My Visit to TJ Maxx HQ

In my law school days, I was a huge fan of TJ Maxx — I’d spend many a study break roaming the aisles, looking for treasure (and finding it more often than not — I once got a pair of Armani trousers there, deeply discounted to $80.)  Still, I haven’t been a regular shopper there in years.  Part of it was lack of time on my part (as you ladies know, it’s often a challenge to shop in the store when you work long hours and can’t get there before they close!), and part of it was a general dissatisfaction when I’d been to NYC stores.  (I’ve always found that TJ Maxx can be very location-centric — if you’re in a ritzier area, the store will have much better merchandise than it will in a worse neighborhood.  For example, I’d heard reports of a friend finding La Perla lingerie in a bargain bin at the store in the Hamptons; my Armani find was from the store near the posh Chevy Chase, MD.)

Still, I never quite “got it” — how could they have the same dress that I’d just seen at the department store, but for 50% off? I assumed that everything was irregulars, or that perhaps there was some problem I couldn’t quite detect (like a sloppy stitch somewhere) or didn’t care about (e.g., a mislabeled size).  So a a few weeks ago, I was honored to be invited (along with a few other bloggers) to visit the headquarters of TJ Maxx and hear more about their business…. and since a lot of you readers may be traveling to more suburban homes this weekend, I thought I’d talk about it today.

Some examples of TJ Maxx prices

Some of the prices I saw at the NYC location...

(The company owns both TJ Maxx and Marshalls — and while there are differences between the two, such as Marshalls’ huge shoe selection or its teen section, most of those differences probably won’t matter to you guys for the moment.)

I was particularly thrilled when the president of the company personally came to talk to our small group and talk a bit about the “secret sauce.”  As it turns out, a lot of the reason they can have such low prices (20-60% off retail) is because they do business differently than department stores and other retailers. For example, department stores may make clothes purchases six months in advance. Their buyers may not have the autonomy to make on-the-spot deals and negotiations. Department stores may return unpurchased merchandise — and their payment terms might be longer because of that. Other stores may also go back to the vendor and ask them to contribute to advertising campaigns featuring the clothes. By contrast, TJ Maxx and Marshalls buyers have complete autonomy — they can negotiate a good deal on the spot. Furthermore, they don’t buy a huge amount in advance — as of the day of my visit (11/4), the president said the company had $200M to spend *by the end of the year* — so they can roll with the punches if a new trend surfaces, or if there are any particularly hot products. Because of their business practices (prompt payment, not returning anything to the vendor), they can negotiate some great deals.  (Trust me, all of the fashion bloggers walked out of the room wishing they could be a TJ Maxx buyer — it sounded like a really fun job!)  (I was also interested to know that whatever doesn’t sell, they give to Goodwill.)

past season merchandiseThe president  also corrected some misconceptions I’d had, such as there being a lot of irregular merchandise, or past seasons — 85% of the merchandise is current, regular stuff. The other 15%, the president said, is either from a past season (and clearly marked as such) (for example, see the picture at right), or else it’s an evergreen product, such as white tube socks, or brightly colored wrapping paper.

Something else that was news to me was TJ Maxx’s “Runway” — designer clothes, marked down.  Only some TJ Maxx stores have this section — you can check to see if a store near you has one by using the Store Locator.  Still, some of the stores with the Runway section are unadvertised, such as the one in New York.  Like any good fashion blogger, though, I got the details: it’s at 99th and Columbus!  I swung by the store myself a weekend or so ago to take a look at see what sort of items could be found. Sure enough, the Runway section was by the bottom of the escalator, right when you entered:

And there were a ton of great pieces, including a Missoni twinset for $399 (formerly $1000), a pair of Kate Spade wedge heels in black suede marked to $149.99 (was $225), a white Ralph Lauren cashmere/wool blazer (was $700, now $279.99), and a black wool Theory blazer from a previous season for $129.99.  (I was interested that even though the Theory tag still said $425, the TJ Maxx “compare at” price was $324.)

I saw some other great finds, as well– Vivienne Tam dresses, Blumarine blouses, Iisli sweaters — and that was just in the Runway section!  Elsewhere in the store I spied Pour La Victoire and L.A.M.B. shoes, as well brands like Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, Cole Haan, and more.

All in all, I think I need to throw this store into my repertoire more often.  These are some of my best tips for shopping at a place like TJ Maxx or Marshalls:

  • view it as a treasure hunt – it’s hard to go with a laundry list of things you need, but you can get some great deals if you’re ready to take advantage of them
  • know your brands! Knowledge of fashion goes a long way — from knowing which European brands are worth your time, to understanding a designer’s different lines.
  • get to know your store manager if you’re really serious about it – some TJ Maxx stores receive shipments once a week, some once every other week — and a lot of the good stuff goes quickly.

Readers, what are your best tips for shopping at an “off-price” store like TJ Maxx or Marshalls?  What have been your best “finds” at a place like this?

