How 5 Vintage Furniture Dealers Went From Living Paycheck to Paycheck to Owning Six-Figure Businesses

How 5 Vintage Furniture Dealers Went From Living Paycheck to Paycheck to Owning Six-Figure Businesses

Photo courtesy of Tristate Modern. The second floor of Manhattan’s 46th Street Salvation Army was Sean Viola’s chance at a better life. It was here that he stumbled on a whole floor dedicated to furniture while on his daily lunchtime thrifting expedition. At the time, Sean was a visual merchandiser for fashion brands, so he had experience spotting brand name clothing for cheap. All it took was a simple Google search to discover that some of the furniture he found was hugely undervalued.

Now, Sean and his business partner Zeus Caballero run Tri-State Modern , a New York–based company dedicated to selling midcentury-modern furniture. It began when Sean realized he didn’t have to scrape by working in the fashion industry if he could resell vintage furniture.

“Before starting the company I was living paycheck to paycheck,” Sean says. “But when you sell something you bought for $60 for what amounts to a full paycheck, you realize quickly that even an extra few hundred or thousand dollars will change things for the better. You don’t have to worry about paying rent late or a PSEG bill. You don’t have to eat 99-cent pizza every day and can have a real dinner.” To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video WATCH Inside Designer Justina Blakeney’s Colorful SoCal Home Share Tweet Email More… EMBED URL

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In five years, Sean and Zeus have turned their side hustles into six-figure salaries, accumulated over 17,000 followers on Instagram, and have flipped over 400 pieces of furniture. But they aren’t the only ones who have taken the challenging path of a furniture dealer and turned it into a profitable business. Back in 2020, Jessica Li worked as an interior designer before getting laid off due to the pandemic. Her partner, Leo, had already established a side hustle of flipping furniture on eBay, and one day they came across three cane Cesca chairs for $5 total.

With her interior design experience, Jessica recognized the significance of the famed chairs. The couple quickly bought the chairs, and after restoring them they made the Instagram account, Renewfinds , and sold the chairs for around $300—a hefty 5,900% increase in value. For those who seek gorgeous, conversation-starting furniture pieces and are willing to pay a higher price for others to find and curate them, value can be subjective. AP reports that the living room off-the-shelf secondhand furniture market is anticipated to reach $16.5 billion by the end of 2025, around a 66% increase from $9.9 billion in 2017.

In 2022, shoppers have new sets of values—they want physical stores to evolve to curate experiences and complement digital journeys. Although Tri-State Modern and Renewfinds have large online followings, their showrooms are an extension of their minimalist branding. Renewfinds has even created an environment where friends and patrons come in and hang out to experience the furniture instead of just making purchases. Another important value in today’s market is sustainability . By default, buying secondhand vintage furniture is a more sustainable option compared to buying brand-new products.

No matter how successfully you deal with ever-changing shopping trends, a majority of the furniture dealer’s time will be spent on the phone. “While the literal heavy lifting is strenuous, running an Instagram account is another full-time job in and of itself,” Jessica says. “I’m always thinking about content creation that’ll attract the most viewers and how to work with the Instagram algorithm. There are times when we get a boatload of DMs, and it takes a good two hours to go through and respond to them all because we strive to be intentional in being personable and approachable.”

Circa 20th Century owner David Mazgajewski, who became a vintage furniture dealer following a career as a therapist, says that his phone is never far away. “More than anything I think it comes down to flexibility and availability,” he explains “My phone stays close by because I never know when a shipper is going to call at the last minute to schedule a pickup, or if I’m going to see something for sale and need to stop everything I am doing and drive 3 hours […]

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