The Bread Pan Blues: A critique of vintage resale as is

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My vintage bread pan sits on my coffee table, it makes a happy home for my coasters, playing cards and beloved bric-a-brac. Recently, I set out to buy multi-loaf bread pans in bulk to repurpose and sell online as desk organizers, plant holders and wall hangings. In this instance, profit margins were not a priority, as long as I was not losing money, the marketing value of the initiative did more to forward the visibility of my tiny company at this point in my endeavors than a little money in the bank would.

I bought my 3 loaf bread pan for $20 at Yeya’s Antiques and Oddities in San Antonio, Texas. The price was fair for a retail purchase, as resale prices in general tend to be on the high side of medium in San Antonio. In New York City, where I gathered most of my experience in the vintage resale trade, a similar item would sell for between $30 and $50 dollars, well merchandised, cleaner items being at the top of that price range. The seller more than likely paid between $5 and $10 dollars for each pan, depending on whether the item was sourced from an auction or estate sale. Items such as these are also likely to be sold in larger lots of similar kitchen items, the buyer being responsible for removing the whole of the lot even if only a few items are desired. In such cases it is likely that a seller can procure an item, such as a 3 loaf bread pan, for next to nothing.

I have no idea how much Yeya’s paid for my bread pan, nor do I know the cost of overhead included in the price. But let’s assume it was purchased for $5 and sold to me for $20. That is a 300% markup and at the lower end of the vintage resale markup range which runs between 200% and 600%. A good deal for an item that I love, but a bad deal for someone looking to amp up and resell the item. And, when you manipulate an item prior to resale, you increase the overall value of that item while decreasing the item’s audience and capacity to sell.

My approach was to sell the bread pans as they were with some minor adjustments to aid in the proposed functions, but repurpose them in the buyer’s imagination with a suite of photos and how to content. Even if I sold each individual bread pan at a 100% markup, by my calculations the most I could pay per unit was $8. So, outside of finding a yet to be discovered, abandoned mid-century, industrial bakery, I was out of luck.

Within the resale industry it is difficult to curate inventory. The industry is currently dominated by two approaches, sell what you can find at a price that justifies how long it will take to resell, or sell what people bring you at a standard markup. The former is where you will find your independant resale shops, the latter is where you will find the industry’s big 3, Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads Trading Company.

The advantage that the big three hold over the rest of us is the ability to keep the cost of acquisition somewhat low and constant, in Goodwill’s case as close to zero as possible, while the rest of us have to navigate a fluctuating and ultimately higher acquisition cost, thus creating a barrier to entry for the little guy to one of the most economically stable industries in America.

Now, I’m not suggesting there is some sort of bread pan conspiracy happening out there, but I do want to point out that the price of a bedpan online is the same now, if not higher, than it would be at a brick and mortar retail location even though the overhead of selling on sites like EBay and Etsy is significantly lower. The rising sales price of vintage goods sold online could be the consequence of several developments.

First, in the great echo chamber of the internet, a greater investment of time and money is necessary to become visible to customers. I would have to collect more data to determine if these costs are comparable to rent, utilities, and the other costs associated with brick and mortar retail. My gut says, possible but not likely.

Second, internet prices are not being determined by standard retail pricing models, but by internet searches of similar products. So, whether or not I found it in Grandma’s garage or bought it for $10 at an estate sale, I’m selling it for what other people are selling it for, or more because I take nice pictures and create a narrative around the product. I don’t know if this is true and good, true and bad, or a misguided interpretation of the online marketplace on my part, but the idea makes me yearn for some sort of code of conduct when it comes to online pricing.

In order to stay in business, you need to provide a product that the consumer wants, move that product at a relatively predictable speed, and have multiple channels of distribution. The Bread Pan Blues, to me, is about the plight of the vintage home accessory retailer who has an idea that cannot be realized without inflating the value of goods beyond what he/she feels is ethical. There is nothing wrong with buying low and selling high, but doing so with abandon demoralizes the customer experience by limiting the creativity of the seller.

 

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