People get so excited when I tell them how I make my living. I’m never sure if they are just pretending to be excited or if they really think it’s cool. I’ve been doing this since 1998, full time since 2001. I love my job but it’s probably not what you think it is.
Although I’ve chosen a photo of a girl going through the clothes at what looks to be a Goodwill store, I hardly ever sell clothes. I sell vintage anything but my main focus right now is vintage linens. Tablecloths, napkins, curtains, aprons, handkerchiefs, doilies, anything embroidered, pillowcases, etc. I think it’s important to sell something you actually like and can relate to and it’s a good thing that other women my age like this stuff too. I wouldn’t know what to do or how to proceed if I had to sell athletic shoes.
I got started with eBay by buying on eBay. I am a collector of various things and when eBay first started it was amazing how much of the stuff I collect I found there. Prior to eBay buying what I collected meant going to antique stores and malls, attending antique fairs and shows, going to garage sales and going to estate sales. It was not the most efficient way to build a collection. EBay, however, brings all of the stuff sold at stores and malls and fairs and shows, in peoples garages and attics, into a single, easy to use venue.
Once I started perusing eBay for the stuff I love I saw what a viable market place it was. Back in the early days of eBay, everyone was buying and it was obvious that it was a great new experience with a lot of buzz going around about it. So, I figured I could supplement my income and while I was trudging around to antique stores, malls, shows etc. I started seeing things that I knew would go for bigger money on eBay and often these were things I had no interest in collecting.
The old days on eBay you had to know a little bit of html and you had to know how to operate a digital camera and how to download and upload pictures. It wasn’t too hard to figure out how to do these things with minimal effort. Now, it is so easy anyone can figure it out. I’ve certainly appreciated all of the innovations that have made it easier.
What I used to sell in the late 1990’s has changed. How I sell has changed. I no longer use the familiar auction format except on rare occasions. These days I have a “store” on eBay, which is to say that I have categorized, fixed price items so any time of day or night anyone who hops onto eBay can make a purchase. People pay with PayPal. There are no longer multiple checks in the mail that I have to wait to clear before I ship. It is fast and seamless and often, I go to bed and wake up with several sales having happened while I was sleeping. If you buy something from me at night and live close by you will have the item a day after I put it in the mail. If you live across the country you will have your item in just a few days, usually within three days of making your purchase.
People hear about nightmare scenarios on eBay. I can honestly say I’ve really never had any fraud perpetrated on me. I think the people who get into trouble are those who buy things that the average person needs or wants, expensive things. There just aren’t a lot of people who look for 1950’s tablecloths in order to jack the seller around. This kind of issue probably happens a lot more to folks who sell electronics than people like me who sell souvenir spoons or old handkerchiefs.
I buy 70 percent of the things I sell at estate sales. I don’t want to give away too many of my secrets (and most of them are just common sense) but I tend to go the last day of these sales when deep discounts are given and while I focus on things in my linens category I keep an open mind about everything that is left at the sale. I buy newer things if they appeal to my aesthetics. I buy things other people collect. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I look for Beanie Babies or Collector Plates or things originally sold by the Franklin Mint. Those things were mass produced and as far as I am concerned valueless because there are so many in the marketplace.
People collect their childhood, or things their grandmothers had or categories of things they like to look at or use. People are nostalgic. People love humor. For example, think of coffee mugs. Everyone drinks out of a mug at least now and then. Sometimes you might have an old set of dishes and have broken all of the mugs. It is probably in an attractive pattern that will catch my eye. Or you collect Gary Larson mugs for the humor. Or mugs made by Waechtersbach or Taylor and Ng because you were around in the 1970’s and appreciated these things then but couldn’t afford them and now you can. Or the designs remind you of that day you smoked pot the first time or the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix . Or mugs that stack that were popular in the 1960s that have hippie designs like mushrooms and daisy flowers because you were addicted to That Girl or Gidget and like their bright colors and cute graphics. I usually pay 50 cents or less for an attractive or collectible mug. If it is rare or someone just broke their favorite mug and hop on eBay to replace it, I can get at least 10.00 for it. Sometimes far more. I’ve sold a single mug for over 100.00 a few times.
I don’t get rich selling $10.00 items so I have to sell lots of $10.00 items and need to regularly sell a few $40.00 items and throw in a couple of over $100.00 items several times a month. To do this, I have to have lots and lots of items listed which means I have an investment in inventory that I am constantly replacing. Selling on EBay is very much a job of organization.
Right now I have over 600 items listed. Today is a Friday and I sold three items yesterday which I shipped this morning. Friday night is a good night for sales, best at the beginning of the month so even though I haven’t sold anything yet today I have high hopes for tonight. If people don’t go out on Friday night they tend to get on their computers and maybe buy a few things. Yesterday, a Thursday. I sold a tablecloth for 50.00, a piece of embroidery for 24.00 and a piece of vintage jewelry for 84.00. I paid a total of 13.00 for these three items. EBay charges me 10% of the sales price and PayPal takes a cut also. I make a small amount on the shipping and I don’t usually pay for packing materials as my husband is able to bring home packing materials from his job and I also get free shipping materials from EBay. I use the plastic bags you get from the grocery store as packing materials for breakables and the United States Post Office gives away boxes if you ship via priority mail.
