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Part of upcycling can be simple refurbishment, and part of it is re-styling it. New covers, new coats of paint, and other new changes can make something old and worn down into something chic and modern. The business also scales nicely, letting you grow from a solo operation to a team, if necessary.
Who is this business right for?
This business is great for veterans of yard sales and thrift shops—basically, anyone with a good eye for finding surprising items at low prices. It's also good for those with an eye for style and design, so you are able to see not just what the worn down furniture is but what it could be after some modifications. Finally, it's good for those with sales experience, as the job may involve a lot of individual interaction with a variety of customers.
What happens during a typical day at a furniture upcycling business?
There are many day-to-day activities of such a business. Part of your days will be spent going to thrift shops, yard sales, and online auction sites in order to acquire old furniture at low prices. Afterward, you will spend time refurbishing and re-styling the furniture you have acquired. When you are not doing these primary activities, you may be communicating with current clients and prospective clients, updating your website and/or social media presence, and actually selling the furniture you have upcycled.
What is the target market?
Your best clients will typically be those in their mid-20's to early 30's. This is a demographic that typically needs to decorate a new space (such as a first house) but also desires the more sleek and modern aesthetic that your business provides. Additionally, being able to provide that furniture for a much lower price than brand new chic furniture will appeal to a demographic that is early in their careers.
How does a furniture upcycling business make money?
For furniture upcycling, the business model is straightforward: you buy old furniture, refurbish, and restyle it, and then sell the “new” product to clients for a fixed cost.
What is the growth potential for a furniture upcycling business?
The growth potential for this business is modest. As an industry, luxury furniture is expected to grow by four percent between 2015 and 2019, and upcycled furniture benefits from appealing to different markets: some turn to it as a kind of luxury unique item (which goes hand-in-hand with the modern mania for antiques), while others see upcycled furniture as a more affordable alternative to modern designer furniture. Through this appeal to multiple demographics, your business has great room to grow.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful furniture upcycling business?
Any previous experience refurbishing furniture yourself can be a big help. Similarly, work experience in something like a furniture store can give you valuable insight into how furniture is sold and how custom psychology works. Also, as alluded to earlier, your previous experience navigating thrift shops, yard sales, and auctions within your town will be a big help.
What are the costs involved in opening a furniture upcycling business?
Perhaps the most attractive thing about a furniture upcycling business is that you can open it very cheap. For instance, it is very possible to open such a business for $2,000 or less. This assumes that you are starting from home, so $500 goes towards hiring someone to create a professional website. You may spend another $500 (possibly more) on some in-town advertisement, such as newspaper or radio ads when your business first opens. The remaining $1,000 is spent buying old furniture and refurbishing it. This gives you a decent amount of items to start with that you can still reasonably work on and store at your home. Afterwards, the business is very self-sustaining—you can buy new furniture and materials as your stock sells, keeping you from over investing.
What are the steps to start a furniture upcycling business?
Once you're ready to start your furniture upcycling business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your furniture upcycling business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your furniture upcycling business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for free.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a furniture upcycling business?
One great tip is to do ample research before starting your business. Figuring out just how regularly different thrift shops and auctions and yard sales in your town (or neighboring towns) sell old furniture will give you an idea of how much business you can actually conduct if and when things get busy. Also, start small: try refurbishing a few things for fun before diving into a full-on business. The nature of this business is that it is very easy to do it as a part-time gig while getting the hang of it before you devote your full time and resources to it.
How to promote & market a furniture upcycling business
As mentioned earlier, some traditional marketing via newspapers and radio may be suitable for your area when you first open your business. However, this business focuses very much on appearance and style, so most of your marketing will be online. You can use your website as well as social media presence on sites such as Instagram to feature your work (throwing in “before” and “after” shots of furniture is a great way to showcase your talent). Also, many upcyclers now sell online, through their own website, sites such as Etsy, or sites such as eBay.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the methods above, try to find ways to publicly show off and sell your work. This might include booths at city fairs or gallery nights, or maybe even selling some of your work as part of local charity fundraising. Such events build goodwill while establishing your reputation for quality and style. For retention, try to get your customers on an email mailing list so you can let them know about new stock and new styles that you're now selling. This way, they are eager to come in and see what is new rather than assuming they know what you are selling.
How and when to build a team
Unlike many businesses, this one has a visual cue for when you need to build a team. If you are selling stock faster than you can store it, then it's time to rev your game up. That means acquiring and refurbishing on a larger scale, so it's time to recruit a team. The best part is that you can do this and still keep overhead low: you may want to invest in monthly storage for your furniture rather than everyone keeping it at their homes, but this is a good intermediary step before opening a small store.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a furniture upcycling business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Labor safety requirements
It is important to comply with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.
Relevant requirements include:
- Employee injury report
- Safety signage
Certificate of Occupancy
Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a furniture upcycling business
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your furniture upcycling will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
The exact amount you charge will vary based on the size of the furniture and the complexity and cost of the refurbishing process. One upcycler reported that she bought a table and chairs for $50 and the spent $75 restoring and restyling it. She then turned around and sold it for $290, which recouped her investment and netted her $165 in profit. Considering that it only took her three hours to refurbish, this meant she made $55 per hour spent, which is part of what makes this an exciting job even as a side business.
What are the ongoing expenses for a furniture upcycling business?
Functionally, there are very few ongoing expenses for your business. You will pay varying amounts of money for furniture each month, but you should price your work to reflect those costs. You may pay varying amounts of gasoline to drive around town to the aforementioned thrift shops, yard sales, auctions, and so on. Your annual website hosting costs should be less than $100. If you use eBay and Paypal to sell furniture or receive payments, you must pay the appropriate surcharge for those services.
How much profit can a furniture upcycling business make?
The exact profitability of your business depends on how many pieces of furniture you sell and what the profit margin is on your items. Some successful companies make a little over $100,000 per year doing this kind of work. While it is unlikely that you will make this much in your first year (or first few years), it is very easy to start this kind of work as a side business and turn it into your main income stream after you have established a reputation and built enough experience.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Try to sell your work across multiple venues, such as Etsy, eBay, and specialty sites like Furnishly. Doing this as well as selling furniture in your own town can really help boost sales. Make sure you have ample photography to show off your work from the best angles, and write up helpful descriptions that include exact measurements (this really helps those buying furniture for their new homes). Finally, make sure you have an eye-catching and distinctive logo that will help you stand out from the competition!