How I Used Instagram to Start a Vintage Resale Shop and Earn Over $25,000 in 10 months

During the height of the pandemic, you may have noticed a lot of Instagram resale vintage shops popping up. One of my friends Nicole who runs the Grandmillennial Shop was the inspiration for me to start my own to test the waters to see what products my audience would be interested in buying if I wanted to open a retail store. Over the 10 months, while I was experimenting, I gleaned a lot of insights from how to communicate with my audience and optimize their shopping experience which helped me earn $25,000 in the process. If you’re interested in starting your own Instagram vintage resale shop, here’s how I optimized mine for success.

Vintage Resale Shop

Optimizing Your Instagram Account for your Vintage Resale Shop

While I may have had a leg up on social media followings from my content creation account, I started completely fresh with my vintage resale but I didn’t start posting about resale content immediately- instead, I became the “faux-thority” (faux authority) of the niche I wanted to target. This meant that I curated a bunch of photos of green-hued interiors and reposted them onto my account (with proper credit and attribution of course) and gathered a following of like-minded people. I knew that the items I was collecting would fit well into the modern traditionalist/ modern southern home aesthetic, so I featured images that resonated with that crowd. By posting at optimal times, using relevant hashtags, I was able to gain nearly 1,000 followers for that account in under 2 months.

 

Finding and Curating the Right Items for your Vintage Resale Shop

While I was building my Instagram presence, I was going to estate sales and off-the-beaten-path thrift stores to find my items. The best day for deals at estate sales is always the last day but if you want to get the pick of the goods, always go on day 1 EARLY. To find estate sales I always used the estatesales.net app. There I could browse photos, make a list, and make a plan for what I was shopping for. You’ll start learning who puts on a great estate sale pretty quickly. If you live in Atlanta, I’ve listed my favorite estate sale companies here.

If you’re new to estate saling, I do have 3 steadfast rules I adhere to to determine if the sale is going to be a good one:

  1. Does the house have original period piece wallpaper or wood paneling? This probably indicates that the owners have good taste and held onto things. Worth attending.
  2. Is there a collection of uncommon and unpractical things (like a specific type of pottery, copper cookware, or bookends?) chances are they have other weird collections that haven’t been highlighted in the photos. Worth attending and snooping around.
  3. Is there a basement or an attic? Always attend. Basements and attics have been where I’ve found consistently amazing things to resell. Typically it’s not a place where the estate sale host will spend time cataloging what’s there so you can find treasures hidden about (like the Golden Hour clock I found for my husband in perfect working condition for $5).

When curating items, I especially have this rule in place:

“If I do not want to invite it into my home to stay forever, I should not buy it.” Even when I was stocking up in advance for future collections and had a customer base, I never purchased anything that I wouldn’t want in my home. On the off chance that it doesn’t sell (which does happen!) I would need to find a home for it in my home or take it to the thrift store.

Items to avoid when starting your shop:

  • Anything that needs extensive repairs, especially electrical.
  • Linens with significant browning or stains throughout
  • Furniture that needs to be reupholstered *unless you could see it living in your home*
  • Large pieces of furniture that cannot be shipped by UPS/FedEx
  • Any sort of glassware or fragile porcelain/ ceramic
  • Books* even rare books are hard to resell because the market is so niche
  • Clothing if you are not a clothing-only shop. It’s difficult to mix decor and clothing for resale. Plus gauging your customer bases size is risky.

