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Buying to Sell


 As I was preparing for Lucketts, I received some e-mails and comments from a few of my readers who are fellow antique dealers.  They were interested in knowing how I select what I buy to sell.  The short answer is…I shop for myself.

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I know that’s sort of a fluffy answer, but it’s true.  I buy what I would love to have in my own home.  It’s worth more to me if I love it.  Does that make sense?  If I only sold things I was “eh” about, I wouldn’t be very proud of my booth or shop.  If I sell things that give me a little pain to put a tag on…well, then I’m on the right track.


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So, more specifically, what do I look for in things I buy?  How can you translate my philosophy if you’re a dealer?


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  1. As I said, buy what you love.  I think that is the most important thing, because then your personal style will be shown in your space and people who love your style will be drawn in.  
  2. Look for pieces that are special.  This doesn’t mean that the piece is rare and expensive, but something that will stand out. A warm patina on a piece of wood, a pretty monogram on a textile, chippy paint, cool typography, great texture…something that makes the piece decorative, unique and desirable.
  3.  Be particular.  It can be easy, especially when you’re shopping in a crunch, to buy things just to fill your booth, space or shop, but it’s important to be choosy.  It might not make sense, but I’ll give away stuff I don’t like before I put it in my space to sell.  I don’t want a piece that’s not my style to distract from the pieces that are my style.  Remember – you’re selling your look/style/brand, not just stuff.
  4. It has to be profitable.  I know this one can be tough when you’re shopping for things you love.  What’s a good price for you as a buyer might not be good enough for you as a retailer.  You have to look for things that allow you to make money without inflating the price beyond market value.  I shoot for doubling the price, but sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less.  This is definitely not an exact business  Not for me, anyways.  Now, there are exceptions to the profit rule.  Sometimes I will buy things that I break even on or only make a dollar or two in order to fill my space.  With big profits made on some things and good profits made on others, it all evens out.  I try not to get too hyper about each individual item, but look at the big picture.
  5. Mix it up.  I know that some people have specialties, but, as a general rule, it’s nice to have a variety of items at different price points.  I make more on larger pieces, obviously, but the little things really add up and it’s definitely worth the time to focus on the smalls.  The ironstone pieces flew out of my space at Lucketts and I sold every single roll of upholstery webbing (and I had a lot of both!)
  6. Think through the display.  This really helps me with deciding what to buy.  I always look for baskets, crates, cool boxes, larger bowls, etc. that I can fill with small things.  If I have a lot of smalls, I need surfaces to set them on, so I make sure I have enough tables and dressers.  I look for baskets for lavender, upholstered pieces for pillows, shelving for ironstone, etc.  I never know how it’s all going to look, but I do have a rough plan in my mind of how things are going to work together in a cohesive display.
  7. Buy “like” items.  Displays are stronger when you can group things together that have something in common…color, style, function, etc.  A bunch of random things can be confusing to the eye and makes it harder for shoppers to spot things they’re interested in.  I usually group by theme and/or color.  At Lucketts this year, I had a school/office/red/white/black/wood section.  A red & white nautical flag was the backdrop for a wood table/desk, red desk chair, with a school desk and red metal stool beside.  Trophies, typewriters, blackboards, leather books, alphabet cards, etc. rounded things out.  Make sense?
  8. DSC_9726 (640x424)Inspect what you buy.  It’s such a bummer when you get a piece home and you realize it reeks of smoke or has a leg that wobbles beyond repair or a handle that was glued on in a sloppy manner.  Imperfections that you miss might make it impossible to sell a piece for a profit, so take the time to look everything over very well.
  9. Buy what gives you butterflies.  This may be redundant, but I view “buy what you love” as more of a general statement…like I love ironstone, Empire dressers and French chairs, so I buy those whenever I can.  Buying what gives you butterflies or giggles or goosebumps or whatever means to follow your gut.  When you’re excited about a piece and paranoid that other people are going to buy it before you make your mind up…buy it!  Trust your instincts.  I used to hesitate on purchases like these, because they’re usually impulsive and usually higher priced items, but I’ve learned to jump on it and not second guess myself.  The pieces that get me all a-flutter usually cause the biggest stir on my blog and sell the fastest in my space.  DSC_9820 (510x640)
  10. You never know what people will buy.  You wouldn’t believe some of the things I have put a price tag on.  It’s all stuff that I like, but I wonder if anyone else will.  This year, I sold the scraps cut off the barn door used as the top for the farm table.  They were cool, old, tongue and groove wood pieces, about 6″ long, and I thought I’d give it a try.  I sold them for $1.00/each and only have about 5 left out of about 30 that I brought.  I would love to see what people do with them!  I also included a “mystery item” this year that was a bundle of grain sack scraps from the pillows I made.  I sold the bundle for $1.00 as well and figured anyone who bought that bundle was a special person.  Someone who sees potential in little things.  Someone who’s an optimist.  I happened to write up the sales ticket for the woman who bought it and I smiled as I wrote it up and told her she was purchasing the “mystery item.”  Everyone who read about it on my blog cheered and, having not read my blog, she looked bewildered.  I apologized for the lack of confetti cannons and then told her she had $20 off her purchase for buying the mystery item.  For seeing the potential in my fabric scraps.  You really never know what people will buy.  I’m not saying to put a bunch of lame stuff in you space, but it’s okay to try things out and let your customers decide…and have a little fun with it.  

I know a lot of this advice is “soft advice” that might not make sense to people who are black and white about things, but this is the best way I can express how I buy to sell.

It works for me and I hope it works for you!

