I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out sooner.
I’ve always found garage sales and thrift stores alluring. Enough so that people would need to pry me away. Years of rubbernecking around street corners and rifling through second-hand store racks was enough for me to consider working for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I made some good money in junk removal a years on and off, in New Jersey and California. And I was pretty good at it! But those stories are for another time.
Right now, I’m running down a dream - I’m flipping. With the power of the Internet, I’m buying treasures at garage sales and thrift stores, and reselling them for profit. I want to find a way to make this my job.
If I’m being honest, Gary Vaynerchuk’s Trash Talk was the final straw. Watching the millionaire entrepreneur make deals for mugs and stuffed animals on YouTube made something click. It made the dream I had inside me for years start to feel real.
So, let’s make my story even more real. I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible but there was a lot going on.
Where to start?
It’s been about a month since Ma and I jumped in the car and pinballed our way around Bergen County, New Jersey. I made a list of potential sales after browsing Craigslist on the weekdays. (Until I found the app Yard Sale Treasure Hunt which does the Craigslist searching for me.) We probably hit between 15-20 sales and then I dragged myself and my big-ass bag of wins back home to Hoboken, slowly curating a mountain in the corner of my kitchen.
The next week rolled around and Ma was down to venture out again. So we did.
And before you ask, because most people do, yes, there are costs involved in this journey. Gas isn’t free and bagels are necessary. But that’s not important right now. It takes money to make money, and at the end of the weekend, we’re doing this because it’s fun. That’s my advantage and that’s what keeps me going.
Let’s jump into the numbers, because we all know that’s the good stuff. And as Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” He was an economist so I’m guessing he knew his shit.
Starting on May 11th and for the past four weekends, I’ve probably hit a total of over 100 garage sales. (Not including a trip to the Unique thrift store for half-off Memorial Day sales.) It’s easy enough to zip around in suburban New Jersey.
I’ve purchased about 75-80 items. Some I bought to keep myself: a paper cutter, a t-shirt or two, and some Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for nostalgic purposes.
I’ve spent a whooping grand total of $237.25 on those items. (Not including shipping supplies and the investment of a $20 digital scale from Amazon.)
I’ve sold 16 items on eBay and one on Facebook for a whooping gross profit of $352.97. Minus fees (PayPal, eBay, and shipping), the net profit becomes $212.63
Not a bad break for the first month’s run!
Plus, the bonus - I’m still sitting on a junk mountain of some very sellable inventory, including a Casio SK-5 keyboard and a Sirius ST3 kit.
Biggest sale - Sony DVD Recorder. Purchased for $10 and sold on Ebay for $115. Minus fees and shipping - net profit: $80.70
Biggest flop - Either I print out shipping labels too often or I’m shipping dyslexic, but I addressed an envelope for a Dallas Cowboys’ jersey in reverse, so I shipped it to myself. I’ll consider that $5 shipping cost an idiot tax when I ship it out again (the right way).
Most anxiety-producing sale - House of the Dead 2 game for the Sega Dreamcast
I made the mistake of checking email before bed one night, anticipating sales, and found a message from a buyer. He said he received the Dreamcast game and it was full of scratches, despite my item description saying there were none. I decided to wait on replying right away, but I spent the night tossing and turning, wondering what to say to smooth things over and save my new, precious Ebay rating. And wonder if this was some kind of scam. I ended up asking for photos and it turned out the scratches were very tiny, but he gave me a bad rating anyway. Lesson learned: Be more specific when it comes to condition.
Most exciting buy - WWE wrestling action figures and Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger toys
It was a nostalgic find right in my hometown. A woman was selling off her kids’s toys and they are around the same age as me. My enthusiasm was contagious. She was so happy to see a stranger care for toys she painstakingly hunted down for her kids when they were young that she gave me a sweet deal. So much so I went back later in the day for more.
I bought two megazords for $10, honestly just for myself. She threw in a box of random accessories and pieces.
I bought four Power Ranger figures with flip-head action to go from human face to ranger mask. They were $4 for 5.
I made a deal for half of her wrestlers, 30 out of 60, for $25, and I asked her to throw in some accessories there too (tiny chairs and tables to drop the wrestlers through).
I haven’t listed everything from that sale yet but I’ve already sold one wrestler for a net profit of $4.54 (after posting only six), and all the flip-heads for a net profit of $31.22, as well as some inch-tall miniatures and a megazord helmet I found in the box of accessories for a net profit of $14.34. That’s $50 altogether on a $39 haul, and there is still more to list!
Things I’ve learned:
Essentially starting from scratch, there has been plenty to learn:
I barely knew Ebay as a platform when I started. But after listing a few items, it was cake. I learned how to list quick (copying previous listings) and systematize shipping (weighing between first class and priority mail). When I list items, almost everything is set to Buy It Now. Auctions are too much of a gamble for this game.
The more I listed, the more it was clear that it takes money to make money. If I make smart buys, and list consistently, I’ll make money.
Of course, there is always the question of time and energy but I honestly love this process so much I’d do it for free. Every entrepreneur says that’s the dream and I’ve found mine.
Most people want to sell their shit. Make it easy. Buy in bulk and ask for a real cheap price. Ask for a better price always. It doesn’t hurt if they say no. I promise. I tried to haggle with a woman over a dollar Backstreet Boys branded coffee mug I wanted for 50 cents and she sent me packin’. Oh well.
When I’m not sailing, which is most days, I’m watching other resellers. There are tons of people capturing their garage sale and thrift store wins that I’ve been able to better learn high-quality, high-selling brands and how to spot winning items. Who would have thought vintage keyboards or sealed VHS tapes could make money? Not me!
I’ve learned that I need to get shipping materials yesterday, and in bulk. I’ve spent too much time at my full-time job trying to hunt down a cheap and good enough envelope to send a power ranger to Seattle.
I’ve never even tried using Instagram Stories before this adventure but I started giving it a shot! (Want to follow the flippin’ fun? I share a new story every weekend on my Instagram.)
Still need to learn
There is still plenty to figure out.
Considering Instagram Stories, I’m still mastering the tools. Luckily, lots of friends have commented that they enjoy them so I’ll gladly keep doing it.
I’m still sitting on some toys that I don’t know the best way to sell. How does one properly bundle old-school Happy Meal McDino transformers for maximum profit?
My apartment is only slightly organized and I’m still trying to work on the process of processing. The hardest and arguably least fun part is taking photos. I need more light in my apartment. I’ve been relying on the bit of daylight I can capture after coming home from work and my horrible overhead kitchen light. The shadows are so bad I’m surprised people buy sometimes.
But the big question remains: how to scale this operation. Buying garage sale items is not going to make me rich but it can be done better. Should I hunt down a flea market to join or a pop-up shop booth? Should I focus on a niche, like vintage toys or men’s t-shirts? What’s the deal with selling on Amazon?
Right now, I’m open to all avenues and enjoying the process. The only thing I want to do is better. What does that mean?
With this new month comes new challenges. I didn’t set any public or strict goals for the first month and I want to change that.
A reasonable but challenging goal would be to double my investment. And to add some extra difficult sprinkles on top, I’m going to include in that total my purchase of shipping materials and some lighting into that investment total.
Let the games begin!