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Planet Thrift: Finding New Homes for Old Belongings

Real estate broker Phil Tateosian opened Planet Thrift, in Little Canada, to reduce the waste that his business was generating. “We own and manage rental properties,” Tateosian says. “Over the years tenants would move out and leave stuff behind. I would throw out dumpsters full of old belongings.” He says he didn’t feel right about what he was doing.

Tateosian started bringing donations to local thrift stores, but they would often reject many of the items, claiming they weren’t good enough. “It wasn’t even my stuff and I would feel terrible,” he says. “Imagine how people would feel if it had been their couch for 10 years and someone tells them they don’t want it. You’re basically telling them it’s junk.”

Instead Tateosian began filling storage garages with the items he accumulated. Not wanting to take the time to sell items on Craigslist or eBay, he came up with the idea for a thrift store. “I talked with my wife about starting a thrift store to compete with the very businesses that were denying stuff that wasn’t good enough for them,” he says. “That was how we started Planet Thrift.”

Planet Thrift opened in August 2012, offering furniture, clothing, jewelry, appliances and housewares, and instantly was a success. After only six months in business, Planet Thrift’s retail space was expanded from 4,000 to 9,500 square feet. Still, Tateosian says the space isn’t large enough for the thousands of items he wants to sell.

Currently Planet Thrift receives most of its merchandise through customer donations. Any customer making a donation receives a coupon for 25 percent off an entire purchase, including big-ticket items. Tateosian says the coupons provide a tangible way for people to save extra money; some customers have been able to save several hundred dollars at a time.

Customers can also earn rewards by signing up for Planet Thrift’s VIP program. VIPs receive monthly emails about sales, specials or product updates. Soon Tateosian hopes to offer exclusive VIP-only shopping events.

Planet Thrift is unique because it does not pursue business online. “A lot of people don’t realize that a large percentage of thrift store revenue comes from their online business such as Ebay, so customers don’t see a lot of the items that get donated,” explains Tateosian. “We’ve shied away from doing the online stuff because I want Planet Thrift to be more of a boutique.” He says he wants people to see the best merchandise on his store shelves and not on a website.

At the front of Planet Thrift’s retail floor is a large selection of antiques and vintage pieces, which Tateosian says is a fun aspect of the business. “We have a lot of older people coming in and seeing things they played with or used when they were younger,” he explains. “A person will come in and see an old ringer washer machine they had when they were kids. It’s neat.”

For customers seeking specific items, Planet Thrift keeps a request book at the register. “We have a list of people’s names and what they’re looking for,” Tateosian says. “If a similar item is donated we will call them up and let them know we have what they need.” Some customers keep permanent requests, especially if they’re a collector, and Tateosian works with them to grow their collections or find a unique piece.

Tateosian says one of the best aspects of his job is seeing what looks like an unusable item be repurposed. “One lady came up to the register carrying four or five completely different curtains,” he says. “When I asked her how she was going to use them she said she wasn’t buying them for windows, but that she sews and was buying the curtains for the fabric.” She told Tateosian that the same material at a fabric store would have cost her a fortune.

Experiences like this reinforce Tateosian’s motto: reuse, repurpose, restyle. He believes it’s not his responsibility to reject donations if he can’t see an adequate use for them. Instead it is an opportunity to fuel someone’s creativity and provide for a potential need. “Here people can get rid of their stuff, they know someone else is going to be able to use it and they’re getting that 25 percent off something that they want,” he says. “We’re providing a great service and we’re in it to have fun.”

Planet Thrift is located at 3225 Country Dr., Ste. 150, Little Canada. For more information or to schedule a donation pick-up, call 651-739-3000 or visit Planet-Thrift.com.

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