(Disclosure:  My trip expenses were paid by TJ Maxx, and they gifted each blogger a $100 gift card to use, as well as a $50 gift card for a “Secret Santa” swap.  (I got Karen, the lovely blogger behind 2 Garnets & 3 Sapphires, a dark blue wallet from B. Makowsky and a red scarf.  I’ll report back in when I receive my gift, or use the gift card.)  Some of the other bloggers have already posted about the event, if you’d like to read more about it: Glam, Lovelyish, The Clothes Horse, The Stories of A2Z, Southern Bella’s Way to Save, TipJunkie, 2 Garnets & 3 Sapphires (she took a video of the president’s speech, also)…  It was great meeting everyone, from the other bloggers to the TJM team!)

Update (12/4): Many thanks to Chadner Navarro of Lemondrop for being my Secret Santa!  He sent a lovely gift box of linguine, perfume, and a gorgeous tea set! 

Comments

  1. Kat I love that you got the blogger with a blog called sapphires and garnets a gift thats blue and red :)

  2. I like TJ Maxx for housewares, shoes, bags, and perfumes. My tip for all of these save housewares is know what brands you are interested in before you go into the store and keep your eye out. Housewares are pretty straightforward- if you see something you like, get it.
    I have had good luck with athletic clothes (sports bras and jogging shorts for the most part) at TJ Maxx but I’ve never been able to find clothes that fit properly in their regular fashion section. Part of that is probably b/c I am not patient, but I have gotten the impression that what I was trying on was mostly “irregulars” due to the poor fit. Not as in, too small or too big, but as in- the bias cut dress doesn’t hang well b/c it’s sewn improperly.
    So for clothing, I guess you just have to be willing to try on a ton of stuff and avoid bias cut items…

    • This is me too. I shop Marshalls for towels, kitchen items, blankets, sheets, etc. I have been hitting it hard lately for holiday decor (don’t laugh, I used to hate the stuff but now I have kids and they LOVE it) because it’s so so so much cheaper to buy it there.

      I do not have as much luck with clothes or shoes for me, but I did recently score some $19.99 Merrells for my 7 year old son that he loves so much I practically can’t get them off his feet. However, I am glad I was sharp-eyed that day, because the right shoe was size 1 and the left shoe was size 13. I tracked down the shoe boxes and found the mirror mismatched pair and swapped for matching size 1′s. So, you know, caveat emptor.

  3. Glad to know that my frequent treasure hunts at TJ Maxx make good fashion sense ;) Also, learning that the company donates unpurchased clothes to Goodwill makes me even happier to support them.

  4. My favorite TJ Maxx find is a lovely Theory blazer that I bought at the store in Boston. It had the Theory tags still on it, for $300 and something, and I bought it for a little under $100. That was two years ago and I still love it!

  5. As a long-time rabid TJ Maxx fan and shopper, I was so glad to see your post! Thanks for filling us all in. And I’m glad to hear that their unsold items go to Goodwill.

  6. I want those Kate Spade wedges! I can’t wait until I’m not so darn busy to go shopping (other than online). Kat, this might be a little too late to request, but could you let us in on your picks for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals?

  7. Wow, that store is pretty much in my backyard, and I’ve never been! Must correct this oversight :)

  8. Make sure that if you go to a TJ Maxx or Marshalls with someone, you go with someone who is ALSO willing to hunt a little bit and who is informed as to the TJ Maxx concept. There is nothing worse than going in, and having some complainy whiney friend mope and bitch about how nothing is jumping off the racks into her arms, and it’s all used or not up-to-the-minute. Ok, so this has clearly happened to me before ;) but it’s pretty annoying!

    • Worse is having my husband follow me around morosely after spending 3 minutes in the men’s department. I need my own time and space to shop!

      • YES! I’ve asked my husband to do one of two things in that situation: go wait in the car, or sit in a chair in the home section.

        I’ll never make that mistake again.

        I can go to the Teej Mahal (as I like to call it) alone, with my mother, or my best friend. That is it.

  9. While I agree you should view trips as a treasure hunt, it doesn’t hurt to have a running list of pieces you want to acquire. Discount shopping is frustrating if you have a very specific requirement to fill, e.g. floor length black dress on short notice but great for want a new pair of black pumps, a crisp white shirt…

    • Indeed – although speaking of short-notice dresses, this is a great place to be on the lookout for a “just in case” dress for a formal event – I’ve picked up some beautiful cocktail dresses and a floor-length gown for practically nothing, so that they’re in my closet if needed.

      • Agreed. I always look at the formal dresses. The styles tend to be classic and can be kept for years. I have several long dresses that I wear on cruise ship formal nights that I picked up for $40-$80 at TJMaxx or Marshall’s.

    • This is my method of shopping too. I like to do lists of everything so for shopping it is double the fun. I put a list of items I need, a price bracket, and sometimes I’d also put preferred brands.
      I probably look weird running around with my list but since I only shop every few months, it’s a life saver.

