351: Thrifting for Profit: How I Made $270k in Sales Reselling Vintage Items

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keely stawicki - thrifting for profit expert

What’s the fastest way to multiply money?

It might be reselling.

That is, buy low, sell high, repeat.

Keely Stawicki started reselling when she was just 12 years old, flipping a horse saddle on Craigslist and making $100 profit.

Fast forward 15 years–and more than $270,000 in sales–and thrifting is now her full-time gig. Today, Keely focuses mostly on vintage goods, clothing, and furniture–all items in great demand right now.

Reselling is a business model we keep coming back to because it checks some of the boxes for an awesome side hustle:

  • Anybody can do it
  • It doesn’t require a huge upfront investment
  • It’s quick to get started and see results

If this sounds like a side hustle you’re interested in, listen in to hear Keely’s top tips for sourcing profitable inventory, the types of products she sees doing well today, and where she lists and markets her items for maximum exposure and profitability.

Figuring Out What Products to Buy for Resale

“The biggest thing with starting out sourcing is figuring out what to source,” Keely told me.

It can be a cause of anxiety for people as there are so many different categories and things to choose from.

Keely said the important thing is to “source something that you know well, and like.” If you like the products and niche you’re sourcing in, there’s a good chance other people do, and you’re less likely to buy things that don’t have profit in them.”

This is how Keely started out sourcing when she was 12 years old. She had a passion for horses and was surrounded by horses and horse products. So, Keely went to an auction and bought a saddle for $50. She cleaned it up, listed it on Craigslist for $150, and made a quick flip for $100 profit.

Keely went back to the auction the next month, bought something else and flipped it, and this is how she got started reselling.

As you get a feel for buy and reselling stuff you know well, you can branch out into other niches.

Keely said using the sold filter on eBay is a great way to check what’s selling, and how much for. But she also said you often need to act fast and learn how to use your “gut feeling” when making purchases.

What Kind of Profit Margins to Aim For

The two main criteria Keely aims for when reselling items are:

  1. At least 50% margin ($50 profit for every $100 you spend on inventory)
  2. At least $10 profit per item

The thrifting business can be labor-intensive. It takes time to:

  • source items from thrift stores
  • clean or fix them up for resale
  • list on eBay and/or other marketplaces
  • pack and ship the items

You need to make sure you have enough profit margin to make all these activities worth your time.

For the sake of comparison, Rob, the “Flea Market Flipper”, explained he didn’t want to touch anything that he didn’t expect to make at least $100 from.

Where to Source Profitable Items to Resell

Keely still goes to local auctions twice a year and sells items from them on eBay throughout the year.

But her main source for items to resell is thrift stores. Keely said she goes once a week, and rarely leaves empty-handed.

She described a recent thrift store trip where she bought 22 items. It took her about an hour and a half, and she will make at least $10 per item, so that’s $220 profit.

(She estimated it’ll take another hour and a half to clean and list all the items.)

Where To List Items for Resale

The marketplaces Kelly uses to resell online are:

  • eBay – The most popular and busiest online platform for reselling goods. Fees are 9-14% depending on the category. You can pay $10 per month for a storefront, lower fees, and some extra perks.
  • Poshmark – Good for branded items as they verify the items are genuine before selling them. But a 20% fee is pretty steep.
  • Craigslist – Keely uses Craigslist for larger items she doesn’t want to ship, and niche-specific such as auto parts and electronics.
  • Facebook Marketplace – Great for items you don’t want to ship or think will sell locally.
  • Depop – An app Keely said is good for selling vintage clothing.
  • Mercari – An app for buying and selling anything.

I’ve had some luck with Offer Up, while other sellers have recommended Let Go.

Keely’s eBay Tips

Keely uses eBay to sell most of her items as they have the largest audience and the lowest fees. She said their app has made it incredibly easy and quick to list stuff too, so it’s the place to get started.

