Whether searching the offerings at an estate sale or combing through the aisles of a thrift store, society is obsessed with the idea of “the find.” Every junk yard and flea market offers a real treasure hunt for anyone willing to do the work.
With the right approach, thrift store flipping – the practice of purchasing items from a thrift shop with the intent to resell them – can go from a hobby to an income stream. No, not every trip is going to yield a long-lost Picasso, but learning more about thrift store flipping just might give you the incentive to look a little closer the next time you’re checking out the local store.
Thrift Store Flipping Tips
Once you know what to look for at the thrift store, you can better seek out the buys with the most upside. Then, simply do a little maintenance and repair if necessary, clean them up, and resell them. It’s impossible to guarantee a profit, but knowing what to go for can help increase your chances of making a buck or two from your hard work.
Here are several quick tips on how to ensure you turn a profit from your thrift store finds:
- Always Check Online First. Your smartphone is your best tool when thrifting for a profit. Make sure you have a reliable connection when you’re out shopping, because the best way to ensure a profit is to perform a quick search on eBay before you buy an item. It acts as a pretty reliable barometer for an eventual selling price, and can give you a baseline to work from. If you’re not sure whether a certain item is collectible, see how many are on eBay, the average current bid, and any available past sales information. Just remember that condition can make a big difference, so base your research on items in similar condition (gently used versus new with tags, for example).
- Check for Markings. Not sure if that pottery is worth anything? Check for stamping somewhere on the piece, look up the stamp online, and see how that corresponds to resale value. Kovels is just one of many sites with a great directory of pottery stamps organized by shape and letter. If you have a piece of jewelry, you can usually find a stamp on the clasp or on the back of a pendant. Check jewelry marks against the ones on display at Lang Antiques.
- Shop High-End Locations. Higher-end areas tend to amass higher-end thrift store hauls, so you might find better-quality and name-brand goods in those neighborhoods.
- Use Discount Days. Thrift stores constantly need to rotate their inventory because of donations. Therefore, many shops have a day or two each month where items are deeply discounted to make room for the next batch. For example, my local thrift store has 50%-off days throughout the month. The less you pay, the higher your profit after flipping.
- Clean It Up. Always make sure an item can be cleaned before it’s sold. Delicate clothing with dry cleaning tags might not be a wise choice – unless it’s a high-end designer item, you’re unlikely to recoup its original cost, plus laundering. Check for stains and smells first, and turn away from any garments that need more than laundering or the application of a lint roller. When it comes to housewares, look for things that show little signs of wear, remembering that certain materials, such as glass, ceramic, and silver, might require a little polishing before selling. Again, always compare your finds to similar items online, since certain materials sell better without polishing.
- Consider Shipping Costs. Unless you get lucky, margins for thrift store flipping can be pretty slim. Therefore, anything that could cut into those margins should be avoided. Always consider how the cost of shipping can affect your bottom line – for example, you might be able to sell fitness equipment, but if it’s heavy, it’s going to cost you a lot to ship. Heavy or odd-shaped goods might work better for local resale, rather than online auction sites. The same can be said for bulky or delicate items, since you may need to pay for insurance.
Ultimately, the amount you make boils down to your research. By confirming that an item is actually worth more than the thrift store price and that you can easily sell it at its higher value, you have a pretty good chance at scoring a profit. Just remember that shipping and listing fees should be factored into the final cost of each item you purchase with the intent to sell.
Best Items to Turn a Profit
1. Books and Textbooks
Generally, individual books aren’t a huge moneymaker, but book lots traditionally sell very well at online auction sites. Take for example a set of “Harry Potter” books: Used box sets in good condition (both paperback and hardcover) sell for around $30 to $50 on eBay, and you can find them considerably cheaper if you happen to snag a set in the thrift store.
Other popular box sets include “Anne of Green Gables,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Even if you find just one or two books from these box sets, they can bring in more than a typical paperback, since collectors could be looking to add to their current library.
Keep an eye out for college textbooks as well, since students might donate them without checking their resale value. Not all are worth a gold mine though, so make sure you check going rates on auction sites before investing your money in what might be an outdated reference.
2. Picture Frames
Thrift stores often have their fair share of art, and buying a piece for resale can be risky. Luckily though, if you look past the painting, you can see the real opportunity: the frame.
Picture frames are always in high demand, especially when they’re large or ornate. When perusing racks of paintings, look closely at the frames and choose the ones in great condition. Larger frames are ideal for local sale, while smaller ones can be shipped to a happy new owner, with or without the painting.