Items you should snag for your shop:

  • Small items that fit into shipping bags
  • Metal barware
  • Candle accessories
  • Decor and original artwork
  • Unique kitchen utensils
  • Clothing if you are going to be a clothing-only shop.
  • Linens (complete napkin sets and 8 person table tablecloths)

 

Vintage Resale Shop

Use these tools to Price Your Items

Now that you have your items and you’re preparing the shop to open, you should start scouring the internet to find relevant prices and follow other online Instagram shops in your niche to see how they’re pricing their items. This is what is referred to as the “market price”.

eBay, Etsy, and Worthpoint are all good resources to see how the general market is buying and selling items. I would strongly advise not basing your sell price at prices you see listed on One Kings Lane or Chairish. These websites cater to a higher-end customer and the sellers typically have time to sit on their item and wait for that price to come through. If you’re positioning yourself as a high-end reseller, then you can browse these sites to get an idea of what to price for yours, just note that you’ll likely sit on your items longer since the higher the price point the more the “consideration” time is to purchase from your audience.

Follow and engage with other Instagram sellers in your niche to see how they are pricing their items (another easy way to determine the market price that your audience would be interested in purchasing at) and to start building a community of people to help you promote your items that don’t sell.

If you’re going to be buying items to resell, I highly recommend getting a Sales & Use tax ID (can be found by googling “[your state] sales & use tax ID” so that you can avoid paying taxes when purchasing your items from certain vendors. Every month you do have to submit how much you’ve purchased in retail on their online portal, but this normally takes a few minutes out of your month to in turn save you 5-10% of your resale cost.

Once you have a general idea of how much to resell your items at, now you need to understand the science behind creating your gross profit- your revenue minus your cost.

For small items that I can offer free shipping on, I would generally try to get to a profit margin of 60% plus. For larger items, I would try to set the profit margin at about 20-30%. This way, when I ran sales and had to ditch inventory, I would have a typical profit margin of about 50%.

Generally, I would list small items that we’re purchased for under $10 (like candle snuffers and the like) for nearly double or triple their purchase price. The smaller the item, the more you should upcharge (so long as you aren’t over-pricing the market), and the larger the item, the less your upcharge should be.

Example:
Candle Snuffer Purchase Price: $4 || List Price $28 || Minus Free Shipping -$6 || Profit: $18 || Profit Margin ($18/$28 = 64%)

Large Vase Purchase Price: $28 || List Price $44 || No Free Shipping || Profit $16 || Profit Margin ($16/ $44 = 36%)

Learning your audience’s buying habits is also important. I learned that items priced above $45 had a higher consideration effect than items priced beneath that threshold. Looking back, the average price of all of my items sold was $39, so it turns out that my audience resonated with items priced at that level. Learning your audience’s buying habits will take a few sales, so until you can do that, make sure you’re setting your price according to the market.

Listing and Selling Your Items for your Vintage Resale Shop

Now the time has come to list and sell your items! Yay! Make sure before you convert your faux-thority Instagram account over to your selling account, you properly tease and notify your audience what to expect. Generally, it takes about 8 days to do this properly. Let them know something exciting is happening on your intended launch date. Let your IG shop friends know that you’re going to try running a shop yourself and would love the promotion when it launches. Most importantly, on the day of, make sure you notify your audience of the rules of how your shop will work. You can head to our Instagram page to see how I set up our “how to shop” rules on the home page. You’ll want to re-release this every time on your stories before you list your items so that your new customers are aware of the shopping rules.

If you’re going to be scheduling an auction-style Instagram shopping series where people purchase straight from your feed, I highly recommend using a scheduling app that will post on your behalf (like Planoly). This way you can upload your images, copy, and tag relevant hashtags without having to manually enter them yourself.

The way you list your captions is also important. I like the format “Title, Price, Description, Rules of shopping” which is what a few other IG shops use in my niche. Adopting the same purchasing format makes it easier for people to adhere to your shop policies and can convert them into customers more quickly. The more frictionless you can make it for your customers to shop, the happier they will be and the more likely they will return.

Free shipping is a great way to bring in new customers. While free shipping isn’t free for you, the seller, the buyer sees this as a discount and is willing to purchase more. There are a lot of smart PhD scientists out there who’ve written thousands of papers on the subject, so if you want to read more about the science behind it, go scour HBR. All I’ll say is, items that were listed with free shipping or free local pick up, drew a faster buying crowd than items that had shipping calculated at checkout.

