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  • Writer's pictureTrader Chris Staff

Make Money from your Thrifting -- Tips from a Thrift Shop Picker

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

If you enjoy bargain hunting or thrift shopping, you can turn your hobby into a profitable side hustle, or even a full-time job.

Flipping -- or Thrift Picking--is the act of purchasing items from thrift stores, yard and estate sales, and reselling them for a profit.

This month we interviewed veteran Thrift Flipper David Briley for an inside scoop on the world of Thrift Picking.

TCC: How did you get interested/involved in picking?

DB: My first interaction with selling through Ebay happened when I was getting rid of items after a separation. The most promising item was a large set of china, and when I received an estimate of what would pay for it I was surprised because it was ridiculously low...about 10-15% of retail. So, I opened an Ebay account & sold it myself.

Man and woman examining a vase at estate sale.

Over the years I sold things of higher value that my boys and I didn't need any more, and some collectibles as well. Then a few years ago I was let go from my job during a major reorganization. On top of the job loss, I was a single father of 2 teenage boys that I had 50/50 custody of, and I was managing health and financial matters for multiple elderly family members. I didn't see how a traditional 40-60 hr/week job would fit into my life at that moment. I began picking more, almost as stress relief as I travelled to take care of family members in eastern NC and things just grew nicely from there. I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and this has been a great outlet for it. It's very satisfying to find something "discarded" on a shelf, clean it up and/or fix it, and give it a new life.

TCC: What are your favorite places to look for finds?

DB: I look in thrift stores mostly, occasionally estate sales and yard sales, and I keep an eye on a couple of local trading post type apps. There are definitely plenty of people out there "looking" for items in our area, but everyone has a slightly different eye for what may be of value.

Man at thrift store shopping for and examining a vintage victrola.
Keep an open mind and don't limit yourself on what you will buy.

TCC: What types of items are most profitable?

You never know....... You have to keep a very open mind while picking. This is one of the things I enjoy most about it; finding value in things others don't. I purchased a highly desired vintage typewriter for $20 that is worth $350. A recent $100 purchase of a discontinued truck rack netted about $1000 when parted out. I picked up a Cleanroom quality vacuum for $20 that sold for $450. I rarely acquire an item until I know almost exactly how much I can net from its sale. Margin is the real advantage of picking. Just yesterday I picked up 3 new niche machine parts for $4 each. I have them listed for $240.

Thrift flipper shopping at a garage sale looking at vases and china..
Avoid "highly collectible" items and most china.

TCC: What pitfalls have you found? Any disaster stories? What have you learned to avoid?

DB: My biggest frustration is the limitations imposed by Ebay, the platform I use for selling. Easily over 99% of buyers are GREAT and incredibly appreciative of outstanding service, but there is a very small percentage of "bad buyers" out there that will be dishonest about what they receive. Unfortunately, you will lose some money on them.

Disaster stories---I had a buyer claim that a new item I shipped them was used. They would not provide any pictures as proof. I was forced to take the return and had it shipped back to me. It was a large item, and it was expensive to ship back at my expense. When I got it back, it had a broken part. I now had to refund the original purchase price including shipping, I also paid return shipping, and now had an unsellable item! I learned to cut my losses and keep in mind the selling platform does not always have my back.

Thrift store picker carrying large clock at yard sale.

I’ve learned to avoid fragile and large/heavy items. Shipping is either a huge pain for these, incredibly expensive, or both. I avoid china for the most part unless it's very profitable. There's a lot of labor in packing and there are relatively few patterns that are worth the effort. I avoid many "highly collectible" items. There are tons of dolls, plates, figurines and other items that generated tons of money in the creators’ pockets but are (in many cases) worth almost nothing now.

TCC: How much income could a newbie expect to make?

DB: Well, this is a very tricky question and difficult to answer, but I think a newbie could make several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars a month as long as they don't limit themselves to certain niches. If you’re “handy,” and can fix the occasional damaged item as well, you’ll make more.

using cell phone to look up prices
Use your phone to research prices before you buy. Ignore "for sale" prices, look up what the item sold for recently.

TCC: Any advice for someone just starting out?

DB: Keep an open mind and don't limit yourself on what you will buy. Use your phone to research items before you purchase. Don't look up how much someone is selling the item for, look up what it's sold for recently.

TCC: Thanks David!

We hope we've given you some ideas and that you'll give thrift picking a try. If you have any questions for David, let us know and we'll forward them his way. If you find treasures at a thrift store and would like help determining the value or selling them, please contact us or give us a call at 919 448-7325. We'd love to help.

Happy thrifting!

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