Happy Thrifter tours turn shopping into a popular attraction

Resale queens gather outside the bus COURTESY PHOTO

A Florida company has put “thrift shopping tourism” on the map with its destination resale adventures via bus tour or road trip by car. In a state known primarily as a vacation destination, that’s no small feat.

The Happy Thrifter is a 6-year-old company that annually publishes a Happy Thrifter Resale Shopping Guide and offers Happy Thrifter Mystery Resale / Thrifting Shopping Bus Tours from its headquarters in Venice.

“Our ‘tourists’ tell us that visiting thrift and resale stores is on their list of things to do in Southwest Florida,” said company founder and owner Patti Clark. Whether they’ve had a Happy Thrifter bus tour adventure or designed their own savings/resale excursion using a four-page tear-out map in the Resale Buyer’s Guide, they will all present themselves as satisfied customers, added Ms. Clark.

“It’s really never happened before, that somebody has hooked up all these little independent stores in Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater and beyond and created an outlet,” said TV producer Bill Schafer, who has interviewed Ms. Clark and featured the Mystery Resale/Thrifting Shopping Bus Tour on her “Growing Bolder” show on WEDU-PBS.

“You’ve put ‘thrift store tourism’ on the map,” Schafer noted, adding that Happy Thrifter Mystery Tours are “a safe way for everyone to get together and socialize, and have fun.” .

Kate Holmes, a consultant to professional retailers since 1982, agrees.

“I believe (statistics) say the #2 or #3 activity for Americans on vacation is shopping – and that trend doesn’t just mean shopping at retail,” she said. “The Association of Resale Professionals reports that ‘resale destination purchases are also on the rise’.”

According to NARTS, “No one is immune to the excitement of finding treasure and saving money. Savvy buyers are taking advantage of resale deals to save money on clothing, furniture and other consumer goods.

A natural entrepreneur, Ms. Clark began turning her passion for savings into a successful business in 2017. The first “The Happy Thrifter Resale Guide” was 24 pages when published in 2018. The 2022 edition expanded to 72 pages and two editions, one for the Greater Tampa Bay Area and one that covers Apollo Beach to Naples. They are available at area visitor racks, airports, visitor centers and Happy Thrifter merchants.

Ms. Clark’s Mystery Resale/Thrifting Shopping bus tours have also seen phenomenal growth since their launch in 2018. The region’s first seven tours have grown to 17, including Venice, Bradenton, Naples, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Englewood, Sun City Centre/Ruskin, Ellenton/Palmetto, Lakeland, St. Pete, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Tampa.

“I knew Patti was onto something,” said Maria Dicicco, Happy Thrifter customer, crafty artist and business owner. “One day she walked into the store I had in Nokomis and started telling me her ideas about publishing a savings guide and taking people on a resale tour.”

Ms. Clark returned to the store the next day and asked Ms. Dicicco – currently the owner of the Venice Mercado, a vintage and antique indoor flea market – to invest in her vision.

Ms Dicicco said: “Just then someone came into the store and asked, ‘Is there anywhere else to shop?’ I gave him a check, and the rest is history.

Like Disney for shoppers

When Ms. Clark refers to Mystery Resale/Thrifting Shopping Bus Tours as “the new Disney World for shoppers,” she’s not just talking about their entertainment and diversity, but also about the behind-the-scenes planning of each. . And when she calls the contestants “Resale Queens,” it’s because they truly are getting the royal treatment.

A catered lunch, door prizes and raffles – all in a luxury coach – are just the start. Ms. Clark must also coordinate details such as door prizes, gift certificates, goody bags and special Happy Thrifter discounts with the six stores included in each tour. Additionally, many tours have themes including holidays, luxury, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, and more.

On a Christmas tour, Loving Hands Thrift in Bradenton brought in Santa Claus, offered holiday songs and cookies, and saw store manager Sheri Kentner, along with store volunteers, dress up as elves. Mrs. Clark remembers this, and other festivities organized by the destination stores.

“At Loving Hands, Santa Claus and the others waved at us when we arrived. The Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton met us off the bus with golf carts to bring our lunch supplies into the building. It was a hoot. Vintage Marche (St. Pete) clapped for all of us as we got off the bus and entered the store. Habitat for Humanity Restore in Port Charlotte had “WELCOME HAPPY THRIFTER” on its branding on US 41, and Salvation Army Family Thrift Store in St. Pete put “WELCOME RESALE QUEENS” on its street sign marquee.

The “tourists” themselves testify to the creativity, fun and specialness of their shopping adventures.

“It was like going on a treasure hunt; you never know what you may find,” said Lynn Stull, who discovered a beautiful sculpture of a mother and baby dolphin on her tour.

“I was on one of the first tours and I’ve been on many others, sometimes as a tour guide,” Dicicco said. “What’s amazing is that over the years it has become a real meeting place for people of all ages. There are regular customers. It feels like family. »

Ms. Ketner observed that “women’s groups and some men are looking for things to do, especially during snowbird season in Florida. The Resale Tour offers the opportunity for people to spend the whole day together, find bargains and unique things while having fun.

Resale stamp and save money

According to consultant Ms. Holmes, the success of The Happy Thrifter business reflects the growing acceptance and even cachet of resale/thrift purchases. She points out that the ecological and economic benefits of resale are driving this trend. Ecologically, resale and recycling are one.

Economically, buying resale means consumers save on the goods they need or want and with companies such as Mystery Resale / Thrifting Shopping Bus Tours and The Happy Thrifter Resale Shopping Guides, more business is generated in the local economies of Southwest Florida.

Plus, since many Happy Thrifter merchants support mission-driven nonprofits, it’s also about “shopping for a greater good,” according to FOX 13 News in Tampa. Take, for example, the Shelter Options Shoppe in Naples, which helps victims of domestic violence and human trafficking rebuild their lives; SunCoast Hospice Thrift Store in St. Pete, which helps individuals and families in need of palliative care; and Bradenton’s Loving Hands Ministry, where sales go toward the organization’s 24-month residential drug and alcohol treatment program.

When Ms. Clark added up how much resale towers have brought to local communities, she was amazed.

“For the 23 tours we did before COVID, the amount exceeded $218,000,” she noted. “You can’t put a price on that kind of community service.”

For more information on The Happy Thrifter, call Ms. Clark at 816-352-0975, email thehappythriftershopper@gmail.com or visit www.ThriftShoppingTourism.com Where www.thehappythriftershopper.com. ¦

Keith P. Plain