Do you love combing thrift stores and estate sales for vintage goods? You might consider subsidizing your hobby—or turning it into a full-fledged side hustle—by selling some of your discoveries. But how do you get started? Where can you sell your stock? Is flipping vintage, thrifted goods even worth it?
I’ll answer these questions and more below, but first, a warning: flipping is addictive! Once you get started, you may find it hard to stop.
You generally won’t find the best deals online. Unless you are trying to complete a set that would sell for much more than the items currently in your stock, it’s not worth trying to flip items you buy from online resellers. They’re in the same business as you—and will likely need to make the same kind of markups to stay afloat.
Instead of shopping online, focus your energy on local thrift stores, consignment shops, estate sales, and auctions. That’s where you’ll find the cheapest prices and the most exciting discoveries. Do a search for thrift stores in your area and be sure to check out independent shops as well as big, national chains. You can also look at EstateSales.net to find out when sales and auctions are happening in your area.
But how do you know if you’ve found something valuable? That’s where expertise comes in.
Specialize in Something You Like
The best way to get started as a reseller of vintage treasures is to buy things you already like. Just make sure that you’re able to part with them afterward! Many vendors start their businesses out of sheer necessity when they realize that their thrifting habit has outgrown their storage capacity. While you can always pay for more storage, wouldn’t it make more sense to start selling some of your least favorite pieces?
Ideas for specializing might include:
- Midcentury furniture
- Depression glass
- 1980s costume jewelry
- Vintage American denim
- Farmhouse primitives
- Antique tools
- Mexican silver jewelry
If you have a passion for anything in the vintage/upcycled/thrifted ecosystem, then that’s what you’ll enjoy buying and selling. It doesn’t matter what catches your eye since selling online allows you to reach the most specialized buyers. You’ll also be more inclined to stick with your new side hustle and spend the time needed to research your area of expertise.
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Always Do Your Research
In order to be a successful reseller, you need to know your niche. That means doing plenty of research. Before the internet, that would have involved buying multiple books with grainy, black-and-white photos of maker’s marks and patterns. Now, you can go online and learn about pretty much anything.
For example, let’s say you’re into Depression glass, a type of mass-produced press glass that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. A handful of companies made the most popular patterns, such as Federal Glass and MacBeth-Evans. You can learn to pick out patterns, such as Macbeth-Evans’ American Sweetheart dishes and start looking for high-value pieces as you shop.
You should also be aware of any common issues with fakes and knockoffs, such as off-brand “Roseville” pottery masquerading as the real thing. You don’t want to be stuck with goods that won’t move.
Generally, it’s smart to know what you’re looking for before you go out picking. That way, you won’t be tempted to buy anything that catches your eye or overpay for something. You might not have time to look the item up on your phone, so be as prepared as possible.
Learn Common Marks
For many vintage and thrifted goods, markings can tell you a great deal about an item. Marks for pottery, silver plate, and fine china are usually found on the bottom of the piece. Some pieces may also include the pattern or a serial number that will allow you to look it up. The color of the marks for a single maker can also sometimes tell you the decade the item was made.
Check the labels of vintage clothing, not only for brands with high resale value but also for fiber content. Even if you aren’t familiar with the maker, items that are made from wool, silk, leather, linen, and especially cashmere are more likely to hold value than synthetic fabrics like polyester. Check out Stitch Fix’s guide to luxury fabrics—and if you ever see anything with the word “vicuña” on the label, snatch it up!
If you’re buying gold or silver jewelry, look for tiny stamped numbers on clasps, posts, and backs of pieces. Sterling silver will be marked 925, while a mark of 900 or 800 indicates different alloys of silver with other metals. You might also find 999 on some silver, which indicates 99.9% pure silver. Gold may be hallmarked with similar numbers, and it pays to know what they mean:
- 585 = 14 karat
- 750 = 18 karat
- 916 = 22 karat
- 990 or 999 = 24 karat
Costume jewelry that is “signed,” meaning that it has a stamped maker’s mark or logo, is usually worth much more than unsigned pieces. You might specialize in just designer costume pieces, vintage sparklers by Weiss, or 90s QVC pieces by Joan Rivers—they’re surprisingly collectible.
Prep Your Haul for Sale
After bringing your treasures home, it’s time to finalize research and price checks. Measure every possible dimension—because potential buyers will ask a million questions. Compile as much factual information as you can, but don’t make claims that you can’t back up. If you aren’t sure that’s a real Louis Vuitton wallet, don’t say that it is!
You’ll also need to clean your treasures—but only with great care and with the right tools. Too many people have ruined antiques by stripping the gorgeous patina off. You can find tips on everything from polishing antique silver to laundering vintage clothing online.
Generally speaking, if a machine or product didn’t exist when your item was made, then you probably shouldn’t use it. That’s doubly true for washing machines and dishwashers, which can seriously damage your treasures. When in doubt, skip the cleaning and let the buyer decide what to do. But how do you connect to those buyers?
Sell Through Multiple Channels
When selling vintage or upcycled goods, it’s wise to cast a wide net. Many professional resellers find that some items move well on one platform but not on another. For example, you might struggle to move vintage instruments on Etsy but do well on eBay. Many people who flip vintage clothing prefer Instagram, but you may also find success on other platforms. There may be a certain amount of trial and error until you find the best place to list your wares online.
But selling online isn’t the only option. You may find that brick-and-mortar sales are a great way to sell your treasures. Many antique malls offer reasonable booth rental rates. They do charge typically charge a commission, but they’ll take care of handling sales, wrapping merchandise, and interacting with customers. If you’re trying to flip high-end items, those places may be a great fit.
Set Prices That Are Fair for Everyone
In the world of picking and flipping, there are two types of people: those who think “very highly” of their wares and those who have no idea what they’re doing. As a reseller, you need to buy low enough to have a comfortable margin. But you also can’t price so high that you can’t move stock. It’s a balance that you’ll need to learn for every sales channel.
Etsy and Ruby Lane tend to fetch higher prices, but you might have to wait longer to make a sale. On the other hand, listing goods on Facebook Marketplace can make you a target for bargain hunters who want to haggle you down to nothing.
The right price is whatever the market will bear at the time. But as a general rule, you should charge at least twice what you paid for the item. Doubling your money might seem ambitious, but when you factor in taxes, time, fees, and labor, it’s not as extravagant as it seems. Unlike traditional sales, however, using a simple formula to mark up your items might not be the best choice. When you score a tremendous deal on a rare item for just $5, don’t sell it for $10 if the going price is $100! Peony Lane Designs has some excellent tips on pricing vintage items.
Know Your Tax Responsibilities
One more thing you need to know before launching your new side hustle: taxes. Depending on where you live and the channels you choose for sales, you may be required to collect sales tax. Even if you don’t need to add tax, you definitely need to report this new stream of income on your taxes.
Keep meticulous records of how much you paid for your stock, as well as any other business expenses. You’ll need to know how much you spent and how much you earned in order to file taxes. Depending on how well your new venture does, you might have to start filing quarterly estimated taxes. If that all sounds overwhelming, then consider talking to a tax professional or certified public accountant.