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I think we have all seen this invitation to partake in another fleecing of our wallets. While travelling this past week, I happened to once again notice the typical ad for this scam in a local urban newspaper. I think this one has been fairly ubiquitous over the times. It is unfortunate, but it does seem to prey on the need of so many to make a little extra money when they have few resources to do so. I know many here are in that position. In my first diary here, I thought I would share the story of how my wife stumbled on a way to make some nice extra cash and have fun while doing so. It does require you to have or obtain a bank account and a Paypal account - neither of which I am going to question you about, I assure you! It will also involve registering at a site that I know many of you are familiar with and already use.

For those who might be interested, please take my hand and let's jump over the cotton candy calliope together...

Sometime after we got married, my wife decided that it would be fun to acquire a few antiques for our house. We had just moved into a nice colonial style home which lent itself nicely to such an effort. While I had brought along quite a treasure trove of items - both large and small - from many generations back on my side of the family, my wife did not have all that much from her ancestral German and Swedish farmers. She began to pick up some small items and quickly grew from knowing very little to at least knowing enough not to be scammed at an antique show. Things progressed to where she looked forward to an annual antiquing road trip with several of her friends around the neighboring states each summer. Our home became nicely furnished and accented with various historic and ancestral pieces from times past. However, both our garage and basement were succumbing to their own bouts of antique mania. These were items that no longer seemed to fit with "our collection" or were temporarily "off display" (as if I would ever consent to most of them ever going "on display"!) Things went along very nicely - it was a nice hobby for her, I enjoyed the way our house looked and felt, the kids learned a lot about both history and their ancestors based on pictures, maps, documents and items that were about the home, and the minor annoyance of a slightly cluttered basement was a problem I could certainly live with. Things really were good with the world as far as I was concerned.

My wife is a child psychologist who contracts as a school psychologist at times and who also has a small private practice. At one of the schools where she worked, she became good friends with the custodial crew because a few members of the administrative staff and the custodians were the only people left in the buildings once school let out for the day. One gentleman from Puerto Rico shared with her how he and his wife were making some extra money by finding vintage glassware and then selling it on-line. Both my wife and I had purchased and sold many items on eBay before, but this gentleman was in the process of moving his store to a different site that he said was much better for selling vintage items. It was etsy.com. I know several of you on here have visited it and several of you sell handmade goods there to bring in some extra cash. Apparently the fee scale and other selling costs are much more favorable than eBay. My wife was a little intrigued and began to follow his shop to see how he was doing. He told her there were three big tricks to moving merchandise on-line. First was getting the best pictures possible of your item. Second was telling an informative, friendly and possibly humorous story about your item. Third was making sure you knew how to word your description and meta tags so that the search engines would find and prioritize your items. This all seemed like really good advice and my wife decided to give it a try with his encouragement. After all, we had all that "off display" inventory in our basement and garage. A little de-aquisitioning never hurt anyone!

So, after getting registered and set up and viewing many of the other Etsy shops to see what worked and what didn't, my wife listed her first few items. She took time with her photographs and tried to research and write fun descriptions for each of them, and then waited for her first big sale...and  waited...and waited. She was told not to give up hope - that in many cases, things didn't really get moving until you had about 20 items or so. Her friend also gave her a few hints on how to adjust her tags and descriptions so that she would get better placements in search results. So she did a bit more photography and researching and writing and listing and the very weekend that she listed her 20th item, she had her first sale.

We had a nice celebration that weekend and spent many times what her profit margin was (if she actually made any profit at all on that first item) on an nice dinner. She told us how she was really having fun with this and that she wanted to try to see if she could actually make some money at it. I had no objections as long as she didn't lose too much money at it.

So my wife continued on her merry way with her new hobby. She kind of needed something new to do. I do a lot of genealogy in my spare time and this antique thing seemed that it would be a nice fit for what I was doing, also. It didn't take her long to get most of the items listed that were cluttering up our basement and garage. The surprising thing to me was that they were actually selling - and selling at a rather fast clip! Soon she had to face the issue of getting in more inventory to sell. This is where she stumbled on a nice method for many without means to pick up some cash.

