Junk store, resale business, thrift store -- by any name, retailers who buy used goods and resell them have been around for decades. The tight economy of the early 21st century has given a fresh luster to stores that sell used items at cut-rate prices. To succeed, you'll have to scrounge for suitable stock. You may also want a narrower market niche than "junk."
Define Your Niche
To make a living, you can't just sell junk -- you have to sell junk people want to buy. One approach is to sell a little bit of everything, a kind of resale department store. Another is to specialize in good such as used furniture, old appliances or second-hand clothes. The Tinkertopia store in Tacoma, Washington, collects assorted bits and pieces customers can use as art supplies. Look at what stores already offer in your community and talk to people about what they wish they could buy. That may give you some ideas.
Stocking the Store
The lure of a junk store is the chance to find something cool at a bargain price. To sell cheap, you have to find items cheap. Scouring garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and used-good websites can help you fill your shelves at low cost. You can also operate a junk-hauling business, so that people pay you to take items off their hands. Not all of what you haul will be usable though. Anything you can't use will have to go to a recycling center or a landfill.
In the years since eBay launched its online auctions in 1995, buying used goods online has become commonplace. Selling through a website or setting up an eBay store can provide you with additional sales. You could also try going completely virtual and dispensing with a bricks-and-mortar store. To sell second-hand goods online, you need to describe them honestly, including any nicks and flaws. Good photographs are also a must.
Resale stores sell cheap, but not so cheap they can't turn a profit. To get an idea of the right price for your stock, check out what similar items go for in other junk stores or resale websites. The Worth Monkey website provides free estimates of good, fair and poor prices for many products, based on statistical surveys of online prices (see Resources). It may take practice to learn what you can sell at a profit.
One of the advantages of the junk-store world is that few customers expect the level of service they'd get at, say, Neiman Marcus. The primary need for staff is to sort through and price items, and to ring them up at the register, not to help customers. That allows you to keep staff levels down compared with a new-goods store. If you go completely virtual, you may be able to do it all yourself.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.