Tips & Tricks

Side Hustle: How to Start a Furniture Refurbishing Business

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Taking furnishings that have seen better days and transforming them into fresh, stylish, and fully functional pieces can be a satisfying hobby and good way to earn some extra cash. If you’re a handy person and have a little bit of space to store a few tools and a couple of works-in-progress, a furniture refurbishing business might be a perfect way to dip your toes into entrepreneurship. With so many ways to source inexpensive pieces of furniture and just as many ways to sell one or two pieces at a time, not much upfront investment is needed.

Where to Find Furniture

As with most businesses, the name of the game is buying low and selling high. Refurbisher and store owner Lauren Marcum, for example, “never pays more than $60 for a piece of furniture.” Here are some low-cost ways to source furniture in need of some TLC:

  • Dumpsters: While dumpster diving isn’t for the faint of heart, it can sometimes yield surprising finds and give you the satisfaction of rescuing items that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. To get the best results, try looking for accessible dumpsters near upscale apartment buildings or next to boutique furniture dealers or resale shops.
  • Curbs: A little less daunting than dumpsters, keeping your eye out for furniture that’s been left curbside also be a good way to score free inventory. Just be sure to inspect pieces for excessive structural damage before bringing them home.
  • Freecycle Network: If you’re lucky enough to live within range of an active Freecycle group, this can be a great source.
  • Friends: One of the best ways to find furniture to refurbish is through word of mouth. Most people have at least one or two items around that seem too special to get rid of, but that aren’t particularly useful in their current states. You can offer your services at an hourly rate, or offer to purchase these items.
  • Garage & Estate Sales: If you’re willing to get up at the crack of dawn on weekend mornings and drive for many miles as you make the rounds of your city’s yard and garage sales, you can often make some great, inexpensive finds. Once noon rolls around most sale organizers are ready to negotiate even better deals on any remaining merchandise.
  • Craigslist: Not everything on Craigslist is a bargain, but if you scan through the offerings on a regular basis, it’s possible to score some great pieces. Try scouting the “Free” section before moving onto “Furniture” and other, pricier offerings.
  • Store Owners: From resale shops to local boutiques to major furniture stores, retail managers are often stuck with merchandise that isn’t salable. While some stores may have more restrictions than others when it comes to offloading damaged, or otherwise undesirable goods.

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Tricks of the Trade: Furniture Refurbishing Basics

Depending on your plans for an individual piece, refinishing furniture can be a simple or complicated endeavor, but most projects involve one or more of the following tasks:

  • Furniture Repair: A few basic carpentry skills will take you a long way when it comes to shoring up furniture that’s endured a lot of wear and tear. Common fixes include patching nicks and dings, stabilizing loose joints and veneers, replacing stripped screws, and troubleshooting sticky drawers.
  • Refinishing: To refinish furniture, you’ll typically need to strip away the old finish, sand the piece down, and stain or paint it. When it comes to refinishing, many furniture refurbishers develop signature techniques and styles.
  • Reupholstering: Finding wholesale or discount fabric suppliers can be the key to keeping costs down for reupholstering projects. Simple cushion reupholstering can be as simple as tearing off the old fabric and folding and stapling new fabric in place. More complex jobs may require the help of professionals, so you’ll want to make sure your final asking price justifies the expense.

Where to Sell Furniture

You can take as casual or as formal an approach to selling your work as you feel comfortable with and have time for. Common venues for selling refurbished furniture include:

  • Craigslist: Flipping furniture on Craigslist is a common strategy for new furniture refinishers. You can both find new inventory and sell finished pieces using nothing but Craigslist as your supply chain and storefront.
  • Instagram: If you specialize in smaller pieces that can be easily shipped or have a good-sized local following, you might have some luck selling pieces using your Instagram account as a showroom. Set up a simple auction system and invoice winners using PayPal, or use specialized software.
  • eBay: While it can be challenging to sell larger pieces through online auction platforms, many people do so successfully. Low-cost shipping methods like Amtrak or Greyhound can make it feasible to sell furniture online without the transportation costs exceeding the price of the items.
  • Flea Markets: While some cities have more of a thriving flea market scene than others, if you live in an urban area, chance are there’s a weekend market near you where you can set up shop for the low cost of renting a stall.
  • Local Boutiques: You may not be ready for your own retail space just yet, but many boutique home furnishing stores may be in the market for unique, hand-restored furnishings. Getting to know local shop owners may yield fruitful sales channels for your business.

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