In July 2019, Elle Woodworth was raising three children with her husband in Fort Myers, Florida when she came up with the idea of generating income that would change the course of their lives.
Not that she had such high expectations at first: “I was just trying to solve a problem,” she said.
The townhouse they lived in was cramped and her husband worked up to 60 hours a week as a restaurant manager. “One day I was cleaning the garage with the kids and saw these folding chairs my husband had picked up from the side of the road a few months before,” said Ms Woodworth, 36. I am posting an ad on Facebook Marketplace and trying to earn some extra money? »
She listed the set for $35 and the chairs sold out that day. Three years later, Ms Woodworth is the co-founder of Elle Woodworthy, a second-hand furniture company that brings in six figures a year – enough for the couple to move into a bigger house and allow her husband to quit his job in some months. their first sale.
Scouring estate sales and flea markets for used furniture is nothing new, but when the pandemic forced many people to stay home and inadvertently assess their surroundings, they also spent a lot more time online. Flipping old furniture by completely rearranging it or even just cleaning it has attracted, for some, online followings and profits, while circumventing supply chain issues.
“I think the pandemic is the biggest driver of the furniture flipping craze on social media,” said Trisha Sprouse, 44, a furniture turner who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. “People shared their projects, which in turn inspired others, and eventually it exploded into something bigger.”
According to Lisa Revelli, a spokesperson for Meta, furniture listings on Facebook Marketplace in America are up more than 40% so far in 2022 compared to the same period last year. Similarly, the number of users following #furnitureflip on Instagram increased by 29% during this period. On TikTok, this hashtag has garnered more than 18,000 videos with nearly 225 million views in the United States since the start of this year.
“When I first started doing this, it cost $400 to $500 to run an ad for a month in the yellow pages,” said Eric Lewis, 44, owner of BC Modern in Milwaukee, which restores and sells furniture for almost 20 years. .
“Older people used to be interested in my pieces because that’s what they grew up with, but with TikTok and Instagram, the audience is getting younger and younger,” he said. “Nothing has really changed in the process of obtaining and repairing furniture, but the demand has changed.”
Clinton Avery Tharp, 37, lives in Oklahoma City and has been turning furniture over for more than a decade to supplement her music career.
“I’ve always been the kind of person who changes something in a room five times a year,” he said. When the pandemic started, he downloaded TikTok to avoid boredom and saw others playing in minimal performances of their edits. “The first thing I thought was I could be funnier,” he added.
Mr Tharp edited a video showing him pulling the skirt off a white sofa using a tongue-in-cheek but encouraging tone. The post went viral, and now it’s regularly recognized in thrift stores thanks to nearly a million TikTok followers. “It helps that my character is a bit dry, so I can say ‘Hi!’ then ‘Goodbye!’ and they’re satisfied,” Mr. Tharp said.
Like Mr. Tharp, Christina Clericuzio, 25, who works in sales for a tech company in Trumbull, Connecticut, downloaded TikTok in 2020 thinking it would keep her busy while quarantining with her parents. When she came across a slew of furniture projects, she thought she could try it out on her own, especially since her family had piles of dust in their basement.
“I learned on my own by watching videos on YouTube,” she said. Ms. Clericuzio typically starts sanding a piece on Thursday evening, then uploads a completed tutorial on Sunday. Tens of thousands of her Instagram and TikTok followers wait for them to appear, then she sells the items through Facebook Marketplace.
“It looks easy when you watch the videos, but it involves a lot,” she said. “And, of course, it takes longer if I mess something up.”
To find free or low-cost furniture like dressers, sofas, nightstands, and dining tables, flippers spend countless hours browsing Facebook Marketplace. (“What people need for their first apartments,” Mr. Tharp said.) They look for estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets — sometimes crossing state lines — passing sifting through mountains of other people’s memories hoping that others can see a future in owning them.
It’s best if suitors are made of solid wood and don’t require too many hours of work, whether it’s adding fresh paint and hardware, or new stain and varnish.
“I look for quality, condition and style,” Mr. Lewis said. “Most people want something with character.”
“If I see a piece of furniture that may look like something from Anthropologie, for example, I will,” Ms. Clericuzio said. “If we’re being honest, so many people can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on furniture and those pieces won’t be as durable as something built in the past. So it’s fun to show people that they can have these things cheaply when they DIY”
Ms. Sprouse keeps most of what she recycles, but others try to make a profit. A good month is when Mr. Tharp sells up to 40 pieces to customers in person and online; Mrs. Woodworth sells up to 50 pieces with the help of wholesalers; and Mr. Lewis sells up to 200 pieces to visitors to his store.
At the same time, Ms. Clericuzio and Mr. Tharp received criticism for their work. “Most of what is said is positive, but a recurring negative comment I get is that by shopping at thrift stores I am taking away from the poor,” Mr Tharp said. “There are furniture banks in every state and ways to get these things for free. Not to mention that much of what is donated ends up in a landfill.
After the success of selling her folding chairs on Facebook Marketplace, Ms Woodworth continued to use the platform to reach out to her local community. Then she discovered that Etsy and Chairish could attract customers from all over the country.
“That’s when our business really exploded,” she said. She no longer flips furniture in the sense of painting it or adding new features to it. Like Mr. Lewis, she describes ‘flipping’ as finding a well-constructed object, cleaning it up and promoting its enduring craftsmanship.
Now that Mrs Woodworth and her husband have started their business together, they are focused on the possibility of buying several hundred pieces of furniture one day. “It all started with the simple goal of wanting to buy our own house, spend more time together and have more flexibility,” she says. “Flipping made it possible for us.”