A shopper at the Goodwill Buy the Pound store in Gorham. Credit: Courtesy of Heather Steeves

Ryan Esbjerg and his wife, Lindsay, make more than six figures every year selling old sneakers.

The couple started selling second hand goods on Facebook Marketplace in 2017, and realized they had a knack for cleaning and chatting with customers about shoes, everything from woolen clogs and waterproof boots to patterned canvas hightops and enviable brand-name sneakers. They opened shops on new platforms like Poshmark, Mercari and Stockx and upped their game on social media with their Instagram and YouTube channel.

Now, five years later, they have paid off their cars, bought a house and started a savings fund for their newborn — all with cash to spare, with more than a million dollars in gross sales and tens of thousands of shoes sold.

The Esbjergs are part of a growing group of Mainers who make at least part of their income as “resellers,” purchasing second-hand clothing, furniture and other items to refurbish and sell online for a profit. Though the pandemic boosted the growth of Maine’s reselling community over the past few years, the number of people who make money selling second hand goods online has been growing steadily and doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

Heather Steeves, communications manager at Goodwill Northern New England, said that the pandemic brought more resellers to Goodwill locations throughout the region.

“The place we’re seeing the most change is in the outlet stores,” Steeves said. “The resellers are purchasing more inventory than ever before. Now that tech has made DIY reselling so much easier, many Maine families depend on reselling for part of their income. It’s a low barrier to entry, so people new to our country, or women and mothers who were forced out of the workforce during the pandemic, have found reselling as a flexible opportunity to support themselves.”

Ryan Esbjerg said that while the pandemic made it more difficult to get inventory at times, particularly when stores were shut down, it also provided more online shoppers who wanted products delivered straight to their doors.

Reselling also provides more flexible work-from-home opportunities, as well as part-time side hustles. Elizabeth Baxter in Scarborough had been using Poshmark for more than a decade to recycle clothes from her closet, but started reselling full-time after the birth of her daughter in June 2021.

“I feel like I’m actually doing something instead of just scrolling through social media,” Baxter said. “I’m a stay at home mom first and foremost so when I was looking for something to do as a job, I wanted something I could enjoy and it’s something I could do with my child.”

It can be intimidating to jump into the world of reselling, though. The Esbjergs have even started training other resellers in the art of flipping second hand goods through what they call their Sweat Equity Fund. The couple plans to invest in 15 resellers by buying their first $1,000 worth of inventory and guiding them through selling their first thousand pairs of shoes. They hope as the network grows they can find resellers with experience selling other types of goods, but for now they’re focusing on what they know best.

Saco’s Birdie Garrity is one of the five resellers the Esbjergs have invested in so far, and the only one based in Maine. She has been reselling since 2019 when she went on maternity leave with her daughter, and when she had her second daughter this past summer, decided not to go back to the job she had before maternity leave. Instead, she committed to reselling, and started participating in the Esbjergs’ program this January.

“Resellers are part of a bigger community and my favorite part is seeing everyone’s personal journey and how they got to where they are,” Garrity said. “I do think reselling will grow overall in America but also in Maine.”

Esbjerg’s confidence in Maine’s reseller market having enough room for growth is why he has no qualms with training his future competition. He pointed to places like the Goodwill Buy The Pound Outlet in Gorham, where shoppers dig through bins of goods and pay per pound of items they buy. The Esbjergs and Garrity source much of what they sell from outlets like these.

Critics sometimes accuse resellers of “thrift store gentrification,” taking the highest-quality affordable items from second hand stores in order to sell them at a markup for profit. Esbjerg said that “there’s always, always going to be someone complaining,” and that criticism ignores the reality of what he has experienced at thrift stores.

“There’s such an abundance of inventory and there’s not enough people that are going out and doing the work,” Esbjerg said. “Thrift managers are saying, ‘Will you please come back because we can’t sell this stuff.’ They have a problem with their supply chain, they don’t have enough people to process the inventory. There’s value in us putting sweat equity into cleaning it up.”

Steeves also emphasized the value of resellers to the mission of thrift stores to keep items out of local landfills and in supporting Goodwill’s programs through shopping at their stores.

“When resellers buy from Goodwill, that money goes directly into our programs which help people across Maine achieve personal stability,” Steeves said.

“They’re also earning a living for themselves and their families while helping the planet. Some people whisper to us, ‘Do you know people are selling these things for more money?’ Oh, we know. Not only do we know, but we love our resellers.”