For a decade, Daniel Rhodes put food on the table and a roof over his head through a retail career, working in a supermarket, a big-box sporting goods store and in a consignment shop. But the Phenix City resident said that career path eventually became too repetitive and boring.
He now has put his heart and efforts into what has been a hobby for years — looking for unique items at estate sales, in thrift shops and online, then reselling them for a good profit. That means the Opelika, Ala., native is always on a treasure hunt for the next interesting or valuable thing that will catch online shoppers’ fancy.
Once selling exclusively for himself on eBay, Rhodes, 29, has launched Curated Collections, which aims to take possessions that people wish to sell on consignment for cash, minus a commission for his time and talent, of course. It’s at curated-collections.com.
The Ledger-Enquirer sat down recently with the husband and wife, parents of two young children, to discuss his job, how he developed a knack for great finds, and what he hopes to accomplish down the road. He also served up some advice for others considering online selling for themselves. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. Tell us about your former career?
A. I worked mainly (brick-and-mortar) retail most of my career, and my last job was store manager of New Leaf Galleries here in Columbus. What they do is sell consignments, home furniture, new décor. The owner has a store here and in Auburn as well. Winn-Dixie, I did that for seven years. After that, I worked at Gander Mountain, which is now bankrupt.
But I had always done eBay (selling) as a hobby, and during my last job I really got to thinking, I could do this and make a living off of it. That’s when I decided to quit what I was doing and go cold turkey and pursue doing it full time.
Q. How long had you been selling on eBay?
A. I went online in 2004 to buy, I think, an alarm clock, and when I got on there I realized there were other items on here, things that I’ve seen other people selling before and that I could resell ... It got me to thinking that I could do this for a hobby, so I started going to estate sales, I started going to resell shops, I started going to thrift stores. I didn’t really deal too much with individuals. Maybe I would make $100 or $200. It was just fun money. So that’s how it started.
Q. Were you using your gut instincts on what might sell?
A. When I first started, I would get on eBay and whatever category I was looking at —whether it was men’s shoes — I would sort the sales price highest to lowest. I would say, this is what’s selling the most, and I would seek that out, maybe the top five things. That’s how I totally started, and in one or two categories. For anybody doing this, I would suggest you start with something you know. But as the years progressed, I just expanded from that.
Q. Are some things easier to sell than others?
A. Nike definitely is a brand that’s easy to sell ... If you can find sterling silver, that’s a great one, like a dish or silverware, flatware. A lot of times people don’t know what to look for on the markings, whether it’s silver plate. It’s all about looking for the brand and the quality. The best item I’ve sold in the last couple of months is a lampshade. It was 100 years old, this beautifully hand-blown lampshade. It had a chip in it and I almost didn’t buy it because of that. But I bought it off of instinct and got it home and looked it up and realized I had something really special. That one ended up selling for about $900. I’m not going to tell people that’s typical, but go off what you see online. Do your research, and try to find those items that are trending towards the top.
Q. Have you made some mistakes along the way?
A. Yes. I have got burned a couple of times. Burned and learned. The one thing I would say I don’t try to buy any of and take from anyone is electronics, because those can be so fickle. I’ve gotten burned on that, where basically I lost everything I put into it. I do some jewelry as well, but I tend to try not to do much because there are trends in that. One day someone might like this, and another day they might want that. I usually only take fine jewelry, the really nice stuff.
Q. What about collectibles? You always think about the Beanie Babies and baseball cards and such?
A. Beanie Babies and baseball cards are a great example. When I first started, baseball cards were very popular, selling for a lot, specific ones, especially the game-used ones. Now you can buy a whole lot of baseball cards, game-used jerseys, for 50 bucks. So there are trends and that’s something you’ve got to look at. There are great sites out there for people to look at the trends to find out if something’s going to bounce back, and is worth investing in. I never sold a Beanie Baby because it’s that one in a million that’s worth $2,000 or $3,000. Most Beanie Babies are worth nothing.
Q. How about Cabbage Patch dolls?
A. Some of the older ones are. That’s the thing about toys. For instance, the toys I used to play with as a kid, they’re coming back, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You just have to give things time, usually 15 or 20 years, and it’s going to bounce back. In fact, a lot (box) of toys is the best auction I ever bought. It was Hot Wheels cars from the first few years of issue and they were still in the package. They had never been opened, like 1969 through 1973. I actually bought those sight unseen. It was a big risk. I don’t recommend people do that. But I bought those for $300 and turned around and sold them for about $10,000.
Q. You bought those on eBay?
A. I bought those on a website called Everything But The House (ebth.com). It’s now the largest online estate sale company.
Q. Are there other sites you would recommend to folks thinking of dabbling in buying and selling?
A. Sure. If they want to get into it and want to research what things are selling for, Everything But The House is a great site. eBay, of course, is a great one. If they want to pay a little more, which I have done, there’s a site out there called WorthPoint.com and you can get on there and look at anything from the past 10 years and see what they’re selling for. I would say those are three great sites.
Q. What’s the most you’ve ever paid for something?
A. The first thing that comes to mind was a handmade acoustic guitar, beautiful, it was made out of African rosewood. I paid about $1,500 for that, which I thought was too much, but I love music. I made a profit on it, but not what I wanted. So I try to tell people, don’t put a lot of money into things. Start out small and gradually work your way up.
Q. Is there something strange or unusual that you’ve bought and resold?
A. Early on, I was really drawn to this Egyptian drawing. It was on an Egyptian reed. That was really interesting. That was so long ago I can’t remember what it sold for. That’s the thing, too, is purchase what you’re drawn to. If you like fine art, and you know about fine art, go for that. If you know toys, then go for that. But don’t go for something that you have no clue about and you’re not drawn to.
