It’s the beginning of another new year and I am in a reflective mood, as 2024 is my 10th year as a vintage seller! I have learned so much over those years and met so many wonderful people. I am very lucky to work with vintage things and to have created a job I love, so here’s to the next 10 years and beyond.
I’ve always loved vintage and decorated my first flat with vintage 60s kitchenalia in the 90s. I wasn’t inspired by the homewares sections from high street retailers of the day, so set out to find my own quirky style. I was used to finding pre-loved items and using them; when I was a child back in the 80s I regularly went with my mum and auntie to car boot sales. They would be after 20s and 30s deco items, the kind of things that reminded them my grandparents, and which commanded high prices at the time. I would be searching for toys and clothes, but by the time I got to my late teens, I was attracted by the bright colours of 60s and 70s kitchenware. Mum would tell me all about the pieces I found and explain who the maker was. I then was hooked and started my collection.
Pieces were relatively easy to find then and I remember I once found a whole J&G Meakin Aztec Coffee set for just £5! I also had some gorgeous Black Velvet Hostess pieces, Swinnertons Springtime, Homemaker and lovely bright Palissy dishes, along with a matching cruet set. My favourite range to collect was Hornsea Hierloom as it was made around the year I was born in 1976. I have kept my original finds, and the collection has certainly grown since then!
In 2014 I was at a crossroads in my life and wanted to start a new career to get away from a stressful freelance job in web design and marketing. I had recently signed up for an Ebay account the previous Christmas to find some vintage decorations and had experimented with selling clothes. I liked how easily things seemed to sell, and for quite a good price, so soon expanded to listing selected items from my vintage wardrobe. By this time, I started to visit car boot sales and vintage fairs again with a view to finding items to resell. My knowledge of 60s and 70s kitchenalia soon came flooding back so I started to put those items on ebay too. These all sold really well, and I began to look at setting up my own website, as well as an Etsy account. A side hustle was born!
My marketing and web design background was a big help in my new venture, as I knew it was important to have a striking brand image, as well as an easy-to-use website. I had recently learned digital marketing too such as social media and search engine optimisation, which saved me a ton of money in agency fees. It was time to use my marketing knowledge for myself, and to work on something that excited me, and other like-minded people. I kept some freelance clients going however, just in case things didn’t work out.
The next few years I spent throwing myself into learning all things about the antiques and second-hand industry. In 2015 I signed up for a retail space in a local antiques centre, which proved to be my ultimate initiation into my new world. I learned from the old-school dealers about many facets of the trade, such as how to negotiate a good price when buying, new places to source items, how to repair items and what sells well. I had to quickly learn visual merchandising too, as, unlike selling at Vintage fairs, I had a wall space to use, rather than just an eye level tabletop.
Talking of vintage fairs, I did a good number of them early on and I found it invaluable for networking. Sometimes takings at fairs can be disappointing, but it was a great chance to talk to buyers, and sellers alike. It gave me knowledge of what items were popular, as well as swapping stories with fellow dealers.
The market for vintage was buoyant during those years, however things began to change after the Brexit referendum. I found that buyers were being more cautious and cutting back on unnecessary spending, as uncertainty loomed. The antiques centre also had a small market for vintage and retro items, being a traditional emporium of old-style antiques and I found I wasn’t selling as much as the other dealers. So, I left there in 2018 and decided to put all my efforts into selling online. This seemed to work well especially after things settled down but wasn’t without its challenges as Ebay and Etsy introduced started to algorithm changes also making it harder for items to be seen (unless you paid to promote them of course). My own website was doing well in the meantime with a stream of steady orders, and I even got an enquiry from Homes & Antiques magazine about featuring some of my items in their next issue.
Having a place to display my items was also important, as when I was in the antiques centre I used to share new arrivals on my social media, increasing sales. I realised I needed to do this from home too, as well as having a place to be able to see all of my stock in one place. I had previously worked in my garden summerhouse for my marketing clients, so in 2018 we decided to clear it out and paint it blue, to create a quirky shed shop. This was an instant hit with my social media followers and local people who wanted to visit for collections / browsing. I now had a cool place to display my items and take funky pictures for social media.
The ups and downs of the economy continued to affect my business and when Covid came along, I knew I needed to go back to my old freelance work to keep the cash flow going. So, my vintage business became part time again as we learned how to cope. However, I did have a surge of sales in lockdown, from collectors and enthusiasts missing out on face-to-face events that spring and summer. People also tend to turn to the past in times of uncertainty, as it is a predicable place to retreat into, where times were perceived as much simpler. It is a time of memories and comfort to some, and many people like to buy items from the past that reminds them of a loved one.
My business has pretty much continued to be run part time, along with my other freelance work since then. Times continue to be challenging, with the cost-of-living crisis and outcomes of the wars in Europe being a key factor in customers tightening their belts. All is not lost however, as there is still very much an interest in vintage, from collectors and enthusiasts alike. I have recently started to post more nostalgia-based content which is proving to be popular with my followers. It seems the past is not ready to be forgotten yet!
As I look forward to the future, I have a few new ideas for my business in 2024. Now an ‘old hand’ at this, I would like to start sharing some of my knowledge of selling and setting up a vintage business. Look out for this type of content as the year unfolds and ultimately I would like to create a series of low fee online training courses. Watch this space for how that develops! A sense of community is also important, so I would like to explore that more, as well as increasing my nostalgia-based content.
As for social media, the algorithms are getting increasingly harder to work with, as they favour paid and popular content in people’s feeds. I would therefore like to go back to my old search engine optimisation training and concentrate more on being found via Google. This means more blogs, more streamlined categories of items and promoting my 10-year achievement in business.
Finally, I would like to reward my loyal customers with exclusive content and discounts which will be available via my email newsletter. So, if you haven’t already, do subscribe here. I will be making a content plan this month to tie this all together so look out for exciting things to come!
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and I look forward to connecting with you in 2024, and beyond!
This blog post is written by Rachel Toy, owner of Rachel’s Vintage & Retro. I am a vintage enthusiast writing about 20th Century Antiques and Collectables. I also sell a wide variety of vintage items such as Vintage Toys and Games, Vintage Tupperware, Vintage Pyrex, Vintage Kitsch and Vintage Plastics from my Vintage Website and Social Media.