When selling on eBay, a few tips Keely shared are:

  • If you’re selling clothing, you need to add measurements of the items. She uses a site called Size.ly to generate all the measurements, and they also list the measurements in centimeters for overseas buyers.
  • Sign up for eBay international sellers’ program so you can sell your items outside of the US too. It doesn’t require any more work; you’ll just ship your items to an eBay distribution center for them to forward along to your customer. Keely said around 20-30% of her sales are to overseas customers, so you’re leaving money on the table by not selling internationally.
  • Build a storefront and spend time building a following. You can notify your audience when you have new items for sale a pull in extra sales this way. This is especially helpful if you stay within one general niche when sourcing.

She recommends starting out with eBay, then branching out onto other platforms as you get a better feel for the market.

Dealing with Scammers as a Reseller

Keely said she tends to stay away from luxury goods, as these are more likely to attract scammers. (Apparently this is a big risk in the sneaker flipping side hustle.)

The main issue she’s had over the years is items breaking in the mail. Since then, she’s learned how to pack stuff more securely, take photos before sending, and buy extra insurance for expensive, fragile items.

She mentioned that eBay is generally fair to sellers — at least in her experience — and that documentation is always helpful in making your case should there be a dispute.

Inside a Typical Thrift Store Sourcing Trip

Keely gave me an over-the-shoulder view of what her process looks like when she’s shopping for items to resell.

When she enters a thrift store, she starts by looking through the hard goods (they take less time).

She’s mainly looking for:

  • glassware
  • vintage art pieces
  • lamps
  • other homewares

Then she moves on to the clothing section. Here, she’s looking for funky textures, colors, and patterns as those sell well.

She said she’s gotten better as spotting fake vintage items over the years. Her tip here is to inspect the quality of the item closely, check the labels, and do a little research if in doubt.

Keely mainly looks at skirts, dresses, shoes, handbags, and overalls.

Overalls, in particular, are selling very well right now for a big markup, so keep an eye out for those at your local thrift store. She recommended staying away from jeans and pants as those aren’t selling well.

Thrift Store Mistakes to Avoid

As a rule of thumb, stay away from anything that’s damaged, been repaired, or looks like it might be fake.

“In vintage clothing, the condition is truly everything,” Keely said.

She added, “The biggest mistake you can make is not hitting that sold filter [on eBay] to make sure there’s a market,”  Before getting carried away with items that look like an awesome deal, check to see if there’s any proven demand.

How Do You Make Your Listings Stand Out?

“For me, it’s truly the selection of the items,” Keely told me.

She puts a lot of emphasis on the quality of the images to give customers the best view of her items.

Keely uses three lightboxes and a light ring to make her images nice and bright.

And, instead of the sterile white background, she uses a vintage barn wood door and plants as a backdrop to help customers visualize how the items might look in their homes.

Here’s an example from Keely’s eBay store:

ebay photography example

It’s also important to put a keyword-rich, descriptive title and a detailed description of the item.

Look at it from a buyer’s perspective: if there’s anything you might ask about the item, answer it in the description.

If you do all of this, you will reduce the chance of having items returned because it’s not what the buyer was expecting. “My return rate is literally zero,” Keely told me.

How to Manage Your Thrifting Inventory

Reselling a high volume requires good systems to manage and ship the items.

Keely has this down, with bins for the smaller items, and double bar clothing racks.

She has an inventory listing and keeps clothing in large ziplock bags with numbered labels on.

When she sells an item, she finds it on her inventory list and picks it off the rack. She likes to pack items one-by-one, then label and send them out.

(She found batch shipping had a greater risk of mixing up orders.)

She lives within a mile of the drop box she uses to send all her items out, so she drops off her orders each day on the way to the gym.

Restoring Vintage-Style Furniture for Profit

Keely said vintage-style furniture is selling very well right now. She picks up items like solid wood dressers for as little as $20 at a yard sales and flips them for $180+.

Despite claiming to be really bad at painting, Keely says this is a profitable product category for her. With a couple of coats of Dixie Belle Chalk Paint, a wax, and a clear coat, she can restore a dresser and make $150+ profit on it.

These are the kinds of items she sells on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, where there are no seller fees.

Keely’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

Start with stuff you already own – don’t borrow money!

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