How to Source Inventory for Free or With a Low Budget

Reselling Tips
How to Source Inventory for Free or With a Low Budget

What is your average cost of goods? Obviously, the lower it is, the better in regard to maximizing profit. It can be difficult to find inventory that is priced to flip for a decent profit! This article will teach you how to source for free or inexpensively.


1. Thrift Stores & Consignment Shops

These are by far the most popular way for resellers to obtain inventory. Ranked by priciest to cheapest, here are the different types of thrift stores and second-hand shops:


Commercial Thrift Stores   ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Chain stores such as Savers, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Global Thrift, and Value Village often contain a nice variety but can be pricier than other alternatives. At most commercial thrift stores, pricing is determined by a computerized system, and brands which are considered “desirable” are often priced accordingly. While inventory may be significantly over-priced, most commercial thrift chains offer sales and reward programs. Be sure to follow your local commercial thrift stores on social media to stay updated about sale days and categories!


Reseller Tip: Build a relationship with the employees, managers, and owners at thrift stores. They may keep you updated about what is in stock, set things aside, or let you have a first look at incoming inventory!  


Brick & Mortar Thrift Stores ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Privately owned second-hand stores and consignment shops are often more reasonably priced than commercial chains and allow you to lend your support to a small business! Brick and mortar thrift stores are run by resellers in real life! Often, these stores offer consignment or discounts when you donate inventory, so be prepared to go with a bag to donate!


Charity-Based Secondhand Stores ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Charity-based stores operate for the benefit of charitable causes, veterinary rescues, or community foundations supporting causes such as relief from natural disaster, support to victims of domestic violence, or to support medical patients or research. Charity-based shops are one of the best places to score inexpensive inventory! These organizations receive a ton of inventory from people who are eager to support the cause, and their prices reflect their eagerness to sell! Further, charitable organizations receive special tax benefits, allowing them to sell items at a much lower cost than commercial or privately-owned businesses! This is not only an opportunity to obtain inexpensive quality inventory, but also to support an amazing cause and make a difference!


Remember:  It is important to give back. While most resellers have access to an abundance of clothing, remember that there are people in the world without access to the necessities. Get involved with charitable organizations and do your part to help others and make a difference!


Church Thrifts  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Church thrift stores are amazing places to score low-cost inventory! Church thrift stores often have incredible inventory as members of the community are eager to give back to their church. Like charitable organizations, churches receive tax relief and are able to offer super low prices on quality inventory. Further, church thrift shops are often run by volunteers who may not be familiar with brands and pricing, making them a great place to score amazing pieces for pennies! Church thrifts are my favorite place to source!


Many church thrift stores are not advertised, so they can be tough to find.  They also often have unique and limited hours, so be sure to call before you go. Also, do some research to find out if the church near you has an annual yard sale or pop-up shop!


Reseller Tip: Bring cash or your checkbook to church thrift stores, as most do not accept credit card payments.


The Goodwill Outlet  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Goodwill Outlet “Bins” offer the absolute best prices on inventory for resale! These locations are often a combination of raw unsorted donations and unsold items from the Goodwill retail stores’ racks. Items are sold by the pound, and at most locations clothing is under $2.00 per pound! The Bins is a unique experience, rummaging through large, unsorted receptacle bins to find the gems! Many resellers source exclusively from the bins, as they can acquire amazing pieces for well under a dollar.


Reseller Tip: Make friends with local treasure hunters at the bins, they may be rummaging for different things, and you can help each other find the gems!


You may also enjoy reading: How to Thrift for Profit to Sell on Ebay, Poshmark and Etsy


2. Yard Sales & Flea Markets

Yard Sales and Flea Markets are great places to score inexpensive inventory! Flea markets are essentially larger organized yard sales, where vendors may set up booths to sell second-hand merchandise. Yard sale prices are unbeatable! When someone is hosting a yard sale, they have already undergone the exhausting process of having sorted through their belongings and are prepared to discard unwanted items at essentially any cost. Usually, they just want the stuff gone and they are ready to donate what they cannot sell!


Reseller Tip: When you find a post for a yard sale on Facebook Marketplace, message the person and ask if they have a specific category you are looking for. This is a great way to introduce yourself and perhaps make a valuable business connection or friend!


To find yard sales, look on Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace, and local publications and ads. I recommend the app Yard Sale Treasure Map App, which pulls local ads to report where yard sales are happening. It will even let you filter by distance and plan your trip for you geographically! Be sure to keep your eyes posted for yard sale signs, some people only advertise on telephone poles!


Don’t Forget: At flea markets and yard sales, prices are usually negotiable. Always offer less than you are willing to pay and be prepared to do a little haggling!


