Getting away with more of the same

I knew August couldn't be like July. My mind was busy with planning my first pop-up marketplace, so the ebay volume suffered. But that's fine! We still made quite a few dollars. As a matter of fact, despite the complexities of event planning, we managed to beat June's numbers!

In August, I spent $385.73 at garage sales and thrift stores. But more importantly, I made $389.95 in net profit. That's cash in my pocket after shipping and fees, whereas in June I only made $367. Progress!

With those numbers, it might look like I'm only selling how much I find from one month to the next, but I still have a giant pile of inventory waiting to ship out of my apartment. Sales will grow when I can get more consistent with listing.

What Sold

Achievements:

My Ebay feedback rating continues to rise with each successful sale. We're now sitting pretty at 92.3%. Fingers crossed, it continues to rise in September.

I started experimenting with taking advantage of thrift store sales before and after the workday. Luckily, I work in an industry that allows remote work, so I've been gathering goods at 25% Thursdays at the Unique thrift stores in suburban New Jersey.

I took advantage of the Ebay "Make an Offer" option this month and made a quick DVD sale of Fifty Shades of Grey. It's a small win but it feels great to directly ask someone if they'd buy something off of you and they respond with cash.

In terms of single-item wins, the biggest profit margins came from a Kodak photo scanner and some Hayabusa boxing gloves. I bought the Kodak photo scanner at an astonishing $2. The older woman running the yard sale admitted she didn't even know what it was. When I explained it, she joked she should charge me more, but she didn't. I turned around and sold it to a co-worker for $50, making the profit $48.

I found the Hayabusa gloves hidden in a hamper in a Goodwill store, priced for $8. I sold them pretty quickly to a kickboxing instructor for $38.

Plus, it was a great feeling to find some rock t-shirts over one weekend and sell them to a co-worker a few days later. Easy as that. $20 profit and one happy dude.

Selling at Porta

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A few months back, at a mutual friend's wedding shower, I got to talking with an old friend about my business. Her name is Marianne and she is responsible for event planning at the Porta restaurant chain in Jersey City. She had been following my experiments on Instagram and thought it would be a great idea to put together a big vintage marketplace on their roof. I was floored!

I had been planning and, most importantly, buying for the next couple weeks after that conversation with the event in mind. Instead of relying on the Completed/Sold listings of Ebay sales, I had to anticipate what young, tipsy Porta goers would want to take home with them.

I dedicated the entire day to getting ready. I took off from the regular job and rushed around New Jersey, grabbing last minute things, like dollar store candy for the table and brand-new business cards. And then it rained, right around the time I was walking out the door with my inventory in my hands. I even took a shower because I didn't want to arrive a complete mess. But then, after driving about a block away, I realized I'd forgotten about a dozen major items hiding in random places in my apartment. I had to round the corner and continue loading.

I arrived later than I wanted, driving through storming rain. I resorted to parking in the lot across the street and made four trips, sweating bullets, lugging glass mugs and vintage beer cans up to the third floor.

Luckily, my brother arrived right on time for the event launch (when no one was there yet) and he helped me finish up tagging and pricing everything.

Then the sales began! Mallory was one of the first to swing over and she grabbed a handful of things right away to fill her apartment. Rob almost lost his mind when I explained that I named Flipshark after my last name, and showed him my tattoo. Another person came up and said I was the most affordable there, which is exactly what I wanted to be. I want to share the wealth of finding cool things.

I ended up making $77 net profit and some really good connections. Hopefully, I can write more about those in the future. But the biggest lesson was what sold. I saw people buy something just to pick it up and show it off right away to their friends at the event. It was a flaunting of quirky taste and disposable income. The more unique, the better. It was less about my beloved stained glass window hangings or vintage Pyrex glassware, it was about the Mickey Mouse fanny pack and 80's rock and roll poster.

Going forward

Earlier in the month, another friend, Annmarie, asked me quite generally about my plans to make this whole thing work. I wish I had a clearer answer, now and then, but the truth is I'm really still figuring it out as I go.

It’s great that items keep selling but with a limited amount of time each week/weekend to source new stuff, the sales will stay limited too. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different (in this case, better) result. Experiments are required.

Looking at the whole operation from a high level, there are two options:

  • accelerating the buying, raising the sales of everything all at once, or

  • make a sharp decision to specialize in a niche.


There is an argument that my current success could scale if I was only able to shop more than the two days of the weekend. But, there is the other possibility that when the garage sales dry up during the week, and especially during the winter, selling anything I can find with even a little bit of value might get even harder. There might be a threshold and a need to start looking elsewhere for sourcing. It's a lot of what if's. And it's hard to know right now.

It makes me wonder too what would happen if I had to start tomorrow. If my job didn’t need me and bills had to be paid. Would I double-down and pinball around to thrift stores, filling my cart? Or would I try something else?

That something else would be carving my own lane. I've been reading This is Marketing by Seth Godin, and it's conceptually putting things into perspective. If I'm able to start developing content and connections (and most importantly, sales) for a single industry, I could learn the market more rapidly, find my angle, expand my audience, and just maybe sell for higher margins.

Right now, I think I have a lot of attention on what I do with friends and family because it’s exciting to see someone do something unique. I don’t really know anyone else going to garage sales every weekend and trying to flip for a buck. Plus, it’s not boring. It’s something new I can deliver every week. Something tangible in a digital age.

But it does make me wonder if I should continue down the path of sharing a large breadth of stories about flipping oddball things from My Little Ponies to WWE action figures to anything else I can find, or if I should share the select wins, the things that really interest the select, hungry few.

Because, as Godin says:

Once you know what you stand for, the rest gets a lot easier.

I can figure out how to define and please the “us” in Godin’s mantra - "People like us do things like this". Because as much fun as it can be for friends to cheer you on for your sales, it’s even better to make more of those sales.

What would I possibly specialize in? Weirdly enough, I really like vintage Pyrex. Glass cookware. Don't ask me why, I barely cook myself. But it's such a thrill to find some milk glass mugs or casserole dishes decorated with berries or birds on a thrift store shelf that I thought this would be something to strive for.

Or toys. I grew up with a basement full. And lately I've been learning more and finding opportunities to snag Lincoln Logs, Skyland Giants, and stuffed animals. It just seems like an industry with less competition for the average adult.

What I like about both options is that they're not immediate insane competition. Tons of people specialize in video games, vintage band t-shirts, or even electronics. Finding a niche would mean finding my place.

Whatever it is, we’re getting closer. Another month down means another month to start, and I’m ready for the next challenge. Until next time, thanks for reading!