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Making money off of selling old stuff
Here’s the thing, in this busy, trendy world, it’s hard to stand out, and many people (especially those concerned with fashion) are desperate to look original. However, not everyone is able to afford high-end labels (example: I can probably buy a brand new Alexander McQueen coat for what I make in a year).
This is why vintage is such a popular option for the fashion-hungry hordes. And why many people manage to make some money out of finding and selling old, valuable stuff. A word of warning — not many of these vintage ventures turn into full-time jobs but many people use them as ways to supplement income. (This is not to say that these ventures can’t be successful but better not rely on them 100 per cent just because you’re enthusiastic and want to quit whatever else you do to support yourself.)
First of all, there are many ways of making your vintage business work. The first way is probably less risky than a regular business venture but it may involve the same hurdles that any other small business startup has — getting the thing financed, getting a solid business plan figured out, knowing your numbers, advertising, debt, and much more. However, if you go the online route, you won’t have to pay rent and other overhead fees, and if it’s just a small operation such as selling things on etsy.com or ebay.com, you probably won’t even have to register your business (although there are some advantages and reasons for registering as an ebay business). It’s a good idea to start online because that’ll give you the feel of how passionate you really are about this venture. Plus, again, no overhead costs!
Okay then — if you are one of those determined, resourceful souls who’s really good at finding old stuff, consider reading Sammy Davis’ 10 Careers Involving Vintage Clothing. In it she describes what it takes to start a career that involves buying and selling merchandise that is fashionable, interesting and sought-after. She mentions actual stores (not just online businesses) but makes some great points that can be applied in both cases — opening a store in real life or in virtual reality. Combined with Davis’ wisdom and additional research we’ve come up with five points on making your vintage love a success:
Davis writes, “The secret to owning a vintage boutique: You must stock it with the pieces that everyone ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ over because they’ve never seen anything like it before in a thrift store or market.”
In a vintage market setting, “[T]he vendors are guaranteed natural traffic to their booths without having to do much promotion themselves. This is the huge benefit to sellers, who are released of the marketing stress by allowing someone else to manage the space and its promotion of it on their behalf,” Davis writes. In the online world, a place like etsy.com tries to do something similar by dividing all its sellers into different categories — grouping them by price range, by the type of merchandise they sell, even by the colour of the thing they sell.
Davis doesn’t suggest relying on others in carrying out your online vintage business but she does mention vintage clothing pickers. This is who you might want to consider working with (or even open your vintage selling business with) because these people are experts in finding valuable and trendy stuff. Additionally they tend to live outside of the city (or in the suburbs — word has it Mississauga is great for vintage finds). Davis writes, “a picker creates a relationship with a boutique owner, most usually in a bigger city than the picker lives. This is because vintage clothing can be sold at premium cost in big cities where the pickings for thrift opportunities are slim.” A picker must be familiar with labels and have a relationship with enough boutiques to make his/her efforts worthwhile. Davis writes, one of the main rules to becoming a successful picker is, “[t]hrifting to pick regularly so that you can stock a secure inventory of great finds that you can pull from when a boutique requests a particular piece or style needed ASAP.” If you’re in Toronto (or any other big city), you might not be able to find the kinds of goodies that sell fast online — plus the outside stuff is much, much cheaper. (I know some vintage buyers who go on day trips to smaller towns around Toronto, such as Kitchener or London. Once, I tagged along to a London Value Village where we scored an original Tiffany necklace for $19.99!)
You have to know where to find your stuff. Estate sales (especially in small towns) or costume shops (again, small towns are better than downtown Toronto) are two places where one successful vintage seller finds her stuff, according to Squidoo's article Where To Find Vintage Clothing — The Secrets From A Successful Vintage Clothing Seller (be warned, the site is full of ads). Two other ideas are to post ads in local senior publications, asking people to sell their old clothing (the writer says she was getting calls on the same ad for more than six months). Another way to let people know you’re in the market for old stuff is to distribute flyers to estate sale companies.
Finally, know your stuff. Don’t just buy things because you get a bargain. Remember when getting involved with vintage is not just that it’s fun (it is) but that in order to be successful you have to be able to find and sell pieces that are true finds, real gems, if you will (and real vintage gems will probably make you some serious dough). The point is that it’s nice to find a cute dress from the 1960s but it’s probably better to find a well-preserved Chanel from the 1940s.
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