Those Vintage Valuables
Tips for turning your passion into profit
Have you ever run into an old friend wearing a T-shirt of some unknown band you remember listening to when you were younger?
Or do you have that oddball in your family who collects the most ridiculous trinkets and then hoards them because there’s a chance they might be worth money “someday”?
If so, I have some news for you: They might be right. Some people, in fact, have turned the art of hunting vintage valuables into a full-time job.
You may be thinking, “Sure, I have some old stuff from when I was a teen, but I’m pretty sure only hipsters are buying that sort of stuff.”
Wrong! With the recent surge of hipsters (and their varying degrees of hipster-ness), you’ll probably have more people looking to buy vintage items than ever before. More buyers mean more money, which, for the community of vintage “pickers,” as they often refer to themselves, is a wonderful thing.
Fat Andyz Vintage is a one-man “company” that has existed for more than a decade. I’ve known “Andy” for six years, but early on, our small talk led to the discovery that Andy sells vintage T-shirts and other collectibles online.
Referring to it as a hobby, Andy said he was spending enough time and effort that it could be considered a job, and collects enough income from it to justify that label. However, because he already had a full-time job, Andy is able to take something fun, interesting, and profitable, and use it for supplemental income.
Andy fell into the vintage world by mistake, starting out by selling pop culture items on eBay, then progressed to selling contest winnings and eventually trinkets and knickknacks found at yard sales and flea markets.
Some people have turned the art of hunting vintage valuables into a full-time job.
“One of my good musician friends, who had moved away, spent most of the summer back home. We both enjoy ‘picking,'" he said. "We spent most days scouring thrift stores, flea markets and lawn sales. I would look for anything collectible while he concentrated more on vintage clothes.”
Andy soon realized his friend was actually looking for clothes to wear, not sell. Immediately, Andy saw the potential of selling vintage clothes and, for the past few years, has been operating Fat Andyz Vintage, selling vintage clothing on eBay.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it, so I asked Andy to explain the pros and cons of what he does, how much income potential there is, and where someone could go if they wanted to learn more about the trade.
For nearly every vintage item there's a community of experts.
To start in the vintage world, there’s one relatively simple trick to make it as easy as possible. Find something you already enjoy and know a lot about. Andy explains that T-shirts are his favorite vintage item because “they’re easy to list, easy to store, easy to photograph and easy to ship.”
After identifying what items you want to focus on first, there are two things necessary to maintain it: research and experience. Doing your own research is important, but for nearly every vintage item there’s a community of experts. In the case of Andy, he attributes much of his expertise to Defunkd.com, a vintage T-shirt community.
Find a community of people interested in the items you’re selling and participate. Ask questions, offer answers to others, stay involved with others. Eventually you’ll know what sells, what’s rare, and what to keep an eye out for in your travels.
It’s like a second job that can easily take most of your free time.
Because there’s money involved, there may be some who are hesitant to share their expertise, but for the most part people are eager to talk about their passion. At Defunkd, for instance, the community is helpful in identifying mysterious T-shirts, offering advice, directing newcomers, and even pricing. Not everything is public information, though.
“The only thing that is usually not shared is specific places where we’ve made some scores,” Andy said. There’s no benefit in sharing your favorite honey-hole.
Another factor in how to approach this hobby is location. On his blog, Andy explains that estate sales and country auctions are a great place to find treasures, but that often brings a crowd.
“There are usually more resources within larger cities, but that usually means more people looking there, too,” he said.
“Many of the sellers I’ve befriended do this full time. It’s their only job.”
Searching online won’t yield great results, though some sellers will search for deals. You’re selling online, too, so buying online and trying to flip an item won’t get you impressive profits. Instead, focus on searching your physical area, then selling your gains online. That’s not to say you won’t find a deal online, but it’s not entirely common.
It’s nice to know what to expect if you’re seriously considering venturing into the vintage vista, which is why Andy was blunt about how much time and effort it takes to really see a payoff.
“You have to remember, it’s like a second job that can easily take most of your free time. It’s not quick money — finding items, taking photos, creating listings and shipping the items is a lot of work, especially if you’re already working a full-time day job,” Andy said. “Many of the sellers I’ve befriended do this full time. It’s their only job.”
It took about four years of work before FatAndyz Vintage was considered a legitimate business, so don’t expect to quit your day job immediately.
“I worked on it almost every day, whether it was taking photographs, listing items (on eBay), promoting my items on social media, or looking for new items. I was doing something every day,” he said. “But it can payoff, too. Admittedly, my eBay store hasn’t been updated like it once was, but during my best years I was grossing more than $30,000 per year in sales.”
And while T-shirts are his area of expertise, Andy has sold everything from Strawberry Shortcake dolls made in the 1980s to a Roy Rogers guitar from the '50s. His most notable is an original Woodstock shirt he sold for $800.
It’s OK to focus on one area, but it’s important not to limit yourself either.
“I started selling items on eBay in 2004 and was listing only five to 10 items per week. As I started doing more, I really enjoyed it," he said. "That’s the biggest secret: You have to enjoy the work! I have friends who thought they would go to yard sales and thrift stores and try to sell collectibles themselves. They didn’t enjoy doing it and stopped within a few weeks.”
If after all of Andy’s advice you’re still interested in pursuing this as a hobby or getting into it full time, he offers a few more tips to consider:
- The Christmas season is always the best time of the year to sell, but also the most work.
- Pricing can be tricky. Sometimes it’s better to offer a high fixed price and field offers. Other times, especially with popular items, you can start an auction at 99 cents and enjoy the bidding war.
- Do your research. Yes, it’s been mentioned, but it’s also important when you’re selling. Look to see if there’s someone else selling the same item or if one has been sold recently. Compare the condition of the item to yours and set a competitive price.
- The most important thing to remember is that you should be enjoying yourself. It’s hard work and takes up nearly all of your free time, but if you’re having fun and genuinely like what you’re doing, you won’t mind at all.
This isn’t a foolproof guide to running your business, but it will get you started. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears necessary in any business, even one as fun as this.
There will be growing pains and lessons learned that you may wish you’d only heard about, but with dedication and tenacity, you might find yourself as the next expert of vintage board games, rocking horses, or whatever it is you’re passionate about. At the very least, you’ll have some fun.