The Art of Disposal (Part 1 of 4)

In evaluating a thrift store processing operation, the expedient removal of non-sellable items is step number one after receiving a donation. There is nothing more detrimental than having a backroom operation that is not structured to identify and dispose of non-sellable items efficiently. To maximize the throughput model, three questions must be answered.

  1. Who determines whether an item is sellable?
  2. When is the decision made?
  3. What criteria must be considered?

The person who determines whether an item is sellable sets the benchmark for the quality of inventory that will ultimately make it’s way to the retail floor. On one hand, this person could be responsible for throwing away thousands of dollars in retail opportunity. Or, on the other hand, this person could permit no or low value items in the pipeline causing costly delays or allowing inferior product on the retail floor. This individual has to be a person of high character (greatest risk of theft) but should also have the personality type that lends itself to organization and critical thinking skills.

The answer to when the decision made is always as soon as possible. Upon receiving a donation, the first touch of product (assuming the donor has brought the donation to your store) is referred to as the pre-sort. The decisions associated in pre-sort need to take place immediately upon receipt. The rationale will be further explained but, in short, the best time to eliminate non-sellable items is always as the donation is received.

The question of what is sellable versus non-sellable is what bottlenecks many thrift operations and training in this decision making is critical. Quickly sifting out items that should be trashed from those than can be baled, recycled or sold sets you up for success later. There are four criteria to consider for product to be trashed.

  1. It stinks. – The offensive smell most commonly found in donated goods is tobacco. This bad smell, along with animal odors and mold & mildew smells, promotes a stench throughout the whole environment. If it stinks, get it out of the building immediately.
  2. It is totally worn out or badly stained. – This criteria relates primarily to textiles. So, why not bale it rather than trash it? By disposing this type of product versus baling it, we keep the quality of our baled goods high, therefore bringing a higher value per pound.
  3. It is broken. – To say you never try to repair an item is not 100% true, but many thrift store operations are spending a dollar to try to repair a dime, figuratively speaking. If the operation has a donation supply that meets or exceeds the operation’s needs, investing the time to fix a broken item will slow down the processing throughput and will cost more than it produces.
  4. It has no value. – The most subjective of the four criteria, a responsible person must determine if donated items have value to someone else. The reasons could be many, including the age of the item, past use, or missing complimentary items. To spend time processing items of no value and then taking valuable space in the store keeps an operation from profitability. Whomever is charged with this decision making must fully understand the significance of their decisions.

Removing the non-sellable from the sellable is the first step in the pre-sort process. Next, we’ll tackle the decisions associated with what is baled, recycled, or sold from the remaining items you’ve received.

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