Selling vintage, especially on sites like Etsy, is appealing because it doesn’t require you to create new products for your buyers directly. There’s certainly a lot of work in finding the right items to sell, but it’s a very different type of work.
But vintage comes with its own set of costs, which can bring down your bottom line. If you’re going to make money selling vintage, whether it’s clothes, accessories or something else entirely, you need a strategy.
1.Track What You’re Selling
Before you can increase your earnings, you need to know what you’re already making and what’s selling well for you. Keep a detailed inventory and track what you earn from each item — which means you need to know what you paid for the item, how long you’ve had it and if you had to reduce the price at any point.
You have to be religious about keeping your records up to date. The information you track is the basis of what moves you can take in the future to improve your business.
It’s true in just about every type of business, but specialization is one of the easiest ways to increase your income. That’s because it’s easier to build a following if you’re offering similar items consistently. If your buyers know that you’re the person to see about vintage furniture from a particular designer or vintage clothing in a particular color, you’re going to be the first seller who comes to mind when they’re shopping for something specific.
As you’re choosing your speciality, keep in mind what’s going to make sense from a business perspective. If you notice in your records that you can easily sell certain items at a good profit, those items should be your starting point for choosing a niche. Of course, you also need to be able to get your hands on such items regularly in order to specialize.
Add in a little of your own preferences, as well. The financial aspect is important, but if you don’t enjoy the niche you’re working in, tweak it or consider your own preferences until you find something that both pays and will be pleasant to work with. At the very least, you want a specialization that you can read up on and develop expertise around without driving yourself mad.
3. Cultivate Your Sources
Especially if you have a narrow selection of items you’re looking for, you’ll find yourself going to the same suppliers over and over again. Build solid relationships with your suppliers: if a particular local shop will call you immediately when certain items come in or a a seller who you usually have to traipse out to the flea market to find will drop off your purchases at your home, you’ll be able to get a more regular supply of items to sell.
You still need to look for serendipity, as well, but make the process of sourcing vintage items as easy as possible on yourself.
4. Have a Backup Plan for Items You Can’t Sell
There will always be pieces with stains you didn’t notice or a pattern that proves impossible to sell. Putting out items that are of a lower quality than your usual supply isn’t going to help you: your customers will get the idea that you don’t always have the best quality and you’ll distract them from the items that will sell well.
Just what you plan to do with your leftovers will depend on your specialty. Repair may be an option in some cases. Some items can be remade, even though the results may not be vintage afterwards — they can still be sold, which will help your bottom line. You may want to create a hierarchy of options on how to deal with different items. But don’t put yourself in a position where you’re indefinitely storing items you can’t sell or you’re throwing them out. Neither option will help your finances.
5. Build an Audience
Just listing items for sale online isn’t enough. You need to make sure that you have potential buyers checking in on what you’re offering on a regular basis. You need a loyal audience. Just how you can build that audience varies, but at the most basic level, you need to build a connection that goes deeper than just making a sale. If potential buyers tune in to read your most recent post about how you choose items or your ideal vintage Halloween costume or any other personal story, you’re going to be more likely to have an ongoing relationship with your audience. Among other benefits, that means that you may be able to sell multiple items to one person.
Think about what you enjoy doing beyond just finding and listing items. You can send out email newsletters, write a blog, post photos and do so much more that it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a good way for you to build an audience based on your interests and abilities.
6. Learn to Take Amazing Photographs and Write Great Copy
If you haven’t already, invest time — and possibly some money — in ensuring that you can showcase your vintage items to their full potential. If you need to take a class to improve your photography skills or you need to hire an editor to work with your copy, do it.
The alternative is hiring someone else to take your photos or write your copy. That’s an expensive way to up your game: a good photograph may significantly increase the amount of money you can earn in a single sale, but it’s not always enough to pay for having a photographer help you.
7. Provide Fantastic Customer Service
Making sure that your customers get exactly what they’re expecting is harder when you’re selling vintage than when you have a whole stack of identical items in the back room. It’s necessary to up your customer service game.
At every step of the process of purchasing and receiving one of your vintage items, your buyers need to feel like they’re being taken care of. While such approaches can improve your customers overall willingness to to recommend you to others, it can also reduce the number of returns or complaints from buyers that they got something that was okay, but not actually what they wanted.
8. Reach Out to Your Fellow Sellers
You don’t just need relationships with the people who buy what you’re selling. You also need to network among other sellers. It may be a secondary network — of course, I’d rather spend time with a prospective buyer than another seller — but done correctly, connections with your fellow sellers can pay off.
You can do joint sales, trade items that will sell better with another vendor, get tips on handling difficult situations and so much more. Even being able to shop together with someone looking for different items within the broad category that is vintage can mean that you can buy the bigger items that require some help to move or get feedback from a second pair of eyes before you spend your money.
9. Test Different Outlets
If you’ve got one place that you know you can sell your vintage items without too much hassle, it’s tempting to just stick with it. But unless you test out other venues, you’ll never know if you can charge higher prices or move items faster elsewhere.
Set clear goals for any new marketplace you try out: if it can’t beat the places you’re already selling in within a set amount of time, cut your losses. The same holds true with any marketing project or effort to otherwise promote your vintage stock.
10. Operate Like a Business, Not a Hobby
More than a few people get into selling vintage as an excuse to grow their personal collections — after all, it’s easy to justify buying more clothes, furniture or other items than you can possibly use if you promise to sell at least some of them soon. If you want to earn a regular income that can continue to grow from your vintage sales, though, you need to treat what you’re doing as a business, rather than as a way to extend your own closet.
That means thinking about marketing, accounting and all the other details that go into operating a business. It also may mean letting go of some of the pieces you love, but don’t have room for. The moment you sold your first piece, you started a business. Take it to the next level.