We have shopped at thrift stores off and on for years. We are blessed that we don't have to, but we found it a rather fun way to see what kind of values we could get when we stopped in now and then. My wife was actually getting a big portion of her wardrobe from thrift shops because she found so much name-brand merchandise that still had the original tags. Even my daughter who can sometimes be "Miss Fashionista" at times began to acquire a lot of items there. Now she and her friends usually stop at least at one thrift shop whenever they go out clothing shopping to see what they might find. I guess it has become fashionable to be thrifty!

Anyways, my wife began to notice that in addition to good deals on clothing, there seemed to be an awful lot of vintage or even antique items that were going for very low prices.  She began to buy and list a few and they sold very quickly - at incredible margins! Pretty soon, she was making the rounds of thrift shops every day during lunch hour or between her contract hours and her practice hours. She soon found that most of the stores had bargain basement areas for items that didn't move and she began to pick up lots and lots of interesting items for 50 cents or even a quarter. Soon she needed help in researching her trove and I found myself drafted as "head researcher" in short order. Actually, I found it very similar and just as intriguing as genealogy. I would get an item that looked old and would try to figure out who made it, how old it was, and what it was worth. This got to be pretty fun, I must say!

It's now been about a year and a half since my wife began this. I've also helped her with a few antique shows and she has now even rented a booth at a regional antique mall where she sells some of her larger items. It's interesting to do the shows and meet lots of people, but I think they are too much effort for their return. It sure is easier to just look at a web page and ship items from our house! This is the part of the business that I think could really help others, and I have a good example I will share at the end here.

What has really fascinated me are these bargain basement items that my wife will pay 50 cents or maybe a quarter for - and other items she might shell out a dollar or two for. After she brings them home, cleans them up, maybe does a minor repair - these things bring incredible margins! She will regularly get 10, 15, or even 20 dollars for these things! I was shocked. It really is in the presentation and photography plus knowing how to properly seed the search engines. I did a quick search of her sales database for the past few months for any sold item that she paid $2.00 or less. There were 107 items that sold for which she paid a total of about $82. She grossed over $1500 for those items! These are things like enamelware pots and pans, old utensils, old office supplies (like rubber stamps, tape dispensers, etc.), old framed pictures, old cast iron trivets and toys, handmade wooden items, and stuff like that. All for $2.00 or less. There was one set of 20 puzzles from the 70's that she picked up for $1 apiece that she got $25 each for. They were by a well known company and were a series of desirable scenes. Silver plated items and porcelain dishware of any kind are also big sellers and can frequently be had for 50 cents or a dollar. I was really amazed at how she could sell this stuff. She became such a regular at some of these stores that the staff would tell her what good stuff had recently been put out. Some of them were getting really good at recognizing good stuff for her and were even sometimes holding items for her. She asked that they not do that cause she felt like that was taking advantage of the system, but she would always welcome their suggestions for what she might take a look at.

One of the cashiers in particular at her favorite store was always very friendly and helpful. My wife learned that she and her husband both worked and had two children. Life was a struggle. They only had one car which her husband used for his job so she took the bus each day to and from the store. She was always asking my wife how her business was going and what kinds of things she was looking for. She got pretty good at finding stuff that would be good for my wife to sell. Finally my wife asked her why she didn't try setting up a store herself. I think the woman just felt that something like that was beyond her. After a few more visits and various discussions, my wife made her a deal. She would help her select $80 worth of merchandise and give it to her if she would make a go of an Etsy store. At first the woman didn't want to but eventually my wife talked her into it. I think my wife paid about $50 with her discount cards to get her a little over 100 items to list. She showed her how to use her cellphone to take the best photos she could and then told her to get busy. Over the next few weeks, the cashier got everything home on the bus and photographed and began to write her descriptions. She did pretty good with the photographs, but she unfortunately had terrible writing ability. Even with spell and grammar check, I guess it was just bad. My wife struggled with how to break it to her, but eventually she just told her straight out that she was going to have to find some help for that part of it. It all worked out because the cashier said that she knew it would be a problem and was already thinking of having a neighbor girl help her out. This turned out to be great I guess because they worked out a retainer/profitsharing deal or something and the descriptions that ended up with the pics were just fine. I'll get to the point here and just say that last month she grossed over $250 and she definitely has the hang of it. Things started out slow for her, but she hung in there and kept working on her postings and now she is off and running! She recently took a big step and showed my wife a set of Mikasa dishware she bought at the store for $35 dollars. This was a big purchase for her, but my wife says she is sure she will get at least $180 for it because it is an older rare pattern and it is in excellent shape.

