They call up visions of hounds on the trail: resellers purposefully nosing through a Saturday-morning yard sale. The experienced ones arrive as early as 6 a.m., know what they want, grab their “prey” and move on to the next yard sale; the novices hesitate, sometimes losing out to another bargain-hunter who acts (and grabs) with more decision and speed.
However seasoned they may be, all have the same goals in mind – namely, adventure and profit. They buy with the idea of reselling their finds for at least double their original investments, and the thrill of the hunt animates the weekly search. Even a kid can play this weekend game because it takes very little outlay of dollars to get started, sometimes none at all.
What particular needs drive resellers to get in the game? Perhaps some need cash required for medical bills, vacations or college tuition fees, or maybe they are collectors craving new specimens to display and sell. All these things and more propel resellers out of bed at 4 a.m. every Saturday to hit that weekend’s yard sales. Many resellers also forage thrift shops, auction houses and other sources of resale items to expand their inventories.
Some may think that winning at this sport requires a lot of sales savvy. It certainly helps, but with the exercise of a little common sense, even rank beginners can make profits from yard-sale or thrift-shop reselling. And once the newbie really gets to know how it’s done, return on investment can be incredibly high. Consider one local reseller’s thrift-shop plate as evidence:
“Last spring, I was scouting in a thrift shop on Highway 378,” he says, “when I saw a box on the floor that hadn’t been unpacked yet. I sifted through the box and found a beautiful metal plate inlaid with mother of pearl, so I asked the cashier how much he wanted for it. He said, ‘Oh, you can have that for a dollar.’ I turned the plate over and saw the words ‘Tiffany & Co.,’ and I knew I had a find. So I paid my dollar, left with the plate and started checking online to find out how much the plate was worth. That done, I e-mailed a couple of possible buyers I’d located, and a guy in New Jersey e-mailed me back. He had a friend here in Columbia who met me to check out the plate. It turned out to date from around 1905, and on behalf of the New Jersey buyer, the friend bought it for $1,500.”
Reselling isn’t always that spectacular, but profits can be more than sufficient to warrant the effort a reseller puts in. For example, while driving through a neighborhood recently, another reseller found an attractive wicker table by the side of the road. She took it home, spray-painted it black and sold it at a consignment shop for $30. And Mike Hedgepath, a flea-market reseller with 45 years of experience, reports that he makes enough yearly at reselling to pay for vacation, Christmas gifts and his fishing and hunting expeditions. His most remarkable recent finds, a couple of old USC Big Thursday programs, cost him a dime or so each but netted him about $200 on resale.
Not bad for a 20-cent investment.
So what should a reselling newbie buy as starter inventory? Experienced resellers agree that in order to prosper, a beginner should probably find a niche and get to know it well – furniture, china, vintage linens, books, South Carolina memorabilia. However, while the newbie is nailing that niche, there are items nearly anyone can find easily and resell successfully. According to Carol Fowles, owner of Consign It! in Forest Acres, small tables, especially glass- and marble-topped ones, are a good beginning yard-sale buy.
Carol explains, “If you can buy a coffee table for $5 at a yard sale and resell it for $30 at a consignment shop, you’ll make $15 or more, 50 to 60 percent of the selling price. That’s at least a triple return on your investment – a good deal.”
Carol’s “eco-chic” shop carries upscale furniture, artwork and other decorating accessories, china, silver, crystal, jewelry and handbags. She offers two tips for newbies wanting to consign with her. First, if you want to consign artwork, search out locally and nationally known artists like Cherrie Nute and Jim Harrison. Second, scout the shop – true for any shop you want to consign with – and see what’s there. Check their prices to figure the maximum you need to pay at yard sales to make a profit on a particular type of consigned item. Then, hustle to the yard sales and prowl for appropriate items.
Over his 10 years of reselling, Joseph Crump has learned his niche fore and aft – silver and china especially – and people who know this will ask him to find particular pieces for them. Friends are only one of his resale outlets, however.
Joseph recalls, “One of my best finds was a dirty set of Villeroy & Boch dinnerware I picked up for $35 at a yard sale in the Shandon area of Columbia. I cleaned it up and sold it to Replacements, Ltd., for $800. I’ve also resold on eBay and craigslist and to antique stores.”
Joseph’s best advice to new resellers: When you first start out, try to go with a willing friend who’s already reselling successfully. Watch carefully, and take notes.
