While camping at some hot springs in Arizona my wife and I watched a man arrive and unload large plastic bags onto the roof of his van, apparently to free up space inside for camping. That evening we talked to him and discovered the bags were full of stuffed animals. He told us he made $4,000 in one month selling used stuffed animals on the side of the highway. Later, when we were flea market vendors, stuffed animals were one of our best sellers. We bought them at thrift stores for less than $3 (sometimes just 25 cents), and sold them for $2 to $12 each.
Are you interested? Then you should know that the action has moved to eBay now, where my recent search of “used stuffed animals” yielded 221,661 results. Some of the critters apparently prefer to be called “used plush” and I got over 330,000 results searching that way.
A quick look at the bidding action makes the profit potential obvious. And although there are many places you might sell your products, if you open an account on eBay (which is pretty simple), you can run the operation from home. Let’s look at several market niches where you can build your used stuffed animal business empire (or at least where you can make some extra cash).
Regular Stuffed Animals
People buy used stuffed animals of all types for various reasons. Sometimes they are purchased as a gift. When we were selling them our customers were mostly parents buying for children. They’re bought for nostalgic reasons too, like when a man buys a teddy bear because it looks identical to one he had as a child. My search of eBay revealed many ordinary used stuffed animals with bids at $10 or higher. Most of these are the type you can find for a dollar or two at thrift stores, garage sales, and estate sales.
You determine the shipping charge. Some sellers offer $2 shipping while others charge as much as $9, apparently hoping to make extra profit from the shipping fee. Charging more might be a good idea if you’re selling without a reserve (a minimum auction price).
For example, suppose you have a plush lion for which you paid $2 and it sells for just $2. If you collect $6 for shipping but paid only $4 to actually ship it, you could still make a small profit. Buyers can see what the shipping charge is before they bid, so there is no deception involved.
You can watch auctions for a while to get a feel for what sells and for how much. Here are some of the used plush animals that eBay selling coach Suzanne Wells recommends buying for resale on eBay:
- Recent movie characters
- Dogs and cats if the breed is recognizable
- Teddy bears
- Sesame Street characters
- Care Bears
- Disney characters
- Hello Kitty
- Peanuts characters
- Promotional items like the Wells Fargo horse or Serta sheep
Apart from ordinary used stuffed animals that people buy there are the ones that sell to serious collectors. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. For example, just about anything old that was made by the German company Steiff is sought after by collectors. When the PBS program “Antiques Roadshow” went to Tucson, Arizona, a guest brought a 1903 Steiff Teddy Bear that had been his grandfather’s. It turns out the stuffed toy bear was worth $8,000 – $10,000.
In my search I found many antique stuffed animals selling for decent prices. One, described as a “vintage rubber faced monkey from the early 1950’s” had a bid of $40 (and a shipping charge of $10). A “Charleen Kinser Designs Forever Toys Closet Beastie” had three bids, with the highest at $300. Your education, if you decide to try selling to this market niche, can start by searching “vintage stuffed animals” on eBay, and then sorting by highest bid. You’ll see right away what to watch for when you’re at those thrift stores.
Another way to get into this business is to specialize. For example, you might focus on a theme and build an eBay store based on it. Maybe you know a lot about the Wizard of Oz and all the related collectibles. An eBay search of “wizard of oz plush” shows 778 items at the moment, and there is active bidding on a number of them. There are 2,119 results for “hello kitty used plush,” and many bids on those listings.
Used Stuffed Animal Creations
In addition to just buying and selling items, you can create added value. When we were selling at flea markets my wife and I put small used stuffed animals in mason jars and labeled them “Canned Critters” (someone has now trademarked the name). Kids bought them for a few dollars each, and we never paid more than 25 cents for a jar or the animal in it.
If you’re handy with a sewing machine you might make shirts with a common theme for all of your stuffed animals to wear. Or you could start a “used stuffed animal shelter” and provide adoption papers to buyers. The possibilities for creatively adding value are endless.
A Few More Tips
You can clean stains on your plush toys with a small scrub brush and a cup of water with a few drops of dish detergent in it. It’s possible to run some types through a washing machine, but put them in a sealed pillow case to keep buttons and eyes from catching on anything and pulling loose. Of course you can avoid this work if you buy used stuffed animals that are basically clean. Then you can just throw them in the clothes dryer for a few minutes on low with a fabric softener sheet to freshen them up.
To sell stuffed animals you’ll have to search for them, clean and prepare them, photograph them, and create a good description for your sales page. Then, when they sell, you’ll have to package and ship them. If this hobby becomes a business you’ll have accounting and taxes to work on as well. Because this can be a lot of work you should avoid dealing with anything that isn’t likely to make you at least a few dollars per item.
If you’re not sure whether you are ready for a business like this, why not find out? Round up any stuffed animals you or your generous friends have around the house and sell them on eBay. By the time you’re done you’ll have a better idea if you want to do this regularly, and you’ll have made some money too.
Your Turn: Have you ever tried selling used stuffed animals on eBay or elsewhere? Tell us all about your experience (or your plans) in the comments below.