This got to be more of a story than I first intended and I think I really buried the lede for those who actually are looking for a business idea. To rectify that, I'll summarize here at the end...

1. This seems to be a business with a very low barrier for entry and minimal risk to get                     started.
2. You will need about $50 - $80 to acquire your initial inventory along with computer              access, some kind of camera, a credit or debit card, a bank account, an Etsy account and a Paypal account.
3. You must be able to research and write well, but I would think for most of the followers here, that should not be a problem.
4. You need to find and have access to a good set of thrift stores. You don't necessarily need a car to get started (as evidenced by my wife's cashier friend who got going by using the bus route) but if you can occasionally have a friend help you out with a car, it would be a plus.
5. In most areas, the postal service will pick up packages for outbound delivery at your home. I think you need to call to schedule, but you won't need a car initially to do your shipping.
6. Etsy provides all kinds of business data, a great dashboard and tools for creating various forms, postage and address labels.
7. Don't be afraid to deal internationally. My wife was a little concerned at first, but Aussies and Brits are now some of her best customers with the past strength of the Pound and Australian Dollar. Customers from almost all first world  nations (except Italy unfortunately) are good to deal with and ship to.
8. There are forums on Etsy where you can post questions and get great help as a newcomer.
9. Remember the big three - great photographs - great writing - great descriptions and  meta tags.
10. Be patient. Get 50 - 60 items listed. It costs about 20 cents a quarter to list an item. That's all of your up front fee. Etsy will charge a sales percentage after your sale and will also charge a fee to act as a clearing house for your credit card customers. For your Paypal customers, you will be charged the usual Paypal fee by Paypal.

That's pretty much it. I offer this only as a suggestion some might find useful and fun to try in an effort to get a little extra cash. I hope this doesn't come off as offensive or condescending in any way - that certainly is not my intention. If some of you do give this a try, I would love to hear how it goes - even if it doesn't go so well.

Right now our storage area is full of early to mid century industrial stuff. This is apparently super hot all over the place. There are valves, machine gears, all kinds of tools, old electrical devices, door hinges, doorknobs, machine shop pieces and all kinds of other industrial and farm equipment. My wife says she can't buy and list it fast enough. She is now getting inquires from people who want her to procure for them. The good news is that she is definitely going to have something to keep her busy once she decides to retire. The bad news is that she is not ready to retire, but her new "hobby" might force her to!

Good luck to everyone!

Originally posted to OrganicChemist on Tue May 27, 2014 at 05:49 AM PDT.

Also republished by Unemployment Chronicles.

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Comment Preferences

  •  my daughter is (6+ / 0-)

    working towards putting some of her Nightmare Before Christmas stuff on the market.  i will forward your diary to her.  thank you, it looks like great info.  i am thrilled your wife is able to make money doing something she likes to do.  i myself have donated a lot of things to the thrift stores here since i cleaned out my mother's home when she passed last year. i hope someone like your wife picked up some deals and made some money with them.

    "I am an old woman, named after my mother. my old man is another child who's grown old." John Prine (not an old woman)

    by art ah zen on Tue May 27, 2014 at 05:56:25 AM PDT

  •  Unfortunately (for me, not for them) (5+ / 0-)

    all of the thrift stores in my area are price-checking, and often selling, their merchandise online. Goodwill has an ebay-style site that's doing very well, but the deals that used to be in the stores are going online.

    That's especially true of anything that looks "antique". The stores are full of newer stuff that didn't sell in someone's yard sale.

    I still buy a lot of stuff in thrift stores, but I'm down to exactly one where they're not checking online prices- it's run by Mennonites and they don't have a computer.

