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running a creative business | buying power


It’s been a while since we talked about business-y things and today seemed like a good day for it.  I was actually planning on a day in the studio, working on furniture, but my boys had another snow day, so we just hanging around the house.

I dug through my “things to post about when I’m not sure what else to post about” folder and found this comment…

“Marian, I so love what you are doing with your pieces, paint, fabric and everything.  I want to do something similar but in a coastal style.  How did you get to the point where you could go shopping and buy items for Lucketts and other shows?  I really don’t have any income to back what is burning in my heart to do and I don’t want to borrow money to do it.    I remember reading in one of your posts that you were on a limited income too.

Again I love your work and the feeling of homeyness, love and family I get from your designs.



Ah, yes, Denise.  What you’re asking about is buying power.


I remember when I first started buying and selling furniture and antiques, $20 was pretty much my limit for a piece of furniture.  $3.00 was more in line when my budget!  

I had started my business to make money, not spend it, but how could I have things to sell if I didn’t buy anything first?  And how could I buy anything to sell if I did’t have the money, which is the whole reason why I started a business?!  And around and around it goes until you feel like starting a business like this just isn’t possible for someone like you.

Let me start off with a reminder – everyone starts somewhere.  It’s unfair (not to mention discouraging) to compare your little-bud-of-a-business with one that is firmly rooted and thriving after years or growth.  In other words, your buying power isn’t going to be what theirs is.  But, you can get there!

Here’s how I grew my buying power over the years…


Develop an income stream that doesn’t require an investment

This can be really helpful when you’re trying to build some capital to work with.  I started my business offering services as well as products, because services don’t require purchasing “stock” to sell.  In my case, I did murals and custom-painted furniture.  All I needed was a ladder, brushes, some paint, etc.  I painted room murals, signs for a bed & breakfast,  furniture and accessories for clients, gold-leafed some frames…whatever work I could accept that was within my scope of abilities.

Those jobs brought in some money that I could then reinvest in merchandise to resell.



Shop at the right spots.

I remember walking out of antique stores, bummed that I couldn’t afford to buy anything that could be resold.  Well, I couldn’t afford to buy anything, period.  I learned that I needed to find other places to shop.  I mostly hit thrift stores and was out every Saturday during yard sale season.  In fact, the booths for my first three years at Lucketts were outfitted almost exclusively with yard sale and thrift store finds.

I also went to auctions, but I usually hung out in the “back room” where they had the boxed lots and things that needed some work.  I knew I could win bids there, which was much harder for me to do in the “big room”.

So, set yourself up for success and shop where you’re more likely to find things in your budget that you can at least double the price on for resale.



Dig deep.  

I went through my house and sold anything I felt I could part with.  I sold all sorts of things that I didn’t use, need or love and those dollars added up to a little money to reinvest.  And then I even sold things that we used and loved.  The best case was when I sold my dining room set.  I had no intention of selling it, but someone came to my house to buy a French sofa and offered to buy the dining set as well.  I just couldn’t turn down the money, so I sold it, leaving a big hole smack in the middle of the dining room.


I cried when the buyer pulled away, but it was a big step for me as an entrepreneur.  I was able to turn that dining set into another dining set PLUS more furniture that could be refinished and sold for a profit.

If you followed me in the early years of my blog, you definitely noticed that furniture was always in rotation in my house and that is why.  It’s not so much that I wanted change, but I wanted to build my buying power.


Accept freebies & be resourceful.  

It didn’t matter if something wasn’t my style.  If it was free, I would take it and try to make something of it.  And I was a champ at sniffing out cheap furniture.  If it was $5.00 or less, I would snap it up.  I bought this plant stand for $2.00 at an auction, painted it and sold it for a nice profit.


I bought this for $3.00 at a yard sale at fixed it up.

end table Collage

(It was fun to look back at some of my old posts and projects as I was working on this post.  Ah, the memories!)

Anyway, remember that you make money on a piece when you BUY, so buy smart.


Don’t go into debt.  

This is just my own personal opinion.  Well, I suppose it all is, really!  It’s so much better to start small than to overextend yourself.  That can make your business a stressful, nail-biting experience instead of a creative journey.

There were so many times that I wanted to just rack up my credit card, buying great things to sell, and then hope it would all work out, but I knew that was a gamble that wasn’t worth it.  It has meant that my business has grown slowly, gradually, but it has also meant that I could enjoy it.


