This week we’ve got a special interview with a really cool couple I’ve been following on social media for a while now, Rob and Melissa from Flea Market Flipper.
Flipping started as a way for them to make extra money and has since become their full-time job.
Their premier course, Flipper University, teaches others how to make a full-time income working for themselves — a dream I know many DollarSprout readers share.
I had the opportunity to sit down recently with Rob and get to know his business a little bit better.
Here’s what he had to say.
For people not familiar, can you explain the basics behind flea market flipping for us?
Flipping is a term that describes purchasing an asset at a lower cost in one market and then selling it at a profit (for a higher price) in another market.
The most familiar type of flipping is with real estate, but this can be done with other items as well. In our case, we do it with items we find at flea markets, thrift stores, auctions, and yard sales.
Rob and Melissa pictured with their two little girls.
How long have you been flipping?
I have been flipping items for profit for over 20 years now. I started when I was 16 years old and would use my parents’ garage to house my items until they sold. I was right there with the beginning of eBay and all the changes with it over the years.
What made you decide to start flipping?
As a 16-year-old, I wanted to start making some income on my own to spend for fun. (I still love to spend my money on having fun.)
I come from a large family with seven kids (I have six older sisters), so my parents were always shopping at thrift stores and yard sales to help cut costs. My mom started selling some baby clothes and dolls in the classifieds, so I thought I could do the same thing with other items.
I started with Nordic Tracks. Since we live in Florida, people from up North would move here to retire all the time. Once they were here, they wouldn’t feel the need to exercise inside anymore because they could be outside most of the year.
I could pick up a Nordic Track for around $15-$30 in the classifieds and local auctions, then sell them on eBay (to someone up North typically) for $200-$500 depending on the model. I did this over and over again and it was great money for a 16-year-old.
What type of items have you found tend to have the highest profit margins?
This one is tough because I sell all sorts of items.
I like the interesting and weird ones but will sell almost anything that will turn a profit. I won’t mess with the small profit margin items. I have to make at least $100 on an item to make it worth my time.
I like to find items for $5-$50 but will spend more if the potential is there for a great profit. I like commercial equipment when I can find it at a good deal. Exercise equipment, kitchen equipment, medical equipment, patio furniture, kid items, and boat equipment are all types of things I usually look for.
Below is one machine I bought at the flea market for $5. I had no idea what it did, but it looked like it could be something and I figured I would take the $5 chance on it.
I sat on it for a while and eventually sold it on eBay for $700. I still don’t know how it works. It has something to do with magnetic therapy, but that’s all I know. That’s all I need to know really. That, and it made me a good profit.
I recently sold an arcade game on eBay for $1,300 that I purchased for $100. I have a big vision for a huge game room someday so it’s hard to see an item like this go, but I will take that profit.
Here is a cooktop that I bought from a thrift store for $45. I sold it on eBay for $350. I like to find nice cooktops, microwaves, and ovens to resell.
Do you find better deals in person or on sites like eBay, Craigslist, etc.?
I use eBay every day, but more to sell than to buy. I don’t typically buy things to resell on eBay.
I will still buy items I need and use, but I can’t usually find items to resell at a low enough price on eBay. Currently, I have two favorite sources: the flea market and the app Offer Up. I can find great deals both in person and online.
Do you ever buy something and are just not able to flip it for whatever reason?
My wife and I may have different answers to this question.
I do sometimes hold onto things for a while and wait for the right person to buy it. My items are a little different, so it usually takes someone who is specifically looking for that item. My wife Melissa would like me to lower my prices and have a higher turnaround, but she doesn’t complain once I make the higher sales of course.
So to answer your question, I do have things that I end up selling for less, but I don’t think I ever lose money; I just make less of a profit. My garage and storage units may have a few of these items I’m “sitting on” right now.
What’s the craziest, most random item you’ve ever flipped?
I’ve sold a few random items. One crazy one was a prosthetic leg. I bought it for $30 and sold it for $1,000 the next day. I love fast turnarounds, but this one made me second guess whether I sold it for too cheap.
Another random item was a commercial lobster tank. It was round and looked like a big cotton candy machine. I found it at a thrift store for $100 and sold it on eBay for $1,200.
I thought it was funny that I found a lobster tank because we go catch lobster every year down in the Keys. It seemed fitting to keep the tank, but I’d prefer the income.
What’s the most money you’ve made on any single flip? Most lost?
Last September was our biggest flip to date. We bought a security tower from an auction for $6,000. We sold it the next month for $25,000! It was a fantastic profit. I don’t usually invest that much (and those large numbers make Melissa nervous), but this definitely paid off.
I can’t really say an amount that I’ve lost, because anything I haven’t sold yet is still in my garage and I will sell it eventually.
If you and Melissa disagree on buying something to flip, how do you settle it?
This is an ongoing discussion that we have. She typically doesn’t love me spending anything over $50 on items, even if I tell her they will have a big return. She never minds it when they sell though.
We talk about the big purchases and if she feels really strongly against it, I do my best not to go through with it.
We discuss our budget and try to figure out what is allotted to spending that month. Since our income and expenses fluctuate so much month-to-month, this is an area we are constantly working on.
What’s a realistic budget for someone to start with that wants to get into flea market flipping?
The best part about this as a business is you can do it as a side hustle and have a really low start-up cost.
I recommend to the students I teach to start with a budget of $20-$50 to find items. Off of that, they should be able to make $100-$300 and then take some of the profit and do it again.
There are even ways to get items for free. I recently wrote an eBook on 5 Ways to Get FREE Items to Resell for Profit to help people who are just getting started.
You’ve been doing this for a while. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Like with anything else, be consistent in your efforts.
I don’t find $10,000 worth of items in one hour at the flea market. I consistently visit our local flea market and thrift shops weekly. I do it to find those treasures to make money, but I also do it because I really love it. I think it’s super important to have a passion for what you’re doing.
Consistency and passion and hard work are all important, but that being said, I’m the opposite of a workaholic. I like to play too much. This is why having my own schedule works so well for me.
I would tell someone just starting out that it does take some time to get good at spotting things and figuring out eBay and shipping, but in my opinion, it’s totally worth it.
What’s one of the biggest challenges with flipping items?
I would say that shipping can be one of the biggest hurdles for most people. It can be very intimidating when starting out, but it’s completely doable.
Last year I started shipping out some larger items, and it made a big difference in our sales. Since I could ship these instead of just local pick up, I could sell large items more easily. I also wrote an eBook recently all about shipping large items. It’s called: The Art of Shipping: How to Package and Ship Large Items for Profit.
We also cover shipping in our Flea Market Flipper eCourse Flipper University. I think it may be the one thing that keeps most people away from doing this as a side hustle.
Tell us more about your course.
We teach a course at Flea Market Flipper called Flipper University.
My wife and I created it in 2015 to help people who want to get started making money flipping as a side hustle but needed some help to get going. We wanted to create something that could take someone through the whole process, from starting their eBay and PayPal accounts to finding good items to sell and creating a substantial income for themselves.
I have always done this as a hobby on the side, but never really kept track of sales. Since starting our blog we’ve been keeping better track. In 2015 we made $42,000 as a side income (in 10-15 hours per week). When we went full time (20-35 hours per week) in 2016 we made $133,000.
I don’t want people to expect those same numbers when starting out, because it does take some legwork and experience, but I say that because I want people to know it’s completely possible.