Rob Stephenson calls himself the Flea Market Flipper.
While it might not be the most glamourous side business, he earned $30,000 last year working 10-15 hours a week.
Lately, an average month might fetch $3,500, and his best month topped $10,000 in profit.
Stephenson’s a real estate inspector by day, but you can find him at the Orlando, Florida, flea market every weekend, hunting for the next profitable “flip.”
He’s also a regular at the local thrift stores, which supply a steady stream of inventory.
Stephenson does most of his deals within 10 miles of home, but he occasionally finds himself driving up to two hours for a profitable item he found online.
Want to give it a shot for yourself? Here’s how to get started with “flea market flipping.”
How to Find Resellable Products
To get started, the first thing you need is something to sell.
To source his inventory, Stephenson has a few favorite spots — in addition to the local weekend flea market.
While Craigslist is very competitive because of its popularity, Stephenson explains there can still be some great finds if you act quickly.
So what does he look for?
“I look for odd items,” he says. “I look for weird stuff.”
Stephenson once bought a prosthetic leg for $30. He sold it on eBay the next day for $1,000.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
That’s the basis of this business model: finding unique or undervalued products and reselling them for a profit.
He suggests searching Google for regular or seasonal markets in your area, as well as the newer online marketplaces.
On OfferUp, he found a high-end exercise bike used in physical therapy offices.
He discovered these bikes in new condition often sold for $6,000 to $7,000, and offered $200 for it — slightly less than what the seller was asking. The seller agreed, and Stephenson sold it for $2,800.
Finds like these are rare, but paint the picture of what’s possible if you’re constantly on the lookout for potential deals. The more unique or specialized an item is, the greater the profit potential.
For instance, the market for used iPhones is pretty well-established and efficient — all sales will gravitate toward the average price.
With “odd items,” Stephenson says, there are more inefficiencies and profit opportunities. The goal is to quickly sell items, but he admits sometimes they sit in his garage and collect dust for months.
“I would just rather keep the item until it sells for what I am looking for,” he explains. “This year I sold a Gagglia Cappucino machine that I had sitting in our guest room closet for over a year, but it made me $1,000 after I dusted it off.”
What to Consider Before You Buy Anything
Aside from looking for “odd” items, Stephenson tries to find as much information about a product as he can.
Since there usually aren’t any barcodes to scan, it generally means checking a brand name and model number, if applicable.
You can try asking the seller for some background on the item, he says, but often they won’t know any more than you.
Especially at flea markets,
“They’re probably re-selling the item too, from a storage auction or estate sale or something like that,” Stephenson explains.
If it seems like this business relies on taking advantage of people or ripping them off, he adds, the sellers are also probably selling the item for a profit, and wouldn’t agree to a deal if it wasn’t in their best interest.
Armed with whatever information he can glean from the seller and from the item itself, Rob does some basic research on the free eBay app to see similar items’ selling prices.
“I generally won’t buy anything I can’t sell for more than $100, and a typical purchase is anywhere from $10 to $40,” he explains. “My wife is starting in this business selling baby items, and she won’t buy anything for more than $3.”
Flea market flipping can be pretty affordable to get started with, and it’s a business with very little overhead. If you can turn $40 into $100 every weekend, you’re multiplying your money much faster than in a savings account or mutual fund.
When it comes to fixing broken items, Stephenson says, “I am always looking for items that don’t need any repair, but the majority of rehab work I do myself. I utilize the power of YouTube to figure out how to fix some things.”
He says the tools he uses most often are a multimeter to test electronics, a tape measure for dimensions and the Magic Eraser for cleaning up marks.
“Honestly, the most important tool I use in buying and selling is probably my smartphone,” Stephenson says.
Making Money With Your Inventory: Selling on eBay and Everywhere Else
Of course, buying random items and storing them in your garage isn’t the point.
You only get paid when your item sells.
Stephenson uses Craigslist, OfferUp, Let Go and eBay to sell his inventory, but says selling on eBay is his favorite.
“With eBay, you can reach a nationwide or worldwide audience of buyers,” he explains.
When crafting his listings, he’ll set the price at or around the projected value of the item he found during his research.
He avoids auction listings in favor of “Buy it Now” listings.
“If I can get 7-10 people watching the item on eBay, I know I have it priced right and it will usually sell,” Stephenson says.
If the item hasn’t sold after 30 days, he lowers the price and repeats the process.
Will You Try Flipping?
Stephenson’s advice for people getting started in this business is be consistent and invest the time each week in product sourcing.
“If you’re not out there finding deals, you’re not making money,” he says.
Your Turn: Will you try flea market flipping? Have you ever bought and sold an item from Craigslist or another marketplace?
Nick Loper helps people earn money outside of their day job. He’s an author, online entrepreneur, and lifelong student in the game of business. His latest role is as Chief Side Hustler at SideHustleNation.com, a growing community and resource for aspiring and part-time entrepreneurs.