    •  The large Goodwill store... (3+ / 0-)

      in the large city closest to us is my wife's favorite store. That is where she gets most of her best stuff and best deals. I know that Goodwill now lists much of their best stuff in their on-line shops, but there is plenty left that they miss or don't know how to properly value. My wife has even purchased several items from their on-line stores because they were undervalued. Even with shipping charges having to be added in, she still made really good profits on those items.

      When my wife and I go shopping, we are picking up items and flipping them over to see if they have any kind of a mark. If it looks older than the 1980's we will buy just about anything if it is from Europe or Japan. Everything made in China is usually junk. All of the dishware made in Japan is profitable we have found. Certain items from India can be very good finds, but you have to be careful because there is a lot of junk, too. Anything looking old from Japan is great. If it is marked "Made in Occupied Japan" that can be a goldmine!

      As it is with everything in life...YMMV!

      •  The system in my local Goodwill chain (5+ / 0-)

        (Southeastern Pa.) is that virtually all non-clothing donations go directly into a truck, where they are carted away to be evaluated by people who do know what they're doing and who were hired for this specific purpose. If they're missing anything, I haven't seen it. The only marks I ever see are stickers from Target or TJMaxx.

        Clothing is considered easy enough for the store staff to check, and they do occasionally miss some stuff by little-known designers, but they don't miss much. And somehow stuff from The Gap is now considered worthy of premium prices in the store.

        I've been in the antiquarian and collectible book business for years- used to find treasures in Goodwill all the time. Haven't bought a book there, other than to read, in probably two years.

        You're lucky that this isn't happening in your area, but I have a feeling it probably will.  So as my grandmother used to say, make hay while the sun shines.

  •  Excellent diary - thanks! (6+ / 0-)

    I've thought of putting stuff online before but it seemed like more of a hassle than I was willing to bother with. I've bought plenty of things online, but never sold.

    You have made it seem fun and non-intimidating.

    Here's something that just happened to me. I was cleaning out closets and tumbled onto a Norma Kamali dress from the 80's that I totally forgot I even had. It was worn once, maybe twice and in mint condition.  I offered it to my only fashionista friend for free and she said thanks but no thanks. Out of idle curiosity I looked to see if I could find the dress online. I did find it - listed in a vintage clothing store and selling for $250.00!!!

    That, plus your diary may inspire me.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Tue May 27, 2014 at 06:58:56 AM PDT

    •  It's absolutely amazing... (4+ / 0-)

      what one can find in your closet or at a garage sale. That's not to say that a Monet is waiting for each of us to just  discover and dust off, but there are lots of fairly valuable stuff that is still just sitting around and unrecognized for what it is.

      My favorite piece was a tarnished and slightly dinged silver plate I purchased at a garage sale. I paid $5.00 for a box of stuff that was with it. I was much more interested in the older tools that were in the box feeling that I got quite a deal for my $5.00.

      After cleaning up and researching the tools, I took a look at the plate. Using a lighted magnifier I finally located some marks on it. Turned out it was a rare English piece from about 1750. My wife got $325 for it!

  •  Good advice (4+ / 0-)

    We actually have a friend and former coworker who does this for a living and he's fifteen years younger than I am, but his sales are so lucrative that he was able to quit a good job as an engineer and work full time selling in his mid-30s.
    He travels for his wares to different states and attends auctions, too, so it is a lot of work and he spends a lot of time on the road, but he's his own boss and owns a very nice home.
    It started off as a hobby for him but when he started seeing the demand and the profit, he decided to take the chance and go into business for himself.
    He sells everything from old athletic jerseys to office equipment, tools, and hardware.
    When he learns of a business that's closing, he'll travel to wherever it is and make offers on equipment or office furniture.
    It is a lot work, though, and time consuming, but he enjoys it and he even has regular clientele that ask him to look for certain things.

    Good diary.
    Thanks!

    I let my mind wander, and it never came back

    by arizonablue on Tue May 27, 2014 at 07:56:12 AM PDT

  •  good diary, good topic (4+ / 0-)

    How to succeed in small business for yourself.  

    That said, I have also known a couple of unfortunates who were taken in by the "addressing envelope" type scams via ads run in small newspaper classifieds.  I can vouch for those indeed being scams.

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