I allowed my audience to send payment via Venmo and Paypal. Just note that these platforms will track your activity and after a few sales they will likely A) restrict you from making multiple transactions in one day to B) get you to sign up for a business account. They take fees out of your item price, so make sure to include that on your COGs tracking. 

Keeping Track of your Inventory for Your Vintage Resale Shop

Without question, the most important thing you can do for your business is to keep track of your inventory to understand: A) what you have collected, B) how much you paid C) how much you plan to list it for, and D) who purchased it.

I have heard (and seen) horror stories about keeping track of everything on pieces of paper… my excel-loving anxiety-filled heart dies to hear that.

But not you! You’re smart and you found this article so now I’m gifting you my excel book to help you run your business. Completely free. I designed this little tracker to help me track all of my inventory and manage my expenses, costs and to do all sorts of fun things like understanding my customer’s willingness to pay, their shipping habits, and who my most loyal customers are.

If you’re running a shop through a website, it’s likely that this will help you keep track of it some, but if you’re doing a test run through Instagram, you’re going to need this excel sheet to help you manage it.

Here are some highlights from this excel sheet:

At the top, you have a running tracker of your total expenses, revenue, and profit. This way you can see if you have broken even for you items that you’ve purchased.

You can track when you purchased an item and list the sell date so you can understand your average holding period. This is good especially when you are planning on seasonality and when inventory tends to sell the quickest.

I created separate tabs so that you can start adding your customers in when you receive their addresses for shipping. This way you don’t have to manually look for their addresses each time you go to ship something to them.

Recommendations for tracking inventory (whether you’re using our sheet or not)

Whenever you buy an item, the day you bring it home, add it to your inventory tracking sheet with the item price (don’t forget to include tax/ credit card processing fees per item), and do a search to see how much the market price is for the item.

It’s also wise to list what category your item falls under. If you’re focusing on home decor, you could have categories like barware, books, bathroom, bookshelf, decor, holiday, tabletop, etc. This way, when an item sells, you’ll know what category of items resonates with your audience the most.

Clean and prep your items when you bring them home. Most items have been sitting, collecting dust, and therefore, the dreaded “grandma” smell. I always cleaned my items with hot soapy water as soon as I brought them home. It helped cut down on the “old” smell and allowed me to inspect the item further. Plus it made photo day easier in the long run.

What to do if your items don’t sell?

It totally happens! I had a lot that didn’t sell at my intended list price which is why our excel sheet has a “list price” column and a “sale price” column so you can see the difference in retail versus sale for an item.

This is another especially important reason why you want to methodically track your inventory, so you know the bottom of the barrel price you can charge to move inventory and price from there. When we did our Juniper Mercantile closing sale, I was able to quickly see what I had “hoped” to get for retail price versus what my purchase price was. In the long run, it was more beneficial for me to sell at cost to my customers than try to finagle any sort of upselling and I didn’t have to wonder if I lost money on any of the items because it was all methodically tracked.

I also at one point put together a group of similar resellers in the area asking them if they wanted to buy (at my purchase price) any of the items I had left in inventory to sell to their audiences.

At the end of the day, anything I had left on hand from the closing sale just went to the thrift store. I was fortunate to only have a few things leftover and if it weren’t for my methodical tracking I wouldn’t have known what kind of loss I was experiencing.

I hope you have found this article helpful and realize that you don’t have to have a brick-and-mortar store to make money from reselling vintage items! Using Instagram is an easy way to sell your items and make a profit from your effort.

Vintage Resale Shop

Author: Cynthia

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  • Do I need a business license for this type of shop? If I’m just selling on it stagfam?

    • Generally no if you don’t plan to make more than $600 per month (depending on your state) but you still are responsible for filing taxes for income that you bring in. I would recommend getting one because you will end up saving money on your tax return in the end.