If you have repair and painting skills, as one local reselling couple does, you’ll be able to capture even better buys for resale. Knowing they can refurbish damaged merchandise, these resellers keep themselves open to yard sales in all kinds of neighborhoods when searching out promising booty.
They insist, “It’s a myth that you should go only to yard sales in the ‘best’ parts of town; rather, less-affluent areas tend to be more willing to bargain because they’re more likely to want the cash.”
And that’s another point – take cash, not checks or credit cards, to yard sales.
Experienced reseller Carla Manning owns booths at City Market and Spring Valley Antique Mall in Columbia, and she’s got her 10-year-old son Sam in reseller basic training.
“It’s a great money-management teaching tool,” she grins, “and a very good history lesson for Sam to learn what something is or when it was used when he sees a record player or a typewriter. He’s learning how to clean things up, how to price them and that the antique mall will take a commission. When he’s in high school, he’ll be way ahead of the crowd and will be able to do this and make money.”
If you’re auction bound for inventory to resell at flea markets, Carroll McGee of McGee Auction Gallery says go for the box lots. They’re inexpensive, and you’ll get anything from three to 20 items to sell. He also very generously says if you need help learning how to buy at auctions, come in and talk to him, his daughter or other regulars at the gallery.
Holly Walker, who resells at the Old Mill in Lexington and on craigslist, thinks Carroll’s box lots are good for more than just flea markets: “I’ve started going to McGee Auction Gallery,” she says, “which is a great place in this economy to buy for resale. With the $2 and $3 box lots, sometimes you’ll find only a couple of things in there you want, but they’re worth far more than $2. Also, the Good Will Clearance Center in West Columbia is a wonderful place to go if you’re there when they put things out and you don’t mind digging. You just never know what you’re going to find.”
Too busy to resell at flea markets? One of the simplest resale outlets, the Carolina Trader, requires no more than a few minutes of online work to post a listing. Mike Barrett, co-owner of this weekly classified-ad newspaper, says, “State in your ad description what you originally paid for the item, and post a photo. Almost any item will sell if the price is right.”
For those who like the idea of reselling to a vast online audience but just don’t have the time, try one of the Midlands’ local eBay consignment sellers. They will list, sell and ship items for you through eBay for a reasonable commission. Gazelle.com, another online reselling outlet, buys used electronics like laptops for $100 or more and broken cell phones for $15, as well as some obsolete items. The company even sends you a postage-paid box for shipping your item.
So it’s finally Friday. Time to finish yard-sale prep and set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. While it may be tough to roll out of a warm bed Saturday morning and head for that first yard sale, it’s also impossible to resist the lure.
As one reseller claims, “It’s addicting – the hunt and seeing the profits add up. If you go every weekend and get a carload, you can make a good profit.”
And have a great time doing it.
Visit columbiametro.com for a list of places to buy and sell your items.
Yard-Sale Savvy for Newbie Resellers
Experienced resellers share some of their best advice for buying at yard sales and thrift shops for resale.
• Try stopping by the site of a yard sale the day before and asking to see the goods. Sometimes, the seller will let you in and give you first crack at what’s for sale.
• Some yard and estate sales are held during the week. You’ll find much less competition then.
• Stick with yard sales close to home so you won’t waste gas.
• Get to your likeliest yard sales at least 15 minutes early. Really serious buyers get to the first one by 6 a.m.
• In winter, yard-sale sellers are more willing to bargain because they want to finish and get in out of the cold.
• Buy what you like. You can enjoy it yourself if it doesn’t resell.
• Unless you feel the stated price is truly fair, be ready to haggle for a lower one.
• Inspect and test everything carefully before you buy because you probably can’t take items back.
• Go back at the end of the day to a good sale and make really low-ball offers on items you want. The seller likely will be more willing to bargain by that time.
• If a yard-sale seller won’t agree to your price, leave your name and phone number. Request that the owner call you if the item doesn’t sell and he or she decides to meet your price.
• To find great curbside freebies for resale, cruise the better neighborhoods the day before trash-pickup day.
• Find out when local thrift stores put out newly donated merchandise (probably Monday) and shop at that time for the best pickings.
• If your selected thrift shop runs regular specials, e.g., 50 percent off all yellow tags every Tuesday, take advantage.
• Don’t pay for appraisals unless you have to. Get them free when they’re offered at places like the State Museum.