How a Vintage Item is Priced

How a Vintage Piece is Priced

Before we write our tips and tricks for negotiating (which we haven’t forgotten our request for, we promise!), I thought it would be helpful to discuss why things at a store or flea market are more than when you find them at a thrift store or garage sale. In this post, I will be using a generic 1980s radio, which is my latest find to illustrate pricing.

1980s Radio

I used to only collect, but then I had a hoard of midcentury in my basement and what to do with it all? Help things find a home with other vintage lovers of course. As some of you may know, Austin and I have a little booth are at a local store in Des Moines called Funky Finds Vintage & Retro. If you haven’t been there, check it out because the store and owners are amazing. Therefore, we are in the interesting position of being collectors, buyers and sellers all at the same time.

So here are some “hidden costs” that you may not be aware of when it comes to pricing an item.

1. Almost everything is filthy. Just filthy. I bought this radio at Goodwill the other day for $3 because I can potentially sell it on eBay for $30. But not before I spent 30 minutes cleaning out undefined “goo” from every crevice imaginable. Everything needs some degree of conditioning—i.e. dusting, degreasing, deodorizing or washing—and that time spent is money.

2. Almost every item needs to be tested or repaired. In this example, I needed to go get 5 AA batteries only to find out the tuning dial doesn’t display the station it’s on. Looks like I will be selling it for less than $30 and spent ten minutes of my time. Furniture involves even more work refinishing, re-gluing, researching and often times reupholstering.

3. Sellers pay commission, rent and taxes. This is one thing when I was just a casual collector I never thought about. Sure, the store owners pay a lease, employees and everything else that goes along with a business, but individual sellers whether at a thrift store or on eBay are shelling out too. eBay takes 10% of what you sell. Commission can be anywhere from 10% to 30% at a store. Taxes can be 30%. Rent is negotiable with how large of space. This radio really isn’t so cute anymore and I’m questioning my purchase. But you can record live radio on to a cassette tape!

4. Time spent hunting should be time paid for. One time I heard someone say that a dealer’s time spent looking for things to resell is just for fun. Yes, it is so much fun for us, that’s true! When we are all together going to garage sales we have a blast laughing, telling jokes, running like maniacs out of the van to grab that vintage light first and other nonsense. But shouldn’t everyone have fun at their jobs? There are days when I go to thrift stores and garage sales for hours and I come back with one thing to sell. That radio? I’ve been to the same Goodwill four times since and found nothing. That’s at least an hour spent with one radio found.

5. Getting the item involves gas, storage, postage and more. We drive all over the place, all over Iowa and other states. And then there’s storage. All seller’s have at least some space dedicated to storing pieces waiting to be reconditioned and sold (my two-car garage was not used for cars for a year, much to the dismay of my husband!) and in some cases expenses for renting storage can be staggering. If I do sell this radio on eBay I will need to drive to the post office to get packing materials and postage. At the store where we sell, there are price tags, pens, pins, nails, hangers, all sorts of supplies we need to show the items in the first place.

6. Every item has a price, a price that needs to be researched. It’s important as a seller to research the market value of items you’re selling, either online or the market in your local area. Regularly selling items too high or too low compared to your market can both spell disaster for your business. I had a feeling this radio was cute and probably had some 1980s cult following. I found out that was true with a search on eBay. Sometimes things require a whole lot more time researching, such as furniture or dishes. Again, a little more time spent.

So here’s the breakdown. One radio for $3 that possibly will be sold for $20–$25. Commission of at least $3 on that sale. Taxes about $6. That means a net profit of $11–16. And I spent at least an hour and a half cleaning and let alone finding the darned piece of plastic. My “hourly” pay without taking in to account gas, storage, supplies, monthly rent? $8 maybe?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love looking for antique and vintage things. The point is, most sellers aren’t getting filthy rich and there are so many things that go in to pricing. Not to say that there isn’t wiggle room, and that post is coming up next!

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