3. Video Games
Video games can be nostalgic for gamers, and some popular titles and genres are in high demand. Generally, the oldest and the newest games sell best, so avoid titles from outdated systems that haven’t yet gained iconic status, such as PlayStation 2 or Wii. Games for the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System, on the other hand, can be in high demand. For newer games, you might be able to make money on anything for a current system such as Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Wii U.
4. Brand-Name Clothes or Clothing Lots
Thrift store clothing doesn’t always turn a profit – many people figure they can purchase used garments from the thrift store themselves. However, you can drive up the price of that clothing if you search for brand names or if you’re willing to put together a clothing lot.
Brand-name garments sell well because people search for certain labels on online shopping sites such as eBay. It’s a great way for buyers to get the status of a label they love without having to pay department store or boutique prices. Look for high-end designers like Coach, DVF, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and Gucci, as well as “mall brands” like Nine West, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Aeropostale.
You can also opt for a clothing lot, which can potentially bring in more cash through online auctions. For instance, assembling 10 maternity garments in the same size is likely to bring more interest than one shirt on its own. What’s more, you can often save on shipping costs when listing items as a lot, rather than selling them one at a time. The best way to create a lot is to combine clothing of the same size and same type (such as maternity, summer clothes, or winter wear) and mix a few name brands in with lower-end items.
5. Pyrex and Glassware
Glassware is long-lasting, so you can probably find a ton of it at your local thrift store. However, the difference between just another set of glasses and those that can generate real buyer interest is in their status as collectibles. Glassware lovers enjoy vintage Pyrex cookware, as well as glass in different shapes and colors, so keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
If you can’t find cool blue glass or decorated cookware, look for full glass sets. A set of tumblers is usually more of a local seller than mismatched glasses listed one-by-one online.
6. Sporting Equipment
Brand-new sporting goods are expensive, so as long as they’re in good shape and without wear, rips, tears, or deterioration, people are often eager to snag items secondhand at a thrift store to save money. These are also great items to sell as lots, since a mom with a hockey-playing kid might be looking for all of the gear at once. A word to the wise, though – look for signs of sweat or unpleasant smells before you buy, since sporting goods might not be the easiest to clean.
7. Records and Record Players
Many thrift shops have an area for old records and record players, and both are highly collectible. It’s not unusual to find a record player for less than $10, and many sell for $20 to $50 on eBay.
Vinyl albums are very collectible as well – just use your online sleuthing skills and look up albums before you purchase them expressly for resale. You might be surprised at how much money diehard fans are willing to pay for records.
8. Anything With a Tag
When making purchases to flip, a general rule of thumb is that if it has a tag, buy it. These items can be listed as “new with tags” on online shopping sites, and can fetch much more than the same item in the same condition but without tags. In fact, there’s an entire subset of online auction shoppers who only purchase items that still have their tags as a way to display their newness and lack of use. If it has tags – whether a jacket, a pair of shoes, accessories, or housewares – you’re likely to turn a profit.
Where to Sell
The obvious choice for reselling thrift store items is via an online auction site such as eBay. It gives you access to a massive customer base and simplifies the selling process with online tools and a great mobile app. If you have antique goods, you can also try selling them on Etsy, which is an online fixed-price marketplace for handmade, vintage, and antique items.
If the idea of shipping an item simply isn’t feasible, local sales work best. You could advertise a piece via Craigslist, or have a yard sale. If you resell often, you may want to look into local flea markets and farmers’ markets, where shoppers are looking for original antique pieces and fun knick-knacks.
Some folks may have questions about the ethical nature of thrift store flipping – there are arguments online as to whether it’s okay to flip an item that a person donated in hopes that it would go to someone less fortunate. However, it’s important to remember that thrift stores are in the business of turning a profit too. So while they’re a hub for those who may not be able to afford more expensive or brand-new items, their main concern is making money and keeping the shop open. That’s why they price goods as they see fit, according to their knowledge of the industry and their bottom line. Still, it’s good manners to show restraint and choose quality over quantity if you’re planning on reselling your stuff.
From a casual hobby to an actual way to make side money, thrift store flipping has major potential. Educate yourself on what’s selling and be prepared to do some digging. Who knows? You might be the one who turns up the next great treasure.
What do you think about thrift store flipping? Do you have any additional tips to share?