Resale Casting Rules (What NOT to Buy for Resale)

The day is breezy with a touch of salty moisture in the air. The sea is sparkling under your gently swaying boat. A heavy knotted net lays idly at your feet, waiting for it’s next chance to prove its’ lucrative value. Now, are you going to cast your net as widely as possible, using all your strength, or just give it a half-hearted toss and see what happens? It’s taken a lot of time and effort just to get to this place – getting up early, having all the supplies assembled and in proper working order, assessing environmental conditions, anticipating problems, and so on.

A fisherman who intends to catch as many fish as he can is going to cast his net thoughtfully and with as wide a swath as possible. It’s much the same with a clothing reseller. You must cast your net (inventory purchasing) both thoughtfully and widely. I had a conversation with my eldest daughter recently and she was imagining the day when I would stop reselling and the kind of celebration we would have when I sold the absolute last item in my store. I hated to burst that pretty bubble, but I had to lay the truth on her. “Some items in my store will never sell,” I started to explain. “What? Then why did you buy them?!” my daughter shot back. Well, an excellent question, my dear. There are a multitude of reasons an item may or may not sell. Some of them are within your control, like taking beautiful, clear pictures and starting with brand-worthy items in the first place. You can also help your items sell by giving complete and accurate information in your description and (I hate to admit this) answering as many customer questions as you can while still leaving yourself time to eat, sleep, and perform other necessary bodily functions. But then there are the items where you feel like you did all of the above, everything lined up just like countless similar items that you sold in the past…but these items stick to you like super glue. They just love being a part of your life and can’t bear to leave you, try as you might to gently or not-so-gently push them out the door. It’s these sticky items that you will wish you had never spent the time and money listing – but exactly which items will end up being sticky is so hard to predict, and hence the need to spread your net widely rather than narrowly. I am going to give a handful of lessons I’ve learned so you can avoid some of the bottom-dwellers. Here are my sticky bottom-dwellers:

  1. Old labels. Even really nice, quality styles and brands won’t do so well if they are “old label”, which just means exactly what it sounds like. Every brand changes the label in their clothing every so often, maybe every “X” number of years. At some point you will have what was “new label” and is now suddenly “old label” but you will have a window of time where it is still acceptable. I do advise you hurry before that window closes. Buyers want to see pictures of the tag for this very reason (old label = less desirable, no matter how nice the item) and I don’t recommend skipping the step of showing a picture of the label as you are more likely to get returns on old labels even if there is nothing wrong with the item, the perception is all that matters. Better to give buyers all the info up front and let them decide. Should you try selling your old labels from your own closest? Of course, it’s already a sunk cost, but don’t be quick to buy old labels for resale purposes. (Quick tip: if you aren’t familiar with what the newest labels look like, go window shopping at a high-end mall near you, just look at the brand labels to get a sense of what is new and then by default you’ll recognize what is old)
  2. Unbranded items. End of lesson. But seriously, it’s incredibly difficult to sell unbranded items, people aren’t likely to ever find your item in the vast sea of branded items.
  3. Strapless dresses. Not in every instance, certain styles and brands can do fine, but as a general rule I have decidedly not done well with this category. I believe the problem here boils down to buyers thinking, “What bra would I wear with this? I don’t own a strapless bra and it’s too much trouble to go buy one.” At least I know that’s what I would be thinking, so while this may just be projection I think I’m on to something.
  4. Itchy sweaters. Even if they look nice and are a great brand, if they are physically very itchy to the touch, they might sell but are likely to boomerang right back at ya. It’s important to let buyers know this up front in your description, “Super cute sweater! Incredibly itchy!” And now you can see why you should just pass on this group.
  5. Altered items. Altered items are a difficult sell because they are custom-tailored to a specific person. It’s not an impossibility if you give careful measurements and note clearly the item is altered from original size, but if you can tell before buying that the item has been altered (and I’m speaking more about waist/bust alterations rather than the length) it’s best to move along. For example, a maxi dress that has been taken up, provided the hem job is quality and professional, is still fine for resale.
  6. Stains, holes, and other problem children. If you are handy with a sewing needle, some items can be perfectly mended for resale. When it comes to cashmere/merino, holes are very common and while you might still get a sale on the defective ones, it will be greatly reduced in value. Tack on the time you spent mending and it’s generally not worth the effort. Stains will similarly reduce the value of your items or render them sticky bottom-dwellers.
  7. Tween brands. They do super well in malls, but not nearly as well for resale. My hypothesis here is that this tween group shops with peers for fun and buys often at the instigation of friends or store workers. They aren’t interested in pre-owned because Mom and Dad are paying and they have little motivation to try and save them money. Plus shopping online is not a fun peer group activity.
  8. Items that had a low retail value to start with. Think basic layering t-shirts or tank tops that retailed for under 20$. Just not enough profit margin to be worth the effort.

That may seems like a long list, but it leaves a tremendous amount of possibility and weeding out likely duds is a smart way to start. From here, let’s go back to the fishing example. Don’t expect to list five items and get five sales. Enter a new term, “conversion rate”. Conversion rate is the number of items you sell per day divided by the total number of items you have for sale. My current conversion rate is actually very low, but the numbers still work out very well as far as weekly sales because I have a large total inventory available. The more items you have listed, the more sales should theoretically come your way, provided you are selecting the right merchandise and following other best practices for resale. Actually, come to think of it, resale is a lot like index investing. Allow me to explain.

Index funds cast the net wide. There will be winners and losers in your mix as you hold this broad position, owning minuscule percentages of a multitude of companies. Your resale inventory should look the same – broad with a good mix of brands/styles/sizes (and diversified by perhaps also selling shoes, accessories, or other related categories) in which there will inevitably be winners and losers. The similarities don’t end there, you should also have a buy and hold mentality with your resale inventory, as with index investing. The lag time can be months to years for items to sell (this is called the tail, as in a “long-tailed” item), but don’t be quick to lose confidence in your selections. If you are SELLING FROM STRENGTH, you don’t have to be in a rush for the fastest sale, you can wait patiently for the biggest, fattest fish to swim by and reel it in skillfully as you savor the rewards of a well-executed plan. Do as well as you can on the winners, because, as mentioned earlier in the conversation with my daughter, some things will never sell. Have the mentality of the winners always needing to offset both the time and monetary cost of the losers. Don’t be content with a “good-enough” or “quick-enough” sale on your best items. I’m not advocating a stubborn inability to let go of an old item that has a decent offer on it, what I’m saying is when you have a great item, fight for it to do as well as possible. Lastly, in true Mustachian fashion (this concept is gleaned from Mr. Money Mustache) control what you can control, as applied to your resale inventory. With investing, you can and should control the fees you pay to play. With resale, you can’t control when or if your items sell, but there is so much you can control: the brands you choose, the styles, the prices you are willing to pay, the quality of your photographs and listings, the items you DON’T sell, and a topic that deserves it’s own post, proper pricing….coming soon!

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