are now about a dozen resale shops around the city, including Goodwill Industries and two Salvation Army thrift shops. According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, the resale industry has grown by 7 percent in the past year to an estimated 25,000 resale shops in the U.S. This includes resale, consignment and not-for-profit businesses.

Larry and Rachel Helwig are also evidence of a growing resale consumer market in Columbia. The Helwigs opened House of Treasures on Paris Road in May 2008.

After three years of increasing consumer demand, the two opened Frugal Finds on Providence Road as a second location to their resale business.

"The public is being more careful about how they spend their money," Rachel Helwig said. "I just think people are looking for things at a good, honest deal."

At Giggles, new items are added every day, the Nelsons say, and they sell almost as quickly as they arrive.

The store is stocked with merchandise bought from auctions and estate sales, online sources such as Craigslist and individual sellers. For Dan Nelson, a fan of the A&E Network television show "Storage Wars," acquiring inventory is half the fun.

"It can be entertaining, to say the least," he said. "It's everything you see on those reality shows, and then some. And there are a lot of nice people in this business."

Items are usually sold within the same week of arrival. If a piece hasn't sold within two weeks, it is marked down until a buyer finds the price satisfactory.

Just inside the front door hangs a selection of wall decorations and photo frames. Farther inside are landscape oil paintings, novelty items such as porcelain china sets and bookcases that hold DVDs and VHS tapes.

The center of the store is dedicated to children's clothing, most priced at 50 cents. Children's goods have the highest turnover rate, Teresa Nelson said, with several shoppers coming in every week wanting to buy and sell clothing.

The largest space houses furniture, with pieces carefully arranged into a put-together look. Armchairs and couches with similar colors are positioned near each other, while hand-crafted ceramic animal figurines fill a wood china hutch with glass shelves.

Some wooden chairs in the room may be in need of paint, Teresa Nelson said, but they only make necessary repairs to ensure the proper function of a piece. Many items remain unfinished as a blank canvas for a customer to personalize.

"It's cool to have old things made new again," Teresa Nelson said. "This is like a treasure hunt. You just never know what you’re going to find."

Giggles Thrift Shop emerged from the Nelsons' love of garage sales and discovering quirky furnishings.

Prior to becoming full-time business owners, Teresa Nelson worked in retail at Osco Drug for 13 years and later sold advertising for the Columbia Daily Tribune. She also operated a booth at Itchy's Flea Market for three years.

Dan Nelson has owned and managed Five Star Lawn & Landscaping for 12 years.

The two decided to open a resale shop in order to find a project where they could spend more time together. In early 2012, they rented three rooms in a warehouse on Grace Lane and set up shop in the 600-square-foot space. One month later, Giggles Thrift Shop opened its doors.

Soon after, word about the shop spread and business picked up, Teresa Nelson said.

"It got to be that every Saturday, the front room would be completely emptied out," she said. "We needed more room and inventory to satisfy our customers."

During the summer, they more than doubled the size of their showroom to its current estimated 2,000 square feet. Eight-hour workdays soon became 12- to 15-hours spent in the showroom and out making furniture deliveries.

They decided to be open Wednesday through Saturday to allow for off days for rest, but Teresa Nelson said they still end up working six days per week to keep the store running.

"We didn't plan on it blowing up like this," Teresa Nelson said. "We just wanted a little shop to piddle around with. We didn’t go into this to get rich."

The shop owners attribute their rapid expansion not only to the economy but also a renewed interest in reviving and personalizing old furniture.

"A long time ago, someone told me to 'grow into business, not go into business,'" Dan Nelson said. "And it stuck."

Now, a hand-painted wooden sign hangs inside the entrance that says, "Grow Giggles."

While their store is expanding, the Nelsons believe their business is about more than selling merchandise. It's providing a service to the community.

"(Teresa) bends over backward to help her customers," said Giboney, now a regular customer. "I've worked in everything from sales to law enforcement, so I know what good customer service looks like. And when you find it, you definitely tell people about it."

Sales associate Tabitha Dickerson began working at Giggles in late August and already has high praise for her new place of employment.

"I'm not leaving this place," Dickerson said. "I love it."

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