Stay Or Go Leader

Nate Kosberg started his thrifting business, The Finer Things, in the fall of 2015. He has always considered it to be a passion project and side-hustle (and a lot of fun), but after explosive growth, he is faced with a common dilemma among independents: should I leave my full-time job and make the leap into my freelance career? We sat down with Kosberg to learn more about how he got to where he is today – and what might be next for him.

How did you get started with your business?

I’ve always had an interest in searching for things, in finding great things. When I was just a ten year old kid I was really into sports cards, baseball, basketball, whatever, and you’d get these packs hoping to get one of the good ones buried in with all the others. That rush, that little hit of dopamine – I guess I’ve always been into the chase.

Back in 2015, I found a forum online to teach me about this thrifting business model and I wanted to try it. I remember the first thing I bought – the first store I went to I found a Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece pinstripe suit jacket. I thought, “Man, it’s that easy?” It turns out it wasn’t worth anything. It was an ‘orphan jacket’ which means a suit coat without the pants, and with pinstripes it’s a rule that you don’t wear the jacket without the pants. Even though that piece never sold, I was hooked from the get-go on what you could find.

What’s challenging about your business, and what keeps you going?

The challenge for me is always balancing the exciting with the mundane. It’s way more exciting to be on the chase, hunting down that next piece. It gets pretty boring taking photos and measurements and writing all the listings. I heard someone say “A bad day thrifting is better than a good day listing.” It’s hard to stay disciplined sometimes.

The best part is making contact with the customers. It makes you feel good when you know you’re helping someone get what they want. But the longer I’ve been doing this, I’ve really come to appreciate the power of clothing to make you more confident and be who you want to be. If I can help some guy look his damn best in an $80 suit that cost me $10 but is worth $2500, that’s amazing. I feel like I’m empowering people to be the people they are capable of becoming, and that’s really satisfying.

What have you learned through your years of doing this? How has your business changed?

I would say I’ve learned a lot about the importance of failure, and what a difference it makes to focus on your customer. You have to fail in order to advance your learning! I’ve failed so many times: whether it was buying the wrong thing, selling too low, overstocking my inventory, missing a hole in a garment and getting slammed with a big return, buying stuff that doesn’t sell… I never see it as a bad thing. I just think, “Now I know!” I have to know with 99% certainty that what I’m buying isn’t going to lose me money. At the same time, it better not be perfect because then I have nothing left to learn! Every failure makes me better and better.

I’ve also learned a lot about the importance of really focusing on the customer experience. When I first started, it was a pretty basic business model. But then I started putting a little more time into really responding to each order. You can always do more to enhance their experience – whether it’s a handwritten note, leaving really personal feedback, acknowledging their purchase. Giving the customer more attention is never a bad thing. It pays to pay attention to them, and it’s more fun for me too.

What’s next for your business and career? Why not take the leap?

I never thought I’d be here with this! I never thought it would get this big, honestly. In the last few years I’ve tripled my business income and now actually make more from this than I do as a teacher. That being said, as a freelancer or retailer, you never know if the market is going to sustain itself. I can’t 100% guarantee that someone will click on my listing. I try to forecast and predict my income and clients etc, but you never know. People aren’t rational!

My other concern is that this business is just so secluded. No wonder we’re seeing coworking spaces popping up all over the place! I think freelancers just don’t want to be alone. It’s not about just sitting at home all day being as productive as you possibly can be – you need interaction and people around you. But I can’t exactly take my mannequin and studio lights into a coworking space or coffee shop. The core of my work – being in thrift stores, preparing items, writing the listings – is really solo work and I don’t know how I would handle that.

I would like to expand more into buying and selling, though. On my business cards it says “luxury menswear and personal styling” and I think if I got more into that aspect of it I could diversify what I’m going to do, and still get that interpersonal connection. Meet with people, help them find their style, make use of the pieces they have, source what they are looking for. It could be a lot more meaningful than what I’m doing now (though I’ll never give up the thrill of the chase!).

Do you have any other advice for indys like yourself? What do you wish you had known sooner?

First and foremost, LISTEN TO YOUR ACCOUNTANT. When they tell you to put money aside, actually do it. I got slammed with a big tax bill early on in my business and I had to learn that lesson the hard way.

But beyond that – follow your energy. After working an eight hour day and training hard for two hours at the gym, being put throught the ringer by my Muay Thai coach, what I want to do most is go out and thrift. I’d do it all night if I could. We all have that one thing that gives you energy when you least expect it. You don’t even have to make money from it, but do whatever you can to follow it. Don’t worry about finding your passion, just follow your energy.

Lastly, you have to just go and try and fail. Whatever it is that you want to do, you’re going to mess up and that’s how you get better. Get it out in the world.  Whether it’s art that you’re making or pieces you’re writing or selling something you found at a thrift store – start doing it. It might suck at first but eventually you won’t. Once you do it enough, you’ll succeed.

About The Author

Stephanie Vos transitioned out of her career in the non-profit world by focusing on her freelance work as an editor and writer, and believes that big ideas and great writing can empower people to create the lives they want. She makes the best vegan cookies around and is always up for great conversations, whether it's about her latest contemporary dance performance or the book you just finished reading.