Like many of us, Linda Lightman had too many clothes in her closet.
Unlike many of us, she figured out how to turn those excess garments into a thriving business.
Fascinated by her success, I chatted with Lightman about how she built her business — and how to find and resell designer items yourself.
Want to learn her secrets? Keep reading…
That Time She Started a Multi-Million Dollar Business in Her House
It all started with video games.
More than 15 years ago, Lightman’s 7- and 10-year-old sons wanted new ones. Since Lightman was only working part-time in her husband’s business, buying them just wasn’t in the family’s budget.
When they tried trading them in at the store, her sons were disappointed by the low prices they were offered.
So one suggested selling them on eBay.
“The games [began] selling to people all over the country,” says Lightman. “All over the world. They were getting bid up to close to what we paid.”
And that inspired an idea.
“When the kids’ supply of video games that they were willing to part with was complete, I decided to start selling my own clothing, shoes and accessories that I no longer wanted, used or wore.”
Like the video games, the clothes sold well. Once people heard about her success, they started asking Lightman to sell items for them.
“Before you knew it, a business was born,” she says.
That was in 2000, and the stuff soon took over her house.
“All the work was being done in our kitchen, and in our living room, and in my kids’ bedrooms,” she says. “My kids would come home from school, and they would have homework to do, but there were people working in their bedrooms, and there were people working in the dining room. There was no room that was ‘spared eBay,’ as we called it.”
In 2003 (after she’d earned a million dollars from her home!), Lightman and her husband decided to take a leap of faith; he left his job and they made Linda’s Stuff into their full-time gig.
“It was terrifying,” she says. “Imagine: We had a mortgage, children, cars, you name it, like anybody else.”
Scary, but worth it.
“I have to tell you, we never looked back,” she says. “It’s been a great ride, and a great journey. It’s hard to believe.”
If you’re interested in following her entrepreneurial path, she recommends starting slowly — but definitely starting.
“The time is now,” she says. “If not, now, then when? I always say ‘If the thought occurs to you, then you should do it.’”
From her home to a 93,000-square-foot office space, from 1,000 to 140,000 listings, from solopreneurship to 110 employees and from a few bucks to over $25 million in sales last year, it’s certainly worked for her.
How to Spot Designer Items — and Resell Them for a Big Profit
I’ve found designer items at thrift stores — but have been hesitant to buy them, since I didn’t know if they’d sell.
I figured many of you might have the same concerns, so I asked Lightman for her advice on finding items that will bring a high resale value.
The next time you’re out thrifting, follow these tips:
1. Make Sure It Has a Discernible Label
The number-one tip Lightman shared?
Make sure your item has a clearly discernible label.
“It doesn’t have to be a designer like Louis Vuitton, or Prada or Gucci, but, some sort of designer name,” she explains.
“The designer name is what drives the search, and the sale. People aren’t looking for something that has no designer.”
2. Know Which Designers Have a High Resale Value
If you’re anything like me, you barely know the difference between Banana Republic and BCBG.
To help, Lightman has a large list of popular designers on her site.
I’d recommend bookmarking or taking a screenshot of her list. Then, when you’re at a thrift store or garage sale, you can quickly see if something is a designer brand.
Just because a designer is on the list doesn’t mean it’s a good buy — and vice versa. But it’s an excellent place to start.
“Our list of designers is pretty inclusive,” she says. “They all sell well. We also have a list of designers we don’t take.”
The list of no-nos includes Gap, Old Navy, Jones New York, Forever 21, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Linda Allard, Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman, which don’t have a high resale value on eBay.
3. Focus on the Photos
One of the keys to Lightman’s success? The photos.
Though she’s not a professional photographer, she’s always spent time making sure her photos are high quality.
She also used natural light and creativity to her advantage.
“I didn’t have any fancy lights, and I didn’t have mannequins,” she explains. “I just brought them outside to my outdoor furniture, and… if it were Halloween, I would put pumpkins around it… When I was selling some of my earrings, I put them in an apple, or I hung them from a twig.”
4. Be Well-Researched and Efficient
Just like photos, don’t slap a haphazard description and price on your item and expect it to sell well.
Make sure you do your research and are thorough with your business. (Yes, I said business — because treating it like one is the only way you’ll find success!)
“You want to describe the item well,” says Lightman. “You want to do research into what the item is selling for. You want to make sure you answer questions from potential buyers. You want to make sure you ship it quickly, and in the cheapest way possible.”
5. Go for Accessories
Accessories like wallets, purses, sunglasses and jewelry sell the fastest and the best, Lightman says.
“They’re that one-size-fits-all item, right?,” she explains. “You don’t have to try it on.”
6. Don’t Worry About Things Being “Out of Style”
As a non-fashionista, I’ve always wondered about purchasing things that are in good condition — but might be “out of style.”
If something’s from a high-end designer, but was released several years ago, should I still buy it?
Lightman says yes.
“What might be out of style for somebody might not be out of style for somebody else,” she explains. “Style is subjective. I don’t believe in ‘out of style.’”
I don’t know about you, but Lightman’s tips gave me the confidence I need to pick up designer items while I’m out thrifting.
Here’s to hoping I make a few million off my purchases!
Your Turn: Have you ever sold a designer item for a profit?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.