Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Oi, that hurt! Lessons learned in the first year of resale.

     It was just about a year ago that I took the first very basic steps towards starting my own business(es) as a reseller.  Part of my process was looking up how to start a business online (terrible idea), visiting small business owners I knew (excellent idea), taking free classes (good idea) and staring in a one woman comedy called "Dawn's multiple pointless trips to City Hall" (an unavoidable annoyance).  I was also cruising through thrift stores looking for inventory (mistake number one, but we'll get to that) and drinking a lot of wine.  Like...a lot.  I was unemployed (by choice) and looking to start a business (see also...stop judging me). 

     Around April I was selling my first items at Portland's (then) new Flea Market http://portlandfleaforall.com/, and I had just opened up meager Etsy and Ebay stores, https://www.etsy.com/shop/littleghostvintage .  I had no idea what I was doing.  I did know that I no longer woke up to an alarm clock, I was meeting the loveliest of people and that my new mantra was "fake it till you make it".  I also got a new cat... 

          Meet Hank.  The new guy, chilling in a vintage baby stroller...cause that's how we roll. 

     I have screwed up a lot in these last 9 months and count on the fact that I will continue to do so unless I morph into some other person who doesn't ever screw up.  (They exist, right?).  I've also gotten better. Some things I picked up myself, some things other resellers taught me, and some I learned the painful way.  Here's my top 5 Oi! That Hurt! moments. 
1.  Inventory:  I thought my keen sense of picking out vintage pieces at a thrift store combined with my bargain nature was all I needed and I spent an embarrassing amount of my start up money this way.  What a dummy.  Don't get me wrong, I still comb thrift and charity stores for fun and for work but it's no way to get inventory as a rule.  For one thing...their prices are not what they used to be (at least in Maine), other resellers are also doing this so things get picked over quickly and the items are often not in the best condition. 
      I now get the bulk of my inventory from private estates/households and from auctions/storage sales.  One buy can last me quite awhile as I usually buy the bulk of the collection if I can afford it.  I also take donations.  I keep what I want and donate what I don't.  Occasionally I but lots off Ebay.  I consign with a few people I know.  I've bought things out of the back of some one's car.  I've gone to a yard sale and asked if there was anything inside for sale.  I tend to put the best condition items online because no matter how well you describe a flaw it can be disappointing to a buyer to see it in real life.  I can also fetch a higher price online because I am reaching people who are specifically looking for vintage items and I ship all over the world...which takes me to the second Oi! lesson. 
2.  Shipping:  Shipping was tricky, took some time to adjust too AND is a painful monetary lesson to learn.  In the beginning I was often covering the difference on shipping costs because it was under quoted, sometimes it was a few cents, sometimes is was a few dollars.  One time it was $35.  Oi, indeed. 
      The USPS has a shipping calculator.  Use it.  http://postcalc.usps.com/  I ordered a postage scale off Amazon and it's kind of one of my favorite things in the world and was under $30.  Shipping in and of itself could be a longer blog and I may write one, eventually.  I print my labels through the websites I sell from and I ship very promptly.  Order supplies in bulk and have them on hand.  It's poor customer service to wait an excessive amount of time to ship an item and to charge $6 to ship something that will cost you $2.
.  3.  Research:  Research your labels, your union labels, your stitches, your buttons, your zippers...put integrity into your work.  Don't call something 1960's without knowing it is.  Don't call something "rare" that was mass produced.  Don't call something antique when it's not. Don't look up what some boob is selling an item for on Ebay and throw on the same price. Don't sell a designer/collectible item for under $10...which I've done.  Couple 'a times.  And it hurts.  A lot.  Know what doesn't hurt?  Becoming more informed and buying a valuable item for cheap off someone else who hasn't done their research...which I've now done.  Couple 'a times.  The Vintage Fashion Guild is an amazing resource to give you a launching point for dating clothing with labels   http://vintagefashionguild.org/label-resource-a-z/ .
4.  Negotiate/ Put your business hat on:  Here's some secrets about me (they're not really secrets because I tell everyone)...I hate making phone calls, even to order take out...I can be detrimentally shy...I always think everyone is doing everything better than me...I am my worst worst worst critic.  I felt really weird about taking money from friends at the shop, I sucked at making offers on items I wanted and I often bought stupid things because I felt bad about saying no.  I under priced a lot of things.  I was nice to all the crazy people and drug addicts that came into my shop (did I mention I'm on a wonky street in Portland?).  Essentially, I had no balls.  Now I do.  Well.  Now I'm growing some.  Metaphorically, of course.  Becoming a reseller didn't really make me grow testicles. 
     There is a difference between being fair and being a pushover.  There is also a difference between being business minded and being an jerk face.  When buying items I try to be fair and informed.  When selling items I try to do the same thing. 
5.  Stop Sweating it:  Owning a business is hard.  Teaching yourself about tax laws is boring.  Working 7 days a week is tiring.  Winter is long and bad for business.  Uncertainty is a constant in the small business world.  Competition online is staggering.  USPS rates just went up.  People shop lift.  Sometimes creepy people come in and want to see your feet.  The thing I try to tell myself is...STOP. SWEATING. IT.  Do I want to go back to my old job, with it's benefits and direct deposit and corporate malarkey and seventeen bosses and 5 day work week?  Nope.  Not a chance.  So.  Stop sweating it.  Learn.  Grow.  Get better.  For me hiring an accountant helped me relax, and accepting that once in a great while it's worth it to shut down the shop and drink Bloodies (like when an old friend is in town for the holidays...                                                                    

Doing what I do isn't an alternative to having a "real job".  I work all the time.  I love what I do.  I learn something new weekly.  Sometimes I even make money!  Hooray!  I'm expanding the 'Ghost empire and am taking on a partner...this week!  I expect big things from us...and big mistakes.  Nothing a cocktail won't fix though...fingers crossed. 

p.s.  A side note is to not treat your spouse, significant other, bestie, dog, fish, friendly neighborhood spirt, etc as a therapist/business counselor/ idea launch pad.  They will get sick of listening to you.  My husband deserves a metal for getting through this first year of me owning a business.

p.p.s. This is a real wedding photo of us.  But that's not really Elvis.  Or is it?


  1. I love this! You have one of my favorite brains to pick about business things, so I'm glad you started a blog so everyone else can benefit without having to send you lots of bothersome facebook messages :)

    basically, you rock.

  2. And a special THANK YOU for the Link to the VFG site. It is sooo very helpful, especially when it comes to label identification and history. Best of Luck in your Venture!!! Someday I hope to make it to Portland to visit your shop.