3. Estate Sales or “Tag Sales”

These are a way of liquidating the belongings of a family or an estate, usually in the event of downsizing, moving, divorce, bankruptcy, or death. At an estate sale (often executed by commercial companies), the public is invited into a home where items are tagged for sale. In lieu of the circumstances, items are usually priced to sell. Further, the person(s) in charge of the event is forced to discard or relocate unsold items, so they are especially eager to clear out nearing the end of the sale. Estate sales are a great place to source large quantities and find vintage items. While estate sales can be hit or miss, there is a lot of potential for finding incredible inventory for bottom dollar.   


Estate Sale Tips and Tricks:

  1.  Find local estate sales in newspapers, community bulletin boards, and online.
  2.  Know the rules of the sale you are going to, the payment methods accepted, and if sales are facilitated through bidding or outright purchase.
  3. Research the decedent or family hosting the sale. You may learn about the type of items you will find in the home.
  4. Arrive early! Admission into estate sales is first come, first serve, and people begin lining up several hours before the doors open.
  5. Be polite and practice estate sale etiquette.


4. Community Outreach

This is by far the best way to network and source free and inexpensive inventory. Consider reaching out to friends, family members, and people in your community to find inventory for resale. Here is an example of a recent post I published on my Facebook, local town Facebook Groups, local bulletin boards, and NextDoor. I receive hundreds of donations monthly from people who are eager to support a small business and townsperson. I also meet people who are not necessarily looking to give away items but have bags of things that they cannot bring themselves to donate due to their original cost. I regularly meet up with people to browse and purchase lots of inventory for astonishingly low prices. I have also met many consignment clients this way.


Community outreach is an amazing way to meet people, expand your network, and find free or low-cost items for resale. Be sure to hand out your business card so they remember to reach out to you next time they or a friend are looking to donate or sell.


Remember: Be safe and be smart. Meet people at public places, during the day, and accompanied by a friend.


5. Storage Unit Auctions

They are a fun and unique way to score inexpensive inventory. During a storage unit auction, the belongings of a self-storage unit are auctioned off to the highest bidder to mitigate the loss of rental fees. Before the live auction, the prospective bidders are allowed to peruse (without touching) the contents of a storage unit from the entrance. As such, bids are made after having just an outside glance at the articles, which is basically like purchasing a giant mystery box.


Fun Fact: Most self-storage facilities auction off storage units after only 90 days of non-payment.


Often, entire storage units are purchased for only dollars, with the entire contents therein being awarded to the highest bidder. While this means rummaging and disposing of the junk, you will inevitably find many gems. Ask your local storage company where they send unpurchased items, many companies also host live paddle-style auctions on individual items.


Reseller Tip: Introduce yourself and distribute business cards to everyone in attendance at live auctions. They may not be looking for what you are looking for, especially whereas most “auction hunters” are on the lookout for tools, electronics, and antique hardgoods.


6. Consignment

Selling is another way to obtain free inventory for reselling. Consignment is a business arrangement in which you (the consignee) sell an item(s) for the owner (consigner) and agree to pay them a specified percentage upon sale. That is, you agree to sell an item(s) for someone and agree to split the profit a particular way. Consignment is an amazing way to obtain free inventory, and also a great way to generate funds to re-invest in your business.


Reseller Tip: Always operate under a contract which clearly establishes the commission rate, how platform fees are accounted for, the method of payment, and the time frame by which items will be sold.


Consignment selling is ideal for those without time or geographical access to quality inventory, or those trying to raise funds without spending any money. That being said, consignment requires extra book-keeping, communication, and work- be sure to only accept items on consignment that are worth your time after fees and shared profits.  


Consider advertising locally for consignment clients, as you never know what items people may be looking to sell. Not everyone can be a reseller, with all the work that it entails! To find consignment clients, post in local Facebook Groups, NextDoor, and spread the word to friends, family, and colleagues.



Other ways to source for free or with a low budget include:


  • Buy Sell Trade Stores (BSTs) including Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange
  • Sourcing right from the resale platforms such as Poshmark, Mercari, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace, and ThredUp to flip items for a profit!
  • Sourcing from unclaimed airport luggage. People pack their best items for vacation!
  • Liquidation stores such as Black Fridays sell returned merchandise for pennies on the dollar.
  • Keep an eye out for closing sales and retail stores which are going out of business.
  • Often there are recycling centers as transfer stations, where items are abandoned and waiting to be saved from landfills.
  • Some resellers actually dumpster dive at retail locations for gems.
  • You would be surprised at the amount of product that retailers throw away, but be sure to check your laws and be safe if you try this one!


What are your favorite ways to source for free or inexpensive inventory? Share with us below!

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