So, start with your $3.00 thrift store side tables and you’ll be buying stacks of ironstone before you know it!


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  1. Saskia says:

    Sound advice. I think a lot of people want to start a (creative) business but don’t because they think they need a lot of money to start off with. Thank you for showing us that this doesn’t need to be the case.

  2. I also found it helpful to go on Craigslist and look at the price refinished pieces were selling for, so I knew what my profit margin might be. It helped me to recognize what was selling and what a good price for a “raw” piece was. I also learned how to repair things. Broken things are much cheaper than ones on good repair. And they are often free. You’ll learn very quickly what you can and cannot fix.
    Great post Marian!
    The Other Marian

  3. We also created an “open to buy” spreadsheet that really helped us when we make a “buying trip.” (It’s hard to find stuff here, so we make the trek to central PA every other year to our “honey hole.”) We figure out the cost of the rental truck, meals, etc. and then subtract those from the amount we’ve agreed to spend, and that leaves our “open to buy” number. We keep adjusting monthly, based on what our profits have been for the month before. (We can’t spend more than 50% of what we’ve made in profit in any given month.) That means that some months we have to get back into the attic or basement and sell the stuff we already have!

  4. Thank you for your humble advice! It is so fun to hear the story of your humble beginning. You are amazing.

  5. The most difficult thing about a business is getting it to be an income producing one. As a second income with some tax write-off’s, yes, it is possible to do this on a shoestring and build it up slowly. I have been in business now for 6 years and this is my sole source of income….this is difficult and nerve-racking but a constant challenge to”get it right”. So much affects your business – weather, convenient parking and getting your information out there. I still haven’t found the magic marketing button. Print ads seem to be a dinosaur, Social Media is just that, social and I am not convinced that it brings bodies into your store. Building your business through word of mouth is still the best way….that and a good dose of lady luck!

  6. I started my antique business by buying a $20 oak dinning table (some 30 yrs ago) at auction, refinishing it myself, and sold it for $260. $20 back to the budget, $240 in reinvest. It works, have patience, be willing to work hard, and educate yourself as necessary.

  7. I love it when you talk about the beginnings of your business! It helps to put things in perspective! Thanks

  8. Irene Peterson says:

    Sound advice Marion. I rented a booth in an antique mall for several years and filled it with furniture I no longer wanted plus “finds”. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to make purchases that I just loved and was not able to mark up too much in order to sell. AND, that was my downfall.

    Good luck to all of you creative folks and take heed to advice from others. Another thing I failed to do. Wish I had known you eight years ago Marion.

    Irene XO

  9. Denice Hicks says:

    I really love this post!! Thank you for your transparency and willingness to give others a hand up!

  10. I’m a realtor and so many times I have clients who are retired and downsizing with furniture to give away or sell at a very low price as it needs some work, but it’s so hard to find someone to buy it. I have taken many pieces off my clients hands, but I don’t have time to refinish it and many realtors have no interest. Start talking to local realtors and let them know if there is an old dresser or chair that needs work, to call you before they throw it away. Make sure when they call you go over as soon as they ask and don’t be picky. If you do this, I’m sure you can get yourself a steady stream of inexpensive or free furniture. You might even consider offering to let the realtor borrow a finished piece now and then to stage a listing as you might be able to sell something and if not, it at least builds goodwill.

    • Fabulous ideas Julie! I would have never thought of that. I have two neighbors that are realtors that I will be making a visit to.

      Thanks so much!


  11. Marian, thank you so much for this big ole post! I was looking for an email answer! :) It has come at just the right time for me as I was teetering on the fence as to whether to charge some supplies I need for a new product line I will be selling in my Etsy shop. The new line is of course a stepping stone in the right direction, I hope, towards my big dream of the coastal farmhouse shop.

    Those are all really great and smart suggestions for me that make a lot of sense. I am starting to clean out my closets now!

    Thank the Lord for snow days! It’s easy for me to say that since I live in sunny Florida!

    Warm regards,


  12. Loved reading your insight and advice Marian. Thanks for taking the time to share this. I so appreciate hearing the grassroots of creative businesses. Its such a great part of the story…very inspiring. God Bless!

  13. I needed to read this today!!
    Thank you Marion.


  14. Karen Stuart says:

    Always sage words of of advice from whom we really admire.

