Upsell to excel: starting a second-hand business

  1. Chair being repainted
    Alice Harper

    Alice Harper UKBF Newcomer

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    In this age of increased consumer awareness, an increasing number of people are considering the impact their 'retail therapy' may be having on the planet. 

    Climate protest group Extinction Rebellion called for people to refrain from buying brand new clothes for a whole year, as well as staging protests against 'fast fashion' in Oxford Circus and at London Fashion Week. The group is encouraging participants to move towards buying second-hand in order to minimise waste. 

    Oxfam also reported that 62,000 people pledged to join their recent campaign ‘Second Hand September’, designed to promote shopping for pre-loved items. And it does seem as though the tide may be beginning to turn, particularly in favour of second-hand clothing. Fast fashion brand Forever 21 recently filed for bankruptcy, with some commenting that this could signal a shift in consumer taste towards more sustainable options.

    Along with the general shift towards online shopping in the last decade, the popularity of sites like eBay and Gumtree, along with boot-sale apps like Depop and Shpock, has increased. As a relatively easy way to both earn money and shop, especially with the apps' focus on image and identity, these kinds of platforms are particularly popular with young people at home in the world of social media. 

    This can feel like an intimidating background to be up against when thinking about starting a second-hand business, particularly with consumers able to find bargains so easily online. However, the fact that shoppers are seeking out unique, pre-loved items means there is a market for these stores, and we are beginning to see an increase in smaller businesses thriving on this surge in interest. 

    Sobeys is a small chain, with branches in Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, selling vintage and reworked clothing. The store's founder started out selling just a few items of clothing, donated by a friend, at a market in London. 

    As a way to start small and test the waters, relying on small donations is a good way to begin as it reduces the risk of spending money on bulk stock before you have identified a market and judged demand. 

    When asked about the opportunity for breaking into the market, Sobeys is positive. “I believe it is easier to start a vintage business today,” says Amia Watling, sales associate at Sobeys. “It's now considered cool to be wearing second-hand clothes.” 

    The company also places a lot of emphasis on reworking old clothing as a way to minimise waste and create unique products. This includes altering stained or worn pieces, as well as making new items, such as bags or scrunchies, from offcuts. 

    This also means an increase in value of these products; the Sobeys brand has more focus on quality, luxury clothing rather than straightforward bargains, although they aim to make their prices student friendly. 

    They advise that setting a fair price is important, but also to be honest about how much something is really worth: “A lot of people want items for as cheap as possible, but sometimes we need to appreciate the work that's gone into them to make it that price”.

    Upcycling and reworking have gained popularity in recent years. It has become more common for lifestyle bloggers to suggest painting used furniture yourself, for example, to personalise your decor and save money. 

    And when utilised by second-hand business owners, upcycling can be an important tool for increasing the value of products. Generic items of clothing or furniture can be given new life and individuality with a few fairly simple alterations. 

    Consumers who are already interested in buying pre-loved items are more likely to seek out, and pay more, for something unique that they can't find among the cookie-cutter products of large retail chains.

    If your artistic flair stretches further than a lick of paint or mending a hem, you might be sitting on an opportunity to create even more individual products that allow your business to stand out. 

    Lauren Holloway is the founder of Maybe Mabel, an online shop selling handmade bags and wallets made with recycled leather. Having started out looking for ways to lower the cost of manufacturing her products, she now focuses much more on the sustainable side of her business. 

    “I think it's really important as a small creative business to be as environmentally conscious as possible,” she told UKBF. 

    “Over 75% of traditional leather is often destined for landfill, so by using recycled leather I can play a small but important part in helping to reduce the huge amount of wastage that gets produced every day.”

    Sourcing recycled materials might seem like extra effort, but the supplier Holloway uses does the hard work for you: processing the offcuts into a new material that is easy to work with, and all using a process to minimise waste and pollution. 

    Alongside the benefits of reduced costs and environmental impact, a business like Maybe Mabel feels the commercial advantage of using second-hand materials. 

    “I find that a lot of my customers are drawn to the fact that my bags are made with recycled material,” Holloway said. “There are many other companies making similar products and so it's definitely an aspect that helps me stand out from the crowd and attract a consumer who is more sustainably and ethically-minded.”

    There is no doubt that the competition for potential second-hand business owners is higher than ever. But there has also never been a better time to explore such an avenue, with demand for pre-loved, quirky products on the rise and increasing concern among shoppers about contributing to landfill. 

    With careful sourcing of used items or materials, a focus on how you can make your offer unique, and a little creativity, there is a world of potential to thrive as a small business in the second-hand market.

  2. EeeTea

    EeeTea UKBF Contributor

    17 12
    Sorry, I can't help myself: in my defence it is Friday afternoon, and I've done nothing but business admin today.

    Laughs aside, second hand (upcycling, vintage or whatever else it could be called) is a good idea, and even my Japanese wife (renowned as a consumer society with all the very latest innovative products) has come around to buying second hand. I think to a large extent the stigma has gone (or is going).

    What I would say is that really only better quality goods work well in the second hand market, 'tat' was probably only fit for landfill before it was even sold.
    Posted: Nov 1, 2019 By: EeeTea Member since: Feb 8, 2019
    Melissa Tredinnick likes this.
  3. saton

    saton UKBF Newcomer

    40 1
    You have very beautiful work. It's so beautiful when things can get a second life
    Posted: Nov 5, 2019 By: saton Member since: Oct 23, 2019