So, yesterday was a pretty good day thanks to the piece of jewelry. I wish that happened every day. It doesn’t happen every day.
What a person needs to do what I do is room to store everything, an organizational system, perseverance and patience. Typing skills help, the ability to take a decent picture and some sort of a clue of what people in the world want. Because I have collected old stuff all of my life, because I have an art degree and took a lot of art history I am probably ahead of the game in knowledge about antiques and vintage items. I can look at items at an estate sale and know how old they are. I know about a lot of different categories due to having done a ton of research on the things I’ve found over the last 22 years.
You also need some seed money or some regular disposable income until you get going and can reinvest what you are making as income.
I also have a really good memory. I have a good friend who has the same amount of stuff in her head and we help each other figure out what to buy, and what things are. I do have to say, if you can figure out how to search the internet for information you will find the information. You have to keep trying different paths to the information and if one thing doesn’t work, you have to be flexible and go down another path. The worst feeling in the world is to give up on figuring out exactly what something is (say an unmarked piece of antique china) and to go ahead and list it to sell and sell it almost as soon as the listing hits the internet and then find out later it was worth ten times what you got for it. Because you didn’t know it was only made for two years or the pattern was used on the Titanic or a hundred other variables that make something rare or collectible.
You will have a better time doing this if you enjoy doing the research.
Recently I went to an estate sale on the last day. Walking up to the door several people were coming out empty handed. We exchanged pleasantries and I was told the sale was “totally picked over” and “there’s nothing left.”
I spent about 15 minutes looking and found two pieces of sterling flatware, both antiques and both found on a table full of costume jewelry. I paid a total of 9.00 for both pieces and sold them both within a week of listing them for a total of 64.00. I also bought a Sarah Coventry ladies brooch because I knew one of my regular customers would like it. It was shaped like a dove. Got it for 1.00 and my customer paid 10.00. I also bought a set of ten vintage dish towels that had never been used. The guy who helped me check out at the sale wrote down that these towels were napkins. I paid a quarter for the bunch of ten and sold them for 12.00. I bought an abalone shell that had the exterior removed, leaving the attractive mother of pearl showing. Paid 4.00 and sold it for 16.00. Bought a 6" antique transferware salad plate for 1.00 and sold it for 28.00. Bought an antique, hand painted Limoges dish for 4.00 (haven’t sold it yet) and bought an old Made in Japan paper mache bank for 2.00. I could sell it for around 30.00 but my daughter collects these so I have a great Christmas gift for her for 2.00. She will LOVE IT!
I spent 21.25. I was at the sale for about half an hour. It was INDEED picked over and there wasn’t much left to buy but I feel like I know more than the average Joe and can typically prevail when I enter a situation like this. I had to polish the silver and clean the Limoges dish. I have a great gift for my daughter and I made 130.00 and still have one item left. I was asking 20.00 for the Limoges dish but I will soon drop the price to 9.99 and leave it that price until it sells. It is old and hand painted so it will sell eventually. At 9.99 a collector of hand painted Limoges will be excited at the bargain price.
I went to three other sales that Saturday. One was a total bust and one I spent slightly more than what I have detailed from the sale above. I’ve sold the same percentage of those items and made correspondingly, approximately the same percentage of profit.
I’m not making a fortune but it isn’t a bad way to make a living. I work from home. I don’t have to spend a fortune on uncomfortable clothes or makeup and other than driving all over the place on Saturdays I don’t really have much driving to do on a weekly basis. I’m 62 and just started collecting social security. I get up in the morning with my husband who still works and after he leaves for his job I do my shipping. I don’t even have to go to the post office. My mailman picks up the packages from my mailbox or if items don’t fit in my box he comes up to my porch and rings my doorbell. I usually list items three days a week for maybe three or four hours and save one day for paperwork. I spend an additional day writing for Medium and doing housework, ironing the linens I sell, taking photos and other support work for my eBay business.
I have other places I buy that I won’t share because I don’t want the competition and thus need to keep that to myself but even if I didn’t have these other places I could still make a decent living off of estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores and stuff already at antique stores/malls/shows. Because still, even in these days of the internet, not everyone knows what they have or what things are really worth to people who collect them. It is highly likely that I miss something good out of ignorance every time I go someplace to shop.
I plan to keep doing this until I can’t anymore. At some point I will start selling my collections. Until then I still buy things for myself and love puttering around my house and seeing all of my cool things. I pretty much love my life. Once my husband retires it will be even better. EBay allows for much freedom to travel and take a nap in the afternoon and cuddle with my two chihuahuas, Bud and Ladybug. It’s not a bad deal I have going!