  15. Charlotte says:

    Thank you so much. My sis-in-law and I are in the beginning stages of business. It is posts like this that help us so much!

    Would you mind telling us your thoughts on the catalog market? You know, the ones where you can buy the chicken wire covered glass vases and similar items. Is it something that is beneficial to have a few items around your booth that are affordable and not Vintage, or handcrafted? Is it worthwhile to sometimes get people in your booth?


    • marian says:

      I used to only sell unique finds, but when I was a vendor at Lucketts, I learned that I needed some wholesale items to supplement. I focused on natural items like preserved boxwood, dried lavender, cypress topiaries, etc. and DIY related items like ribbon, twine, upholstery webbing, etc. That is what fit with my brand better than accessories, but you can certainly get whatever works with your style.

  16. Linda says:

    I got the re-sell bug by accident when I was a struggling single parent and could only afford to shop garage sales & thrift stores for me and my children. I discovered I could pick up a $5 dresser and flip at my own yard sale for $20. Eventually I started painting furniture, etc and did street faires. I now have a large booth in a vintage/antique store that is very profitable.
    No big investments…just slow and steady, a learn-as-you-go adventure!
    If I can do it on a next-to-nothing budget anyone can ?

  17. Naomi S. says:

    Thanks, Marian, for a very helpful blog article. I liked hearing how creative and persistent you were when you were beginning your business. I think your advice about not going into debt to start the business is right-on. It was a great piece of advice for those of us who get excited and over-extend ourselves because we are so enthusiastic to “get going” with our business or idea. Very helpful and encouraging article. Thanks, again, and I’m glad the kids had a snow day so you could write it!

  18. Terri says:

    Though I’m not looking to start a business, this is excellent advise. One of the reasons I love reading your blog is I tuned in early on and have watched you and your business grow. It’s exciting for you and believe it or not, it’s exciting for me also. I’m constantly throwing your name around to people I talk with…because of Miss Mustardseed, I made slipcovers for my conversation couch; I read Miss Mustardseed’s blog and she says hemp oil is good on old wood items; Miss Mustardseed’s milk paint is so fun to use…. Well, you get the picture. I can’t imagine how it must feel to see things that are iconic Miss Mustardseed-painted cows, white ironstone, the rocking horse and so on. And lastly, with all of your success, you’re still the same sweet, humble, giving person, a natural teacher. Those who model their new business after you will surely be successful if they look to remaining true to who they are and remember that it isn’t the success that makes them, it is her (or him) who succeeds.

  19. Thanks MMS! I learned after my first year (which was a success and I met my sales goal), that if you put the money in the regular checking account, it is gone before you know it. So I had to set up my account so could keep all money coming in to reinvest into supplies. Now I’m able to help pay some of the bills when we need it, but I pay for all of my supplies and some splurges for myself out of it.
    Growing too fast is not what works for some of us. I get a lot of questions from friends who wonder why I’m not selling to wholesalers or hiring help, to produce more. We all have to do what feels comfortable for us and to grow at our own pace, but it’s great to hear someone so well known and successful as you are, took her time and struggled to start too.

  20. Great tips and information! Thanks for sharing.

  21. lynda santillan says:

    what a great site and helpful…ive been having yard sales for about 10 years in our small town…everyone knows my signs..i have at least 5 a summer…but never knew if I should rent a space to sell???..I too have shabby chic furniture makeovers…and my brother does put things on craigslist for me… but really slow in that…ive been painting furniture for about 15 years..and love it..should I start painting with chalk paint??? never have used it…thanks so much

  22. I started my “business” selling on eBay and then etsy (I think etsy is more fun and less of a hassle). I shopped for things at thrift stores and estate sales, as well as my attic and closet. Then one day I walked into an antique collective and asked if they had any openings- the owner hadn’t for years but did that day, amazingly enough. I called that God’s timing. That was 2 years ago and now I have 2 spaces there and sell more than the women who have been there for many more years. I’m not bragging, just saying that when you ask God to bless your sales, give Him the first fruits, and are in touch with what sells in your area, the sales keep coming! Along with furniture and all sorts of vintage pieces, I sell things others don’t, like lovely old prints that I reframe in antique frames, live succulents in old silver creamers and sugar bowls, old books I buy for a couple of bucks bundled in twine, hand-crafted birds nests, and lots of antlers. My point is, find something you can sell that is uniquely you, be patient yet persistent and watch what happens!!