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  1. Soiledrotten says:

    Just ordered your milk paint and wax. Pretty darn excited : )

  2. Rhonda says:

    Thank you for this post!

  3. I bought 3 of the piano reels and hope to hang them to use as a backdrop for my furniture one I get a little more organized!

  4. Thanks so much for the post. I loved every word you said and really needed to hear it. I am preparing to go on one of our long highway yard sales coming up soon and I am also stepping up to a larger booth size at the local antique mall. I will be looking for some really great stuff to re-purpose or sell in that new booth. I can now go with a plan in mind of what to look for. Thanks again.

  5. What a fabulous post Marian! Thanks so much! I do have a small space in a shop and this was so helpful to me! I struggle with the smalls. I think I need to refine a bit more and buy what I love. What perfect advice.
    And it was great seeing you again at Luckett’s, btw!! :)
    Hope you have a great weekend xo

  6. Sue Pagels says:

    This was very helpful! I tend to buy things I like to fill up my space, but I do not edit as much as you do. I probably should but for some reason sparse booths don’t do too well in this area (the ones that do best are usually pretty crammed) even tho I prefer them that way – that way you can really SEE things. Difficult to buy things too in this area to make money on, but I love the thrill of the hunt! Glad you did well!!

  7. Thanks for this post, sometimes I think I am crazy when I am out shopping for pieces to paint and resell and I only gravitate to the same old “look.” When I try to paint and refurbish things that someone else might like, it never quite works out for me. When I paint and dream of keeping a piece in my own home (I think I have managed to keep 4 china cabinets now, all with a “purpose”), they always look better overall. I have not had the opportunity to try your products yet, one day soon I hope! Thanks for your always insightful, down-to-earth, real personality, it definitely makes a difference.

  8. Thanks for the great tips. I just doubled my booth size. My tastes are similar to yours, and I will be trying your paint on some re-purpose projects and some re-do projects. Am very excited!

  9. Caren says:

    Great advice! I was wondering what you do with the items you don’t sell? The one thing I worry about as I am planning my first Flea Market, is what I do with left over inventory? Nope it’s not a silly question…

  10. I am just seeing your site for the first time. How wonderful there is a good paint product for wood that doesn’t require stripping and sanding, which has been a major drawback for refinishing items. I am still making my way around your site, here but have a few questions.
    One is do you have any thoughts about painting over lead paint, since a lot of old(er) items may have been covered with lead paint at one time? Milk paint seems like a great solution to this since you don’t need to strip and sand.
    I seem to recall seeing somewhere here that the milk paint will adhere (even if you need to us the bonding agent) to ceramic tile and already-painted walls. What about glass?
    If you have to use the bonding agent, and therefore don’t have the chipping and need to distress after the paint dries, do you have any recommended DYI instructions for making a natural distressed look that you would have to try to create afterwards? There is a lot of info out there, just wondering if there is any instructions/advice you might recommend.
    Great product, that you so much. This might solve my needing to resurface my kitchen cabinet problem because we did not want to strip and sand and the cost to resurface is about 3K.

  11. Brandy says:

    I love this advice. This is the second time I have read this post, and as someone who is just getting started in this business, this post and your not-black-and-white style speaks lots to me. Thanks for being here. :-)

  12. You just described exactly how I buy too. I only buy what I love…..I was thinking maybe I was a little sentimental, rather than business minded….but thank goodness you have put my mind at rest about that !! :) Love your work, your page, your paint and everything you stand for.
    Happy New Year,

  13. This post was well worth repeating, but I want to remind you of the one thing you neglected to mention…and that is…… No one can duplicate Miss Mustard Seed. You have talents and gifts of vision and skill that are yours alone. Which is why we all love you and secretly want to be you, nose ring and all!

    Seriously, in case I haven’t told you lately, you’re one of my style role models. I think you’re simply incredible. And I so much appreciate your humility and “See? You can do it too!” attitude. And your generosity in sharing all of your gifts with us. I suspect God multiplies your talents!

    Happy New Year, my friend!

  14. rachelle hetzel says:

    Thanks, this was definitely encouraging! I have been stuck between what I love and what will sell for too long. It takes courage to step out and just be you, and just do what you love, who cares if its not mainstream or current? I have found that what I love usually translates to what others will love too, and that sets my stride and keeps me from burning out. Here’s to fresh energy and not getting hung up on profit politics, I’ll let the buyers worry about that. Yay to more creative freedom!

  15. Shannon Logan says:

    I am so glad I read this. I have “piddled” for over 25 years with great junk. I have sold things as well. I totally get what you are saying. I am applying this to how I do things. I need to make some changes in my life. I needed some inspiration. Thanks!

  16. Susan Mocker says:

    Totally agree with your comments. The other reason I buy what I love is that if it doesn’t sell, I can always use it in my house somewhere!

    The smalls are important. I have two booths in an antique and collectible mall, and I sell a lot of antique and vintage typesetter blocks – usually $2-4 each, burlap bags, salt and pepper shakers and other small vintage accessories. It helps create the booth’s personality.

  17. I don’t buy to sell, but a lot of your advice is actually how I’ve been trying to decorate my home. I always second guess myself, so thank you for sharing and making me feel like I’m doing something right!

  18. Great information and so helpful! Don’t you think part of the process is a little bit of natural talent for having a “great eye” for things? I’d say you definitely have a natural talent for picking things to sell.

    leelee @ paperbagstyling

  19. Thanks for the advice. I’m following a big dream and doing my first barn sale with a sweet friend. I’m starting to feel a bit nervous about it, but your wise words really hit home. I’m also loving how your paint turned out on a couple of pieces!

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