All of us resalers want to find the big score in resale shops – that elusive treasure worth so much that you paid so little for, and no one found it but you!
You’ve heard about Michael Sparks in 2006 finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence for $2.48 that later sold at auction for $477, 650. How about the scrap metal dealer who paid $1,400 at a flea market for a Faberge egg valued at $30 million?
These events go viral because of their rarity, and your chances of having the same luck are about as good as falling in a rabbit hole on top of an original Picasso. Yet very day, people are finding treasure in resale shops, even if the values are more modest. But there’s no luck involved.
If you want to find treasure, you have to roll up your sleeves and put in the work. Consider the steps below as the treasure map, and you’re on your way.
First An Example of What NOT To Do
When I first began selling online, it was out of necessity. As an only child, I inherited whole households every time family members passed away. Some things I kept to use or for sentimental reasons, some I donated, and some were tossed, but what remained was still too much. It was either us or the “things” had to move.
I started by selling on eBay. Because these objects had been in my family, I had a story to tell with each one, knew their origins and relative values, and I sold enough to qualify as an eBay top-seller. This e-commerce business was insane!
When I’d gone through everything I chose to sell, I didn’t want to stop, so I went on the hunt for resale items to buy low and sell high. My criteria were what I thought was a good bargain, what I guessed people would be interested in, and what I suspected might have a higher value when resold.
I went crazy in resale shops. I’ll admit it was a lot of fun, though I was naïve. The result was, not only was I out the purchase price of everything, I was out the listing fees, and stuck with things neither I nor anyone else wanted. I was back to the beginning with too much stuff!
While boxing my undesirables for donation, I realized I knew nothing about them, unlike the family collectibles I’d sold before. Hmmm…and if buying and reselling online was so easy, why wasn’t everyone rich? Could it be I was clueless?
Determined to learn what it was I didn’t know, I did an in-depth study of what the real pros were doing – the ones who consistently made a profit in resale. The more I learned, the more it became obvious where I’d gone wrong, and how to overcome the obstacles. I developed a strategy, the one I’m sharing with you below, and eventually got back on top enjoying every minute of flipping finds in resale shops and making money. I’d become a successful treasure hunter.
The Big Secret To Treasure in Resale Shops
There is no way you can identify all the hallmarks of fine china, be an expert on 1960’s album covers, know the current market value of semi-precious metals, and be an authority on fabrics from around the world all at once, which is why PBS’s Antiques Road Show has more than one expert.
The secret is you have to specialize. It’s the difference between standing in the middle of a treasure trove of resale shops and seeing nothing but a lot of “things”, and being able to spot that one valuable piece as if it were standing alone with all the rays of the sun shining upon it.
Whether you’re in the game to make a profit, or simply for the thrill of the hunt, specializing in one area is the only way to win.
Step 1: Choose Your Specialty
We all have to start with choosing a specialty. It isn’t necessary to already have a hobby, collection, or knowledge in a specialized field, though it puts you a step ahead.
For some, picking a subject is the hardest part because there are so many choices, but you can narrow it down by these requirements.
- Choose something you’ll enjoy learning about. Skip this part, and you’ll soon be bored out of your mind.
- Don’t select something so rare you’ll never find it in resale shops. Fascinating as they may be to you, you probably won’t come across many authenticated letters from Mark Antony to Cleopatra.
- Remain flexible. You may have to test drive a few subjects before finding the right one for you.
Research, Research, and Research some more. This is when you have to burn the midnight oil and do your homework, but you won’t mind because you’ve picked a subject that interests you, right?
Every good research project starts with a good outline, and I’ve given you one below. Once you’ve filled it in with your research, you’ll have a solid knowledge base.
Even if you know something about the subject, there is always more to learn. You never know what you don’t know, and there is no excuse for cutting corners when you can jump online and have so much information at your fingertips, find books on the subject, take any available classes, and get in chat forums.
- Document your resources. You may need to refer to them many times.
- Verify the information. Don’t depend on one resource to be accurate or complete. The more you dig, the more you’ll learn.
- If at any point you find your subject impractical, better to pick a new subject and start over than to beat your brains in for no reason.
- Revise information as you go along – “knowing you know nothing is the beginning of wisdom”.
To demonstrate, I’m using Nancy Drew Books as the subject because of the first two rules above; I’m interested in them, (you weren’t here for suggestions when I wrote this), and books can be most resale shops.
Replace my answers in red with answers that apply to your own subject matter. You obviously may have a different number of items depending on the diversity.
A. Define your subject – Books
Uh, uh, it isn’t that easy! Your objective is to start with the broadest category and keep defining the subject until you can’t go any further.
