So you want to sell vintage? Reselling vintage has always been popular, whether to pay bills or as a side hustle. And just like everything that gets resold has a story behind it, every person who gets into flipping gets there by a different path. Some sellers are just really into “stuff.” Others started as collectors. Some dealers just wanted a career change, while others were forced to find a different job. Vintage clothing buyers and pros who sell vintage often shop estate sales to source inventory. A few decades ago, these buyers usually had brick and mortar shops to sell their finds. These days however, since everything’s digital, it’s easy to set up virtual shop anywhere. But can you really make a living when you sell vintage?
1. Dive in
It can be scary to jump into any job, let alone trying to sell vintage. Some people vintage shop for years before taking the plunge, while others are forced to make a living sooner than they had planned. Whether you’re starting this new career from scratch or turning your part-time hobby into a full-time job, the only way to make money is by just doing it.
2. Repurpose or DIY Sourcing
To sell vintage is a great gig for creatives. Creative people usually have an eye for what’s interesting and enjoy DIY projects. The beauty of this business is you can make it your own. Repurposing second-hand finds and making them your own is another way to expand your inventory, especially if you’re an artist or maker.
3. Shop estate sales
Resellers know that in order to find the coolest vintage to sell, they need to go straight to the source. Thrift stores and flea markets often source their finds from estate sales. Unlike garage sales and yard sales, which are full of cast-offs, estates are often downsized due to natural or unexpected circumstances. In other words, the items for sale aren’t things people no longer wanted — they’re things they could no longer keep. This makes a big difference in quality.
Estate sales offer a peek into someone else’s passions and lifestyle. I have found myself attracted to things that I may not have typically gravitated towards until being shown in a space where someone had displayed them with much love for those particular items. It is interesting and nostalgic to be able to step back into time and see antiques and furniture from the past. I like to see some of the things that spark memories of my childhood or my grandmother.
4. Shop estate sales often
If you really want to sell vintage, you need to get serious about shopping. Successful vintage resellers are always on the lookout for fresh inventory for their buyers. Since estate sales are always happening (and always different), you can find anything – in all styles – all year.
5. Know which sales to hit.
Not all estate sales are treasure troves. While there are no hard and fast rules, most pros have a game plan if they intend to eventually sell vintage. Since time is limited, and estate sales often only take place on weekends, it’s more efficient if you know which neighborhoods to focus on and which to avoid. Perennial flowers and established gardens outside a house shows someone cared enough to make the outside beautiful so they probably filled the inside with pretty things too. Gardens take lots of time and work so estate sale could be on behalf of someone who didn’t have to move often. Moving often can mean paring down. Sometimes a well-loved garden is filled with a lifetime of collections. Sometimes the best neighborhoods for estate sales are the older ones, especially for antiques and all things old. Some of the more rural homes can have some of the most interesting and oldest things (some old farms that have been in families for generations).
6. Know your “stuff”
If you want to sell vintage, you should learn as much about “stuff” as possible. The more you know about things, their history, what they’re made of, and what they’re worth, the better buying decisions you can make. This is also how you build credibility and a following, which will make or break you.
7. Make a plan
Your goal is to make money, so your inventory will largely depend on your buyers. As you build a following, you’ll have a better idea of what they want and are willing to spend. Once you figure this out, make a plan and stick to it! Go in with a budget and be open to taking a few risks, like a bulk bag of random goodies. You’ll never know, and you might score something rare. Also, have fun!
Know going in what you’re looking for. Most companies have preview pictures posted ahead of time on their websites. You can get a feel for what’s going to be available. Also, don’t just visit once! By the second or third day prices are generally marked down big time.
8. Practice discernment
Likewise, after you sell vintage for a while, you’ll know what to steer clear of and what’s difficult to package, deliver or ship. Shoes. Old shoes tend to fall apart, making for unhappy customers. Since items weighing over 10 pounds cost a lot to ship and sometime people don’t want to pay cost of shipping learn to look out for unique vintage pieces weighing under a pound. That way the item can ship anywhere around the world at an affordable price.
9. Be resourceful
When going out in the wild to wrangle vintage finds to sell, be prepared. Besides mapping out your route, sticking to your budget, and knowing what to look for, here are more tips you might not have thought of.
A. Bring plenty of folding reusable bags for your purchases
B. keep a pack of wet wipes & a bottle of water in the car to refresh yourself and clean your hands after digging through decades of lovely dust!
C. See if the estate sale company has discount days and never be afraid to ask if they’d accept a lower price!
D. Be respectful while perusing and shopping! You don’t know if there are family members around or the owner themselves!
E. Take a small flashlight. Old houses, garages and barns are poorly lit.
10. Notice Everything
Being a successful at selling vintage means spotting things first, whether it’s the current trends or valuable finds. When sourcing, look in the unexpected places. This means taking the time to look on the backs of old postcards or (carefully) flipping through old books. For one, you’ll have an advantage over those who leave stones unturned. Stay alert to get the good stuff. Look behind and under furniture, drawers and shelves. You never know what else you will find. One set of filing cabinets had several magnet key holders stuck under it with old coins in them.
Breeze through the whole sale quickly, scan everything and then go back and look more closely. You don’t want to be looking over a room, meanwhile your dream item is being snatched up in the next room. You took too long!!
11. Buy brand names
People love brands, even thrifters. (This is why even the most non-materialistic thrifter lights up when they come across designer goods at a garage sale). In order to successfully sell vintage, your eye should be trained to zero in on the good stuff. And it doesn’t have to be high-end, like Chanel or Prada. Reliable brands like J. Crew, GAP, NIKE and of course, Pyrex, can fetch as much money and are reliable resells.
12. Develop your Eye
There’s a certain talent to being a trend spotter. When you sell vintage, you’re not only aware of what’s cool now, you know what was cool decades ago. Part of this is innate, but this knack can be developed, too, with time and experience. Cultivate your eye and your interests. Visit antique stores and linger in the booths you like. Do your research. Buy what you like and what piques your interest but also look into what other people are into. Instagram is also a stellar avenue for this. Follow some [Instagram] feeds you’re attracted to and pay attention to what they post. I’ve not only cut the learning curve off a lot that way, but I’ve also discovered so many cool antiques that I didn’t know about.
Go with your gut. You either have to study up on antiques and really get into what things are worth or just go with your gut feeling about the item. If the price seems like a bargain to you and you would pay more for it than they are asking, go for it. Do a search and see what people are asking for similar things. You have to have an eye for quality as well as a feeling for market demand. You also have to have a place to store everything!
13. Get Online
Take advantage of the digital age in order to sell vintage. The Internet is an incredible resource for resellers to buy, sell, comparison shop, and of course, research. Once your business gets rolling, you’ll want to build your online presence in order to market your goods and let buyers know what you have available. Many vintage resellers have success on social media sites, especially Instagram. Instagram makes it easy to showcase your latest items and allows you to link to your shop in the bio. And don’t forget platforms that let you browse and shop online, like Etsy and eBay.
Remember - The Early Bird Gets the Worm!!