Shopping Garage Sales and Thrift Stores, Part 1

How to shop for items to sell on eBay

by Lynn Dralle
- Apr 03, 2008

I make my living selling one-of-a-kind items on eBay. I sold $117,000 last year on eBay doing it part-time. Isn't that incredible? I keep up my eBay business part-time because I don't think that I can teach anyone else how to sell on eBay if I am not doing it myself. Can you imagine how much I could have sold doing eBay full-time?

There are many places to find merchandise to sell on eBay. Garage sales, yard sales, estate sales, charity sales, manufacturers, jobbers, wholesalers, sellers on eBay, in your own house, in your mom's house, your neighbor's house… The list can—and does—go on and on and on. For the purposes of this article, let's focus on how to shop garage sales and thrift stores, as these are the places where I find the majority of my merchandise.

The Dralle Method

I have a proven formula for shopping garage sales and thrifts stores, and I'm happy to be sharing it with you. I call it the "Dralle Method," and we'll touch upon a portion of it in this article. We are going to first discuss what to buy at garage sales and thrift stores. In Part 2 of this article, we will focus on how to shop at garage and thrift stores.

When I enter a garage sale or thrift store, I quickly scan the room (or garage) looking for collections, dinner sets and flatware. These are the things I grab first. Once those are safely put away, I start looking at individual items.


I like to buy collections because they are easy to list and sell on eBay. Some examples of recent collections I have bought and sold include Norman Rockwell collector's plates (try to not pay more than $2 to $3 each for these), pigs, little girl's dresses and roosters.

collector's plate

Here's a photo of a collector's plate that recently sold for $9.99 out of my eBay store. Keep in mind that most collector's plates will only sell for $9.99, which is why I recommend only paying $2 to $3 for each one.

However, as we all know, on eBay the exception can be the rule. Check out this religious collector's plate. It's one of a set of five, which sold for $519.50! They were the Last Supper series from Veneto Flair and are the subject of story No. 90 in my 2nd 100 Best Things I've Sold on eBay book.

religious collector's plate

Dinner sets

I love selling dinner sets on eBay. Most sets are priced between $10 and $100 at garage sales and thrift stores. However, in recent times, thrift stores have begun to look up the patterns on the Internet and price them too high for resale on eBay. Just do your research. I use the mobile Internet connection on my cell phone to check values on if I have any hesitation. I try to pay less than $1 per piece for a set of dinnerware unless it lists really high on Replacements.

First I look at the pattern. Is it something that will be popular—like animals, blue and white, or a real modern look? Next, I look at the maker. Some of my favorite makers are Fitz & Floyd, Villeroy & Boch, Dansk, Mikasa and Swid Powell.

I recently took a chance on a 40-piece set of Pier One Crackle in Rust. I only paid $20 so I didn't have much to lose. Here's a photo of one of the dinner plates. I ended up selling the entire set (except for the trivet) for more than $300!

dinner plate


Just as I love selling dinnerware on eBay, I also love to sell flatware. Again, it's usually overlooked by most other dealers, priced quite reasonably, and easy and quick to list. Not only that, it's super easy to ship. My assistants, Maureen and Carmen, love to sell flatware too!

Of the three types—sterling, stainless and silver plate—I've had the best luck with stainless. Recently, I have had great success with sterling, but it's typically harder to find at a price reasonable enough to make a good profit.

Individual items

After I have grabbed the collections, dinner sets and flatware, I focus on individual items. As I look at each piece, I ask myself, "Is this item worth $10 on eBay?" That's how I make my decision. I try to pay $2 or less for items that I think will only bring $10 on eBay.

Just keep in mind that my average selling price on eBay is about $16.85. So, to sell $117,000 worth of product, we sold approximately 10,000 items last year. You should see the piles of boxes in front of my house every day for the UPS man!

hand-carved bird

Here's a $2 thrift store purchase that turned into a little bit more than my $16.85 average. This bird, hand-carved by Elmer Crowell, brought me $2,051 on Christmas day in 2004!

Now you've seen some good items to look for at garage sales and thrift stores. My next article will discuss methods for shopping at garage sales and thrift stores.

Happy eBaying!

Read more in Shopping Garage Sales and Thrift Stores, Part 2.

About the Author

Lynn Dralle is a third-generation antiques dealer and a PowerSeller who's been selling full-time on eBay since 1998. An award-winning author, she's lectured around the country on eBay and appeared on national television. Dralle is the author of iBuy and iSell, a two-part auction-tracking notebook system carried in The eBay Shop. She has built up a loyal following of thousands who subscribe to her weekly e-zine through her Web site.

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