- Written communication
- English Language
- Written for children
- Ages 8 – 14
- Published 1932 – present
- Jacket present
- Series Title – Nancy Drew Mystery Series
Now you have it! Depending on your subject, you can have more or fewer elements, of course. Sometimes you can’t peel back the layers until you start your research, and that’s okay. You can go back and finish the definition as you go along.
Example, you never knew there were so many English language books written for girls ages 8-14 written from 1932 to present. The more research you do, the more layers you can find.
B. Why Are They Important?
No matter what your subject is, it has importance, or it wouldn’t have been sold in the first place.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology written by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.
Somewhere in the pyramid, your subject can be found to answer someone’s needs, or it has no value at all. You may have more than one answer.
You may consider a pillow important because of safety – it keeps you from having a stiff neck
Physiological – you don’t sleep well without one
Esteem – you believe it helps reduce wrinkles while you sleep
C. To whom is it important
Just who the heck cares about these things? Again, you may have more than one answer, and the more you come up with the better
Example: Nancy Drew Books
- Ages 8 – 14
- Mystery readers
- Students of children’s literature
Here’s the nitty-gritty, the old 5 W’s and H. The more thoroughly you answer these questions based upon your research, the closer you’ll be to becoming a specialist.
Who: who made/makes it, who uses it, who sells it
What: organic or manufactured, (correlate with your definition)
When: when was it manufactured, when was it used, when was it sold
Where: what geographical area is it made in, is it made in a factory or a field, where is it sold
Why: (correlate with its importance)
How: is it made by hand or manufactured, what is the process, how many people are involved
E. Relative Comparisons
If you have more than one answer for any or all of the origin sub-headings, you’ll need to compare them. Simply put, what’s the difference between one and another?
Example: What’s the difference between wind-up and battery-operated watches?
Was there a different manufacturing process between watches from the 1900’s and now? Is there a significant difference by color, age, price, etc.?
You’ll find comparisons are easiest using a graph, especially the more elements you have to compare.
|Current Market Value||Made In Ireland||Made In Holland||Made In Syria|
Put in your own values depending upon your goal, and you may need more than one chart. For example, one might be comparing the current market values and one might compare scarcity.
|Ceramic Widgets Made|
You’ve done a great job! You know exactly what you’re looking for, but will you know it when you see it?
If you’re looking for an elephant in a haystack, skip this part. For most things, however, you’ll need to know how to tell the difference between treasure and trash. If you google “the difference between…” you’ll get 303,000,000 results as of this writing. That’s a lot of “differences”.
Examples: Many hand-blown paperweights have an acid-etched signature. Where’s it located, and what will it look like? How can you tell an antique rocking chair from a modern reproduction? Could you tell the difference between a real Faberge egg and a decorative egg made in New Jersey last year?
Researchers and experts who have gone before you are usually happy to share this information online, in books, and in person. People who profit from you knowing how to identify quality items, like the people who are selling them, are even happier to educate you.
This is one time when looking at the pictures along with reading the text is required. If you have the opportunity, take a class or workshop on the subject.
G. Current Market Value
If your goal is to find items with a high monetary value to flip and make a profit, to accumulate a valuable collection, or for any other reason, you want to be sure and find current market values.
Especially for collectibles, books covering your subject matter are an excellent source of information, except in the area of pricing. In today’s instant-information world of commerce, prices can change drastically day to day or even minute to minute. Price guides, by the time they are published, may already be obsolete. The same may be true of outdated websites.
If you’ve chosen a subject that has no price references online, you’ve picked one crazy subject, and definitely the wrong one, because it’s nearly impossible to come up with items that someone, somewhere hasn’t sold before.
For accurate information, you want to find out what the sold prices were, not the asking prices. The current market value is the price someone is willing to pay, not the profit the seller is hoping to make, and for this reason, researching on-line where the sold prices are shown is where you should focus.
Be sure the sold items you are referencing are identical to the ones you are researching, or you could be not only in a different ballpark but a different state. You learned in step 6 how to tell the difference.
Now you know what you’re looking for and why, how to know it when you see it, and the price range you want. The only remaining question is where to start looking.
If you specialize in collectible maps from the 1800’s, you probably want to start at auctions over a thrift store located in a new development with young families, and new Fischer Price toys won’t be plentiful at auctions, but at garage sales.
Refer back to your outline #3 – To Whom Is It Important. Where are these thrift shops most likely to sell these specialty items? Where are people most likely to look for them?
Congratulations!! You’ve worked hard and done a brilliant job!! You’ve taken the luck out of finding those elusive treasures in resale shops, and are on your way. Keep in mind, there is always more to learn, and if you like, more specialties to conquer.
If your ultimate goal is to profit from finding treasure in resale shops and flipping them, be sure to check for upcoming posts and step-by-step guides!