Q. Do you ever buy anything and like it so much you don’t want to part with it?
A. I do. I love old books and have a lot of old books. We recently moved and downsized, so I had to get rid of some of them. My favorites are American history, the Civil War. I have a lot of original Civil War books, but a few of those I’ve had to part with.
Q. Is there something trending upward now that will keep its value?
A. I always tell people one of the best things you can invest in, and if you know where to look you can get it for a good price, is coins. Coins are always going to be going up, especially if you’re looking at the pre-1965 silver, any gold coins, your key dates. So you can always invest in coins (and) precious metals, silverware, fine jewelry. A lot of people, especially at estate sales, will sell the whole jewelry box at times. I’ve pulled out just the drawer before and there will be something stuck behind that. So if you can, buy a lot (box) and just go through it, and find those precious metals. And try to hold onto those because they will go back up again like they did in the 1980s.
Q. So you hang onto to things. Do you have a big storage shed at home?
A. I have two rooms at our house dedicated to this business. Anymore and we might have to consider that storage shed.
Q. The “American Pickers” guys on TV run across a bunch of people with stuff everywhere, virtually hoarding things. You’re nowhere near that?
A. Noooo. I love (the American Pickers) and I would love to do that, but I am definitely not them (hoarders).
Q. Are there other TV programs you find useful to learn from or get some tips from?
A. Definitely, you can learn from TV. Now, they’re going to glamorize. They’re only going to show the best finds, per se. You’ve got “Storage Wars” and “Pawn Stars.” I’ve watched the YouTube videos on those, how they pick people, and they’re only going to show the real gems.
Q. At your core, what do you enjoy the most about this job? It’s not just for the money?
A. It’s not. If it was just for the money, I would not do it. It is definitely a thrill when you come across something that is just sitting there and you know it’s a diamond in the rough. You’re going to pay pennies for it, but you know you can sell it for thousands times more.
Q. Do you go very far to find stuff?
A. I go Atlanta. I have been going there about once a week. I haven’t done it for the past couple of months because I’ve been so busy here. Atlanta’s a great hub for people who live in this area, especially north Atlanta, because of all the income earners up there. If you can check out an estate sale up there, it would definitely be worth your time.
Q. What’s the competition like for you?
A. The competition is extremely fierce. You encounter people who do what I do full time, and they’re not as nice about it as I am.
Q. How tough does it get?
A. It gets very tough. I’ve seen some fights over items … some pushing, no punches, but verbal altercations where people have to step in. If I see that, I just walk way because nothing is worth getting in a fight over.
Q. It’s because they’ve seen an item they both want?
A. Exactly. They know what it is, and greed gets the best of them.
Q. What’s the most difficult part of your job?
A. Definitely the most difficult is the fact that it’s 100-percent commission. So when you have a really great month, you have to celebrate, but you also have to save, save, save, and prepare for the next month that might not be so plentiful.
Q. Are you a good self motivator?
A. I am. I enjoy being by myself. In order to do this, you have to be by yourself a lot. There are definitely times when I am tired, but that’s what a good cup of coffee’s for.
Q. How many hours a week do you put into this?
A. Oh goodness. I’d like to say 40, but it is definitely more like 60 to 70 hours a week. I work a lot.
Q. It doesn’t become a grind for you?
A. It’s not. It’s fun. I do have a cut-off time when I stop and when I start, and I sell all over the world. When you get international buyers sending you messages at 2 and 3 in the morning, you want to answer them as quickly as possible. Customer service is a big deal for me.
Q. You sell and ship around the world?
A. I do. I just shipped to South Korea this morning. They got some brand new tuxedo shoes. (laughs)
Q. You don’t deal with foods or things like that?
A. No foods. There are some things I stay clear of. Obviously, certain war memorabilia, that’s something you just can’t do … It’s really World War II (items), getting towards Nazis and that kind of thing they won’t allow. Fine art I don’t do much of because I don’t know a lot about that. I don’t do a lot of costume jewelry just because it doesn’t sell for a lot. My minimum sale, if I’m going to put something online, you have to decide what your time’s worth. Well, my time’s worth a net profit of $50 per item.
Q. Are you still learning or are you up to speed on everything?
A. I am still learning, honestly. One of my good friends is a toy collector and he likes to travel with me, and he has taught me a lot about toys. I never knew that there was such a market for toys and how much they could sell for. So people should always try to reach out and learn more about different categories, because you would be surprised how much something you played with as a child could be worth today.
Q. Do you have any plans for a YouTube channel or an online serial show or anything like that?
A. It’s funny you mention that. I was just talking with my wife about that last night. I did a little research and I found out, wow, people are making a lot of money off of these videos, where they show people how to buy and how to sell. So that’s definitely in the works. I’m planning on doing that.
Hometown: Opelika, Ala.
Current residence: Phenix City
Education: Home-schooled and graduated in 2006; and graduated from Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 2012
Previous jobs: Hardlines supervisor at Gander Mountain; store manager at New Leaf Consignment Galleries; and office/service supervisor at Winn-Dixie
Family: Wife, Sarah, and two children — daughter, Lily, 2, and son, Zachary, 9 months
Leisure time: Enjoys activities at his place of worship, Fountain Gate Church in Auburn, Ala., where he is a deacon; also enjoys spending time with his family, drawing, reading and being outdoors
Of note: He hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim in 2015, which was a total of 24 miles