Global Business News

Building A Business From The Back Of A Van

5 min read

Every business that buys and sells goods started somewhere. Some entrepreneurs were lucky enough to have some gifted or borrowed start-up cash behind them, and were able to hit the ground running. Others had nothing but the shirt on their backs, and did it all the hard way. Either way, for as long as money and trade continue to exist, buying and selling will always be a route to the top for those who are gifted at it.

Starting a sales business from scratch requires more than just great sales skills and the ability to talk to people, though. Even good old fashioned hard work will only take you so far if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re going to start selling goods out of the back of a van and one day end up as the CEO of a large sales company, you need at least a basic idea of what you might be able to buy and sell.

There’s a reason why we’ve referred to this process as building a business ‘from the back of a van.’ It’s how British business icon Sir Alan Sugar became a millionaire. We know that, because he tells the story to anyone who’ll listen. The world has changed a lot since Sugar was selling electrical items from his vehicle in London, though – back then, the internet didn’t exist, and ‘rag and bone men’ were common sights on the city’s streets. Could his methods really work in the 21st century? If you have the right goods to sell and you can shift them for more than you paid for them, then yes, they absolutely can.

Knowing which goods to pick up and move on (a process known as ‘flipping’) is absolutely vital to this, though. You can’t gamble on being able to sell something for more than you paid for it. If you did, you might as well try making your money playing mobile slots instead (which isn’t a bad idea – we’ve covered how profitable owning a franchised mobile slots website like Kong Casino can be in the past right here on this website). A professional gambler will tell you that mobile slots are the least reliable way to make your money, because you can’t predict the outcome of your investments. A professional goods trader will tell you the same thing about investing in an untried stock.

We can eliminate that risk for you, though. We know what can easily be marked up and sold on, and what can’t. If you really want to try to wheel and deal your way to the top of the food table like Alan Sugar, here are the basic goods you should be investing in as cheaply as possible.


A broken watch is worthless. A working watch has a value. Some people don’t appreciate the difference. A lot of the time, when either the glass front on a watch breaks or the battery dies, people simply dispose of the watch instead of getting repairs done. That’s where you step in. Monitor eBay or local flea markets for old, broken watches, and stock up on them. Use YouTube to learn how to replace a battery or a screen, and repair them at home. Once you’re done, get them back on eBay as working watches, or head back to that same flea market and sell them. You should be able to get at least double the price you paid for them, and it’s easy work.


Have you noticed that bikes are becoming a more common sight on the roads and streets around you? You’re not imagining things – they really are growing in popularity. Much like gym memberships, though, they’re items that people buy and then never use. Unlike gym memberships, they take up a lot of space in a person’s home when they’re not being used. That means owners who’ve gone off the idea of developing a cycling habit are frequently happy to offload them cheaply. Craigslist, eBay, Facebook marketplace, and your local classifieds are likely to be full of listing for unwanted bikes. Buy them, give them a quick polish and a markup in price, and get them back up for sale.


The bad news is that books are very cheap. The good news is that there’s a vast disparity in price between the value of any given book in any given location. Buying in bulk is key here, although knowing a thing or two about the true value of classic books would help your case. The easiest thing to do is load up on books from a sale in a comparatively cheap location, and then head somewhere more upmarket to sell them. You might only make a small profit on each book sold, but if you can shift enough of them, you’ll be looking at a healthy profit.


We don’t just mean retro toys here; we mean all toys. If you do have retro toys, then that’s a major plus, because people are willing to pay big money to get their hands back on something they owned when they were a child. Don’t despair if you don’t, though. Instead, head online (or into town) and find places that are having clearance sales. If anything is currently labeled 50% off or more, snap it up in volume. All you have to do now is wait until the sale ends, and then start selling them for 50% more than you paid for them. Assuming the toys are now back to retailing at 100% of their value, you should be 25% cheaper than any other store. Parents will love you, and you’ll love their money.

Wooden Furniture

Remember when buying a table meant you came home with a table, and not something made of cheap material that you then had to assemble (badly) yourself? So do a lot of other people, and they miss those days. Flatpack furniture might be convenient, but it’s also characterless, identikit, and prone to breaking easily. The same can’t be said for old wooden furniture, which will last for decades. Even the most tired and worn chairs and tables probably only need a fresh coat of varnish and a little tidying up, and they’re ready for resale. Even if they have a few scuffs and dents, what does it matter? That makes them retro, and retro is in right now!

That’s just five product ideas from a world that’s full of them. Alan Sugar’s money came from re-selling electronics. Many discarded power tools can be sold for parts. Old video games and gaming consoles begin to pick up in value around ten years after they become obsolete, because people get nostalgic pangs. Research your prices, get your best bargain-spotting eye on the prize, and start trading your way up the ladder.

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