Michigan – Olivia Heller’s side business started with a $5 T-shirt she found at a thrift store.
Heller, a medical student at the University of Oakland based in Rochester, Michigan, has some experience selling some of her old clothes on the Poshmark resale app. You never thought much about it but during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, noticed other Poshmark sellers taking advantage of fashion finds at thrift stores.
Motivated by looming student loans (medical school tuition cost her nearly $220,000 over four years), she began studying his strategies and using them to create her own desire to move forward.
This first shirt sold for $20. Since then, Heller’s side job has generated more than $117,000 in total income, including $85,000 in the last year alone. Her earnings currently average $6,000 to $7,000 a month, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It, which recently helped her purchase a five-bedroom home.
Heller, 26, told CNBC Make It, “If I didn’t have this business, I wouldn’t even have a savings account. I’d have to take out loans to cover living expenses, plus tuition.”
Heller graduated from medical school on Friday and will immediately move to Kansas with her husband to begin a residency in family medicine. She says her job income has helped cover $25,000 in closing fees and a down payment on her new home, and will cover more than $2,100 a month mortgage payments.
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This is how Heller built his side job:
Adapt your business model
Heller’s investigation began in August 2020, when he noticed that other Poshmark sellers were listing thousands of items that could not have been from their own lockers. He learned that many got their inventory from thrift stores and retailers like Nordstrom Rack and TJ Maxx.
He spent the next two months testing different vendors’ tactics. Focus on one style, vibrant vintage statement pieces, because those items were selling faster. Her store has gained traction with a “young professional” audience made up primarily of women between the ages of 25 and 40, she says.
But she wasn’t earning much money. Initially, he paid $20 to $30 per article, regardless of the source of each article. After researching why similar pieces are so commonly sold, both at Poshmark and popular retailers, he adapted. Now her dresses, which she says are her most popular items, each sell for between $25 and $200, depending on brand and retail value.
However, Heller’s work didn’t really progress until he found a routine to balance clothing sales with medical school.
On Fridays, I’d go from class to thrift stores and spend afternoons sorting and cleaning clothes. On Sundays, she models and takes pictures of her new stock. On Mondays, between hospital sessions, she loads new products into her Poshmark locker. And every day I ran to the post office.
“You have to be disciplined and have a routine,” Heller says. “If I didn’t like it that much, I wouldn’t have time for that.”
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Expand your wardrobe
Heller says she now spends 20 to 40 hours a week buying, posting, and shipping clothes. Its large inventory, over 1,100 items, has helped keep revenue stable, even in the weeks when the hospital takes over.
The system is not perfect. For example, Hillier notes that Poshmark reserves 20% of every purchase over $15. Depop, a competing platform, only takes 10%. Facebook Marketplace does not currently charge any fees to sellers using the Facebook Store.
For Hillier, Poshmark’s seller-friendly services make the fee well worth it. When someone purchases an item on Poshmark, the platform emails a label to the seller with a pre-set weight and shipping address. All the seller needs to do is stick the label on the box and drop it at the post office.
The platform also helps with buyer complaints and returns, which Heller says he would otherwise have had trouble with.
“It’s sometimes hard to negotiate with people, and you can’t please everyone,” she says.
Platform fees do not seem to hinder Heller’s progress. His side business has already generated over $55,000 in revenue in 2022.
In their new home in Kansas, Heller and her husband, a SkyWest Airlines commercial pilot, designated the “Poshmark Room.” He pays some money from her side job for the mortgage on the house. The rest, he says, will go toward new furniture, travel, his two dogs, and student loan payments.
“A lot of people can’t get a steady job in medical school because they don’t have the time or flexibility,” Heller says. “It’s good to not only have time to do something I love, but also allow myself other things…I want to continue this work during my stay and hope to continue when I am a doctor.”
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