I recently finished reading a self help business book targeting the self employed and the number one tip pushed was, everyone should have a side hustle. Now if you read my introductory post, this is more than a side job for me, but I do consider it part time because of my heavy home load. With that said, if you love vintage, need some extra cash and are looking to set up your own shop there are a few basics you should know. I'm not a pro, but I did stumble a lot before I was able to walk and now I steadily jog. Working up my endurance to sprint, but I'm in it for the long haul.
1. Do not buy every good deal you find.
This can be so hard to fall into and most beginners do this. There is always a learning curve, so expect a bit of not knowing what is more valuable and in demand than others. But just because it is at the thrift store and marked 50% off and worth a bit more, does not mean it will sell and stale products are not profitable. Quality is always trumps quantity. And rare beats common.
2. Find you niche.
If you watch the shows on tv where they buy and sell antiques you will see so many cool things they do not pick. That is solely because they don't have knowledge or interest in that area, or they don't market to the people that do. The second mistake I made when starting out vintage was just this, I bought a lot of things that were old that I thought were cool, but I wasn't entirely passionate about them. I was just trying to fill my store. To a degree thats ok, but we will touch on that in a bit. There are so many different types of design in vintage, goinng by era or color scheme, product type etc. Look back at what you typically like to buy for yourself. What you fill your home with, how you dress, the things you covet. That is going to be the easiest place for you to market, because you love what you buy and you are already familiar with it. There are many people who love books and so only sell books. With an online storefront, you are the curator. Bring your audience a piece of you. If you streamline your store, you will get repeat customers.
3. Know your market.
Point two and three go hand in hand. If you want to sell clothes from the 90s, do some research. What was hot and in demand then, and what is hot and in demand now. Where are those people shopping? What are they pinning on Pinterest? How can you get their attention so they start shopping with you?
Visual media is a great tool for this, and Etsy Teams are incredibly helpful and most will help promote your products if you promote them back.
4. Make customer service a priority.
I worked in a upscale fast food resturant before I had kids and the number one rule pounded into me was, the customer is always right. You may get disgruntled customers. Solve the issue as you see fit, where the customer feels like they come out ahead, and solve it fast. This also goes for inquiring customers, a prompt response ups the likelyhood of a sale, now or in the future. Respond to social media comments the same way. My site says I do not offer returns, but if I have an upset customer -far and few, but you do have to account for it- I will gladly give them a discount, refund them or request that the item is returned to me before I send a refund. You are the face of your business, even if they never actually meet you, so put your face out there or be willing to take phone calls to assist your buyers. When you have the funds, create business cards to slip into each order, put a return customer coupon on the back or a hand written note in each order, that personal touch goes a long way.
5. Learn how to ship and pack well.
Ebay.com and Amazon.com are great resources for packing supplies, which you should always be stocked up on. I have a local Uhaul that has a large assortment of boxes, packing paper, tape and peanuts at a reasonable cost and go there in a pinch. In selling vintage, how you package your item is just as important as how you market. Most items are not readily replaceable, I have many customers who buy dishes to accompany their parents or grandparents sets and would be very dissapointed if they arrived damaged. Most dishes I come across once, I do no come acorss again, so I strive to put in more padding than necessary. Start with a sturdy box large than your item, foam padding is good for inbetween plates, bubble wrap for glass, packing peanuts and paper in the gap between the item and the box. A digital scale is a must, one of the quickest ways to lose profit on a sale is to underestimate shipping costs/weight. I use caluclated shipping when creating my listings, put in the weight of the item plus about a pound (give or take on box size) for the box and materials. This is a no fail for domestic or international shipping, unless you do not weight your item properly. Always double check! So pack well, nothing should move in the box if breakable, weight accurately, and don't forget to stick in a business card!
6. Take great photos.
Clear, daylight photos with no flash are best. Etsy suggests photographing the item on its own, a staged picture like in use, a close up, and flaws (in the case of vintage if there are any). I have used an iPhone and a Samsung and these can work well, but I suggest a DSLR if you have the means. They take a much higher quality picture and that stands out from the others. I personally built a portable background and take my pictures on bright sunny days in a well lit room or when the sun is right in my sunroom. I avoid gloomy days. I like to be streamlined with my backgrounds, not black one day, white the next, pink another etc. I use a gray background with a dark wood base. My site looks like the items tie in, even if they do not all match. All white and bright is very appealing as well. I also suggest editing you photos, even just a pop of brightness and a bit of contrast, this makes a big difference.
7. Use tags wisely.
Etsy uses an algorithim for their search bar. I can not go into great detail about this as I am still learning how to master this, but the words you use closest to the beginning of your title and the same words used in your tags make your item a more likely match for a specific search. I used to put Vintage as the first word in my title and do not do that anymore, however I do use it toward the end of my title but I have heard it is not necessary. I am very specific with my tags and also very vague for each listing. If I have a Homer Laughlin salad plate set and I have 13 tags to fill (use each one!!) I would use: Homer Laughlin, salad plates, cottage chic, pink, vintage dishes, w244 (the pattern number), ivory, floral, bridal shower, tea party, 1940s, side plate, dinner setting. I might trade one out for the pattern name if you know it. Most times people either know exactly what they want, or they are searching for a broad range with a certain detail.
8. Have accurate descriptions.
When you are thrifting, or shopping, check your finds carefully. Sometime we can repair something that is damaged, or clean something dirty. Asses if this is in your wheelhouse before you buy, most places do not take returns or exchanges. When you list, be sure to list any flaws or damage present. Vintage is usually preowned and has wear, never assume your buyer knows this, so unless it is new and mint, let them know. I created my own grading system that I put on my site, excellent, great, okay, etc but I try to get items with little wear or I am very specific about what the wear is. I write my summary, then I list condition and dimensions so it is clear and if someone complains about condition I can state my case. You can not do that if you do not write it. People do not always read descriptions, just go on the title and the pictures. Save your butt! Take accurate measurements as well, right away. It is such a pain going to pull the item out when a buyer requests it. I get questions about dimensions A LOT, most times it is listed and they didn't see them and I can copy and paste. You will save a lot of time this way. Length, width, height, diameter, fluid ounces it holds, whatever you think it needs.
9. Establish a storage system.
I have four kids. I do no leave my inventory on an open shelf. I wrap the item up really well and store it in a marked box and use the SKU bar in create a listing to remind myself of where its located. The SKU has come a long way since 2014 and with the ease of use, you are saving yourself a lot of headaches looking for the lost, sold item. List and then put away. I can not tell you how many items I have left out to put away later and a kid comes in and knocks it off the table, or I do, or the cat does. It makes me want to cry because I wasted that time and that precious product is now lost to my buyer.
10. Lastly, use social media marketing.
This is the best free tool to help promote your business. If you are selling, you are marketing. I currently use Instagram and Pinterest, but Twitter and Facebook are important options as well. These are places where you can showcase you, and what you offer, different ways to style your products, and generate interest. I wish I had started this sooner but this seemed very intimidating, this is still a work in progress for me. Post frequently, I think once a day is a good place for instagram, and pining your own items a few times a day is okay if you are also repinning others. If you start with pinterest, try to get on a collaborative board to help promote your items furthur.
I probably made that list seem very daunting, but the first step is always the biggest. You can start a store on a meager budget. You can sell items using you cell phone. You can buy items you love and research them if you don't know a thing about them. This is not where I thought I would be 10 years ago, selling baby clothes and walking to the post office, but now I have lofty goals in this area, of where I want to be in 10 years. If I can do it, so can you!