I love thrift stores! I found an old Pyrex gravy boat at one for .49 and just had an Ah-Ha moment. Can I find more treasures? Can I find them new homes? This should be easy right? The answers are yes, yes, NO! Here is a list of my top lessons learned and maybe they might help out a fellow vintage collector.
1. Bring your own supply of wrapping material and wrap items yourself
I had found one of the greatest finds of my life. A set of 8 mint Waterford crystal goblets in the Lismore pattern for .99 each. I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with Waterford crystal. I looked them up while in the store because my heart was racing a million miles an hour. Yeah, they only sell for about $400. No biggie. So I carefully took them to the register to check out. The checkout girl was kind of in a bad mood and a bit rude. As I was putting them on the counter I noticed a small chip in one. I was so excited I didn't even inspect them. I asked the girl if I could go see if they had another why she was checking me out. She just shrugged. I ran over and actually found one more. This made me think there was more than an 8 piece set. They don't put all their items out at once so I was going back the next day to see if I could score more. ( I didn't ) I came back, paid and headed to my car. My cart hit a tiny bump and I heard the most awful noise in the world, CRRRUUUUOOOOSSHHH!! (That's what I think it sounded like. Never been good at onomatopoeias) That crystal just shattered, and so did my heart. I inspected the bags and come to find she stacked them on top of each other and put a piece of newspaper over the top. ARE YOU F*&#ING KIDDING ME!! I was able to salvage 2 without damage but I have not been that furious in a long time. I was going to go yell at her but came to my senses. That store was a major source of my items. I don't want to make a scene and possibly jeopardize my treasure trove.
Lesson Learned- DO NOT leave the register and always bring your own wrapping supplies. You may get weird looks but don't let that deter you. I bring a box full of newspaper and bubble wrap.This way they don't rattle if you carry them in bags.
2. Always inspect items inside out and backwards
This was a big rookie mistake I made. I would get so wrapped up by labels and marks I would just squee and put them in my cart. If I saw Noritake in it went. Limoges, you bet! I would be hyped up pay good money to only be disappointed when I got home because it was damaged in some way and could not be sold.
Lesson Learned- Always, always check for damages. I carry a small fold up magnifying glass with 3 magnifications to check for marks but it is a great tool for checking chips on crystal or small cracks that could make a piece worthless. Always inspect your items in full light, next to a window is perfect. Hold up kitchen ware and check for cracks, chips and scratches. Lay clothing and accessories out and look for tears, holes and stains. Especially in the armpit and crotch. Even if the item is perfect outside no one wants a pit stain!
3. Never tell the employees what you do
When I first started the employees would ask why I buy so much stuff. I would proudly say "I have a vintage shop. This place has such great valuable items. They don't even know what they have here!" Big mistake. I don't find much there anymore and they tend to keep an eye on me when I am. Let's just say I don't go there anymore. If people who work there ask me why I buy so much stuff. I just shrug and say it's pretty. I don't want to make up a whole story about how so and so had this and stuff and things. It detracts from your shopping and tends to make the employees kind of suspicious. The less you say the more they ignore you. They probably just think I'm a hoarder. I'm ok with that.
Lesson Learned- Don't bring attention to yourself. When you find awesome items don't yell "WHOO HOO YEAH!" and try to high five the old lady next to you. Try to be a bit stealthy when you examine items. You don't need to crouch in a corner like Gollum and his precious, but don't stand in the middle of the store with a huge magnifying glass like Sherlock Holmes.
4. Never pass up an item that could potentially be valuable
I'm not saying that if you see something old and think to yourself "Hey, that's old. It must be valuable and I will pay $10 for it" just to find out it's a piece of worthless junk. If you pick something up and it feels right, maybe has an older mark or is a shape or pattern you have never seen before think about it. Is the price worth the risk? If it ends up not being worth much can you re-purpose it or use it for yourself? That's up to you. I found a little bisque plaque at a thrift store with a Greek scene and an old mark on the back. It was .49 so I said what the hell, I'm not really out anything and if it's not worth much my mom would like it. I got it home and wouldn't you know it, it was a 19th century piece made by Royal Copenhagen before they used there standard mark. From a collection called The Four Seasons. It was worth around $90. A great find! I never pass up on something that feels right even if it's filthy. I found a crystal candle holder that was covered in dust and was all dingy. It felt like it weighed 100 pounds so for the price of $1 I figured I would give it a go. I got home and placed all my treasures gently in the sink for a bath (always lay a towel in the bottom so they don't clink against the sink). After removing all the gunk and grime it was a gorgeous sparkling piece. I turned it over and actually yelled out and scared my husband. The mark read Tiffany an Co. Yeah, that happened.
Lesson Learned- Go with your gut. If the price is right and you just have a 'feeling' about it go for it! If you are new to picking, you will soon get the 'feeling' I promise. Try it out. You never know what you might find.
5. Lastly: Be prepared!
Download the Etsy app and keep it open why you shop. If you find something you think is great, do a quick search and see what its going for. Of course this only works for items clearly labeled but it certainly helps.
Do your research and find out what's trending. Think like the buyer not about what you like. I do love crystal but it's on it's way out. The new generation is moving in and they prefer the kitschy cute collectables and vintage clothing from the 80's and *cough* 90's. (should have kept my wardrobe) There are pages on Etsy that show you what's trending and you can always get ideas from current fashion magazines or pictures of recent runway shows. Fashion designers tend to model new fashions from vintage stuff. Who would have ever thought neon windbreakers and high-waist pleated denim would be the new fashion trend?
Know your store. If you frequent a certain store know where items are located. Be cheerful with the staff and ask when new inventory is put out. Ask about discounts or days they have specials. These few things can score you some great items.
Always have a game plan. Know what you are after and set a budget and a time limit. If you want collectibles to stock your shop stay in that section. Don't wander because you will get distracted and spend too much money and and be there way too long. Trust me, I know. You can end up with too much stuff to list or items that you really didn't need. Plus you probably missed lunch and are starving.
Lesson Learned- Think like a business, not about you. Find out what's selling and try to target a specific market. Manage your time and your cash. Make a game plan and stick to it. Don't put in more than you are making, you just end up with piles of stuff and an empty wallet.
I really hope that all of my bad mistakes can keep other sellers from unneeded heartaches and headaches. Practice makes perfect. You will make mistakes but learn from them. I sure as hell did!
I have to give credit to my friends from my Etsy team Vintage Vertigo! They really helped me out and gave me some of this good advice. Thanks guys! You're awesome!