Is Online Vintage Reselling Worth the Effort?

Nine years ago I opened my Etsy store. Before this I had sold a few things on eBay, but had never been serious about it–reselling that is. But opening Lion & Lamb Vintage in 2012 represented a change. Not only was I selling off stuff from my personal collections, but I started buying items specifically to resell. And to my surprise they did sell. For a profit. Sometimes for quite a good profit.

I felt guilty at first. Finding things for a few dollars that I could sell for a lot more. Was this even legal? It seemed crazy. But I realized it was one of the oldest professions–along with prostitution and money lending. And it was legal!

An old Athens marketplace.

But as I sat down to write this reflective post on my 9th anniversary, I kept coming back to the question, has it been worth all this effort?

Here are some realities I didn’t know when I started:

  • It was a lot more work than I thought it would be. Finding, researching, listing, record-keeping, storing and shipping items is time-consuming and tiring. At least for me.
  • There were a lot more expenses than I imagined. Besides the cost of purchasing items, there are transaction fees, costs of shipping materials, transportation costs, biz set-up costs (shipping scale, jeweler’s loupe, photography aids, educational resources, storage bins, etc.), promotion fees, taxes, etc. For me the most annoying expense is Etsy’s “offsite ad program,” which for those selling over $10,000 a year is mandatory. So if an item sells in my shop through one of their ads, I’ll be billed an additional 12% plus all the other fees, making it almost a 20% hit. That’s downright painful!
This Accuteck shipping scale (for $25) was one of my best biz buys.
  • I had to deal with customers! Because I wasn’t selling in a brick-and-mortar environment, I thought I’d escape dealing with customers. Not so! I’ve had to answer questions, field offers, read sob stories, etc.
  • Some things take a long, LONG time to sell or don’t sell at all! I envisioned all of my fabulous items selling within a few weeks or months of listing them. I never expected that some items would take years to sell! And I never thought I would end up donating some of them.
  • Where do I store all this stuff?? As I grew in confidence I started buying more items to sell without much thought as to where I would store them and how I would keep track of them. Without an attic, basement or spare room our garage turned into my main storage area, but it’s not ideal. Plus I have items stashed all over the house where ever I can find a bit of space. Again, not ideal.
  • Cash flow will fluctuate! I quickly learned that not all months are created equal. Summer months are typically slower with sales drying up to a trickle. (If the money earned represents an integral part of your income, you need to be prepared. Some online vintage resellers also keep an antique booth or sell at a flea market to keep things ticking over.)
  • Hunting for vintage and antique items–the best part of the business–was also sometimes the most stressful! Sometimes I don’t find anything worth buying. Some picking environments are dirty or reek of mildew. Some thrift store/flea market/estate sale items are priced at retail. Negotiations can be difficult. And it’s not unusual at yard sales, where good deals should abound, to find the seller has stuck an eBay listing printout by an item to indicate why he or she has priced it so high. (Good luck with that.)
  • Other resellers can be insanely competitive. Some estate sales and rummage sales are like combat zones. I’ve been pushed, blocked from access to tables and watched people do devious things–like rush into a sale and slap SOLD stickers on bunches of items and then going back at leisure to decide if they want them or not. Not cool!

So has it been worth it? Is it still worth it for me?

YES and NO.

It’s been mostly fun and sometimes darn-right exciting. (Finding an amazing score is a pure adrenaline rush.) And because I am passionate about antique and vintage things, I LOVE learning and expanding my knowledge about them. And of course I’ve appreciated making money from it. And I would be remiss if I didn’t add that I’ve met some wonderful folks along the way–from fellow resellers to customers to like-minded vintage lovers! And I’ve had friends give me items that they thought I might want to sell. (How sweet is that!)

Image from Pixar.

But having to store so much inventory and related shipping materials in our house and garage has been unpleasant for my whole family. (My husband would like to have a wood-working area in our garage and there’s no room thanks to me.) And there is a perpetual mess around my desk in our family room…which I hate and keep working at. Plus, the expenses nickel and dime you to death!

But I do plan on continuing for another year or two. The joy I get from it does outweigh the negatives, but I’m going to keep tweaking my biz to minimize some of them.

Moving forward in 2021…

  • I want to have fewer items. While having over 500 listed at any time in my Etsy store certainly has improved sales, it’s difficult having so much around and keeping track of it.
  • I want smaller and/or easy-to-ship items. Packing and shipping larger fragile items is a time sink. Pure and simple. And there is always the worry that the item won’t arrive intact. (So far only one item has broken in nine years.)
  • Keep focusing on items of quality and/or uniqueness. Here’s a screenshot of my latest listings. I feel pretty good about these. The lion painting is likely a student piece, but nicely done and certainly unique!
  • Keep moving towards buying items of greater value/higher profit. It’s so easy to pick the low-hanging fruit. You know the kitschy ’50s figurine for $3 that can sell for $15 or the $4 etched brass vase that can sell for $18. But I’m trying to veer away from those. For me it’s too much work for too little profit.
  • Utilize my garage bins better and get more inventory out of the house!
My messy garage shelves with numbered inventory bins that are out of order!

Bottomline

Obviously only you can decide if all the work and uncertainty and the lifestyle is for you. Being your own boss is grand, but you have to be darn self motivated. I do think it helps if you are passionate about the things you sell–though others disagree. There is the danger of “falling in love” with items and 1) paying too much for them and/or 2) keeping them! Both can be true, but personally I wouldn’t do all this work for things I don’t care about. Gosh, I’d be bored to tears! And you have to be patient–it takes a while to build up a business and your knowledge.

Would love to hear your thoughts!!

Karen

5 comments

  1. I read your blog religiously and am always amazed at the items you find. I live in a small town where our thrift stores have mainly junk. I have been selling on Ebay since last June and began in order to downsize and get rid of items that belonged to my parents or ourselves. THEN I loved it! As a retired teacher I now had a new exciting daily “job” ! I’ve had to start with some “low hanging fruit” as you say but I’ve also done well on some of my other listings. Ex. Bought a brass fly ashtray from Italy for .50 and sold it for $42. I’ve been going to estate sales, out of town thrift stores and recently found a local auction house that does house clean-outs. It is really a learning process, especially shipping. I have learned so much from blogs and videos and my next goal is to open my Ebay store! Thank you for helping me learn and keeping my sights high.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Debbie for being a faithful reader…and sharing your journey. It is exciting, that’s for sure. There’s nothing wrong with “low hanging fruit” but I found, for me, it was too much effort for the profit. (Congrats on the brass fly ashtray!!)

      Sounds like you’re doing all the right things and are ready for that eBay store!

      All the best, Karen

      Like

  2. Thanks for your post – interesting as always 🙂
    Lately I’ve been reflecting on the same question.
    A passion and hobby that seems to have turned into a space and time sinkhole.
    And Etsy has become a bit too tolling, taking a sizeable “slice of the cake”. Considering all fees, also charged on postage, it’s probably in the range of 20% -that’s before we consider whatever the object costed originally and me not being in the “must advertise” league.
    Are other platforms such a Chairish better?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gabriella. Lately I’ve been frustrated by all the online platforms. Chairish is not better, but different. It’s a flat 20% charge (if you have a store with ten or more items), but folks seem to be willing to pay a little more there and a lot of interior decorators shop on Chairish. (I’ve sold things here that didn’t sell on Etsy.) Still it’s not ideal.

      So much work for what in the end turns out to be a modest profit. Hoping to sell off a good chunk of my inventory this year!

      All the best, Karen

      Liked by 1 person

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