  23. Also network with other shop owners to combine your marketing resources. We each contributed $20 to our special events advertising. This covered costs of posters and fliers. We had events every two months to encourage shoppers to our local downtown area. Using catchy phrases for our events we had giveaways and supported local charities. Supporting each other’s businesses was a productive device to increase sales.

  24. Carol S says:

    Fantastic blog post. I love your mix of project posts, how-to posts, and reflective posts. I am just starting out myself. Have a name and registration with the state. Waiting for funds next month to open a bank account and get the domain name/hosting set up. Meanwhile while waiting for funds to get “official”, I work on product. Baby steps.Sometimes frustrating, but I feel as long as each day is progress toward goals, then that is what is important. I join with the other commenters and extend my thanks for you and how you do things.

  25. Thank you for this. You’ve been an inspiration to me from the start (a mere 7ish months ago). I’m getting ready to my first “big” show in May and I have constantly remind myself that I have to start with the thrifted finds in order to reach the ironstone.

    Your posts like this seem to appear at the exact time I need a gentle reminder to not worry about comparing myself with the successful and established. Just be me and build my brand and the rest will come.

  26. This is so encouraging as I’m planning and starting small myself all within the past few weeks. Thank you!

  27. Always benefit from your business insights. Have a good day, Linda

  28. Miriam says:

    I want that off white painted dresser!

  29. Reading this was a true encouragement to my soul today! Thank you for sharing the journey. My husband is in the Air Force and we a moving from place to place for his trainings. Life has been in a state of constant transition for me for 2 years, never in once place very long. This has made keeping and finding jobs really tough. It’s also made it hard to feel like I’m contributing and living a purpose-filled life. (We don’t have kids yet). All that being said, I love painting, crafting, restoring, and all things design so I started posting my content on Facebook and I’ve had a steady stream of people coming to be with their furniture to restore or repaint or upholster. I’m grateful and feel like God is moving in my life, but sometimes I still feel doubt and overwhelmed by how small I see myself. So thank you for sharing your work, it’s encouraging me for sure! Have an awesome weekend. :)

  30. Some really wonderful advice. Your so honest and down to earth and that is something so important!! You make some really great points and some great advice

    Thanks for sharing!

    Lauren | Lovely Decor

  31. marylisa noyes says:

    very sound advice

  32. Excellent advice!!! Startig off is difficult and can be hard,really hard. Your example of selling off eventhings you loved and used shows that determination is needed. Selling off stuff can sometimes be difficult, but offering services that require little or no investment is very sound . If you are reading this you have access to the internet. You may have some talent writing, if so, you might try to do some freelancing at Fiverr, Upwork, Elance or any of the other services. It’s small amounts at the time, but it will add up to a fund that will allow you to expand and grow without having to borrow. My principle has been and still is: Don’t spend money you don’t have. If you follow that you will succeed!

  33. Kristin says:

    I just came across this post while reading how to make a slipcover from a drop cloth. This is so well timed, confirming I’m on the right path for me. I have about 20 Craigslist posts right now, trying to sell anything and everything that would allow me to buy something to paint, cover, etc! Thank you for your insight & experiences!

  34. Penni says:

    I came across your page, and I read what you were saying. You have given me a lot of ideas for starters. I am also looking at starting my own business in refurbished furniture and antiques. I just wanted to say thank you for being out there to help me.

  35. LOVED this article, have a follow-up question – when you sell/resell – what do you do with your income? Like – is there a formula you use for what to do with that income? I.e. put x% back into new pieces to flip, x% into purchasing supplies, x% into your pocket to help with family expenses, and x% into savings etc?
    I just got into furniture painting a few months ago, so far all of my painted pieces have been for my own home (which was my original intent and purpose, to remake our home affordably) – it is also my plan to begin to sell my work once I get our home mostly done however – *BONUS* in the process of finding project pieces for our own home I have come across some great deals that I could not pass up even though I knew the piece wouldn’t work in my own home plus have changed my mind on a few that I thought would work for us – long story short (sorry!) I have been able to flip quite a few project pieces for a profit (which, while not my original intention, was a nice surprise!), but am really struggling with how to allot the money wisely [knowing that if it all ends up in our bank account it will be gone in no time (because we are a family of 7 living paycheck to paycheck) and if that happens I will have nothing to put into future projects], but I recognize the need for some of it to be a part of our income, just struggling with what percent?

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