  10. I became a fan in law school. My roommate drove to Chicago to look for a dress for a school function and purchased one full-price at Nordstrom. I had to stay home and work on a paper, but I took a break at lunch and went to TJM to look around. I got lucky and found a perfect dress. At the end of the day, my roommate and I ended up buying almost identical dresses in different colors, but I paid about 1/5 of what she did (and didn’t have to drive 2 hours to the city and pay for parking).

  11. My first job was with TJ Maxx, and I remain a loyal shopper 20+ years later! As a lawyer and a mother, I have little time to shop these days–but love to go to both TJ and Marshalls by myself to look at stuff in peace — you never know what you will find.

    • Agreed. Spending an hour or two by myself, wandering from lingerie to shoes to jeans to housewares, at TJ Maxx or Marshalls is the best “retail therapy” I know. Has been since college. (Only I can afford to spend a little more now.)

      There’s certainly a lot of junk. There are also great finds at excellent prices. You just have to dig. And finding the hidden gems is part of the fun.

  12. My husband and I got married (five years ago on Friday!!) while we were in law school and I found two beautiful matching dresses for my bridesmaids at TJ Maxx! They were $15 each. I wanted them to wear matching dresses but since we were all students, I didn’t want to have them pay a lot of money. The dresses were beautiful and everyone thought they came from the bridal shop.

  13. For some reason I have always loed Marshall’s and hated TJM. Don’t know why….

  14. That’s really funny that TJ Maxx and Marshalls are owned by the same company. My husband LOVES Marshalls and refuses to set foot in TJ Maxx anymore because he doesn’t like it as much. Weird, huh?

  15. I have great luck at Marshalls, but rarely find anything at TJM. The local TJM is much smaller than the local Marshalls, which may account for the differences. I love Marshalls home section, shoes, and handbags. My husband has great luck at both locations. I love hearing that they donate to Goodwill. It is so depressing to hear of stores destroying or throwing out unsold goods. I have been looking for a discounted B Makowsky wallet, so I am a little envious of Kat’s find.

    • Got my B, Makowski at TJM! I looked all over NYC for days for the perfect everyday bag, but found it a week later at TJ Maxx in Jackson, MS. I’ve used it for two years.

  16. For anyone who loves either of these & needs home stuff, check out Homegoods if you get the chance. It’s like the home section of these stores, but super expended & amazing.

    I agree that these differ by location & am actually very surprised to hear good things about the 99th & Columbus one. Went there once & was very disappointed. Same disappointment with the new one that opened in the Bridge Market on 59th street. Have had good experiences at the TJ on 19th street (theory blazer for $119; several cute shoes). The best random finds have been in the Marshals near Woodstock NY (Kingston). Very random but super fantastic (discounts are steep!).

  17. Except for the runway stuff, I generally find the stuff at TJMaxx to be poor quality, shoddy workmanship, cheap materials. And I live right by the headquarter stores in Framingham, MA! What am I doing wrong??

    Kat, can you elaborate on the distinctions in concept between the two stores? I’ve always loved Marshalls, disliked TJ, and then realized at some point that the better “finds” are to be had at TJ even though there are fewer things I like in general. How do they decide what stuff is going to what store? Are the buying operations totally separate? Why don’t they merge into one store? I don’t feel that they are really distinct the way Old Navy/Banana/Gap are distinct or Bed Bath and Christmas Tree Shops are distinct.

    • I am curious about the difference between Marshalls and TJ Maxx also. In my town, the two stores are RIGHT beside each other, and they often carry the same items, or at least the same brands. But in my experience, Marshalls is the lower-quality store, if there is any difference.

  18. That’s strange that TJ Maxx owns Marshalls because in my area there are two literally *right* next to each other. And one store down is Nordstrom’s Rack.

    You have to be choosy and careful, but I agree you can get some great deals at those stores. (RIP Loehmanns.) The key is to look for quality first, then brand… and know what can be tweaked & repaired by a competent tailor.

  19. I agree, Marshall’s shoe section runs circles around TJM’s.

  20. I live in a Maryland suburb of DC and have amazing luck with a Marshall’s near my house. I routinely find designer suits and shoes–even though I did not get my most expensive suits there, I got my best suits there (especially this *perfect* Michael Kors suit that looks like it was cut for my body).

    I noticed that BCBG blouses are always $30. I got a BCBG blouse that a friend of mine got (on sale) for $100 for only $30 at Marshall’s. But I think that the blouses are often picked over, while the designer suits, dresses, and shoes are fairly easy to find if you keep your eyes peeled and visit the suit section, read to purchase, every time you go.

    Also–check out the scarves. I am into scarves lately, as they dress up an otherwise plain suit and make a super-classy stand-in for a necklace. I’m really impressed by the quality and brands of scarves available at Marshall’s.

    I live in a fairly affluent suburb, but my mom lives in a retirement area in Florida. When I visited the Marshall’s near her area, the inventory was markedly more casual and downscale.

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