Walking down the main street in Haight Ashbury on a recent trip to San Francisco, I was struck by how many retail stores seem to be thriving in this colorful district.  Granted, one was the first-ever legal marijuana dispensary in the area – a store called Berner’s that has now been open almost two months.  I’m sure that there is money to be made in selling pot in Haight Ashbury, but given the high (pardon the pun) cost of doing business in this area, I was surprised to see so many other brick and mortar stores also doing well.

As we strolled from block to block, I realized that the one thing that many of these shops had in common was that some or all of their merchandise was vintage.  Stores were selling used clothing, decorative accessories, jewelry and furniture, often mixed in with new products or handcrafts. This combination helps create an aesthetic that is more “retro concept shop” than antique store.

The beauty of selling vintage merchandise is of course that its retail price is totally unrelated to its wholesale price.  It may be challenging to pay rent, payroll and health insurance based on keystone markup – but if you buy a jacket for $5 and sell it for $50, your margin is incredible.   The only factor you have to take into account in setting prices is what the market in your area is willing to pay.  It’s also a plus that since this merchandise is from different time periods, and sometimes different parts of the country, no two stores will ever have the same selection.

The term vintage can refer to anything that is over a couple of decades old, so there is no shortage of goods available as baby boomers downsize and younger people “KonMari” their possessions.  While some stores take in used merchandise on consignment, most buy the goods outright in order to avoid the complication of tracking consignment sales.   Shopkeepers regularly shop yard sales, thrift shops, estate sales, and flea markets searching for bargains – or they look to vintage wholesalers such as Dust Factory or Bulk Vintage to acquire wholesale mixes of used clothing.  However you source your goods, it is of course essential that everything you offer in your store is clean and in usable condition.

Shops selling vintage merchandise will often specialize in a certain time period or design concept, which is especially important if you are trying to make the combination of new and old work well aesthetically.  But if quirky is what you’re going for, just follow your own instincts in deciding what items to carry -hopefully your customers will enjoy the serendipity of exploring your store, and will find something unique that they just must have.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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