CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic has led two college students to develop a new way to make money using Instagram and other social media.
The couple is using Instagram and Facebook Marketplace to sell vintage furniture finds.
The business model is sometimes hit or miss. The two have appointments and visits scheduled around the Charlotte area to inspect pieces and purchase them. Occasionally, they strike gold with a designer piece or overlooked iconic piece of furniture someone does not realize is a part of design history.
Gabe Cartagena spends most of his day hunting for, refurbishing, and selling the furniture they find.
The Charlotte college student and his partner spend hours, equivalent to two full-time jobs, scouring the state for pieces they think will sell and sell quickly.
In fact, their statewide scavenger hunt has filled three storage units so far, with a potential for more on the way.
“We tried our hand at it, and this is where we are now. I don’t know how successful we’ve been, we’ve certainly not gone under yet,” Cartagena jokes while in one of their storage units.
Cartagena gives more detail, saying they spend about 90 hours a week finding pieces. The work is taxing, but it pays better for the work than his old bartending job.
And, the creative business strategy is a way for them to explore an idea they already considered.
“Nic, my partner, had always had an idea of starting a furniture store. They had worked at a consignment shop in Greensboro for about five years. They were familiar with the amount of money their bosses were making,” Cartagena says, adding his partner noticed a lot of the money did not trickle down to staff.
Cartagena and Nic Jensen, are in college at UNC Charlotte, Cartagena is studying political science, and Jensen is studying architecture.
Jensen’s growing architecture expertise is helping them scour flea markets and online listings for retro furniture pieces currently in style.
“A lot of my business is for, or is from, interior designers who are looking for specific styles of furniture,” Cartagena says, adding they also know what materials and colors are hot right now.
What makes a good piece? Cartagena says it needs clean lines, little to no damage, official designer marks if possible, a cool shape, and he personally will buy anything chrome. But, that’s more a personal preference.
Currently, they’re making enough money to pay rent, not always an easy task for two college students living in Plaza Midwood.
“The end goal right now is just paying our rent every month. We’re thinking about moving into a larger space,” Cartagena explains.
One day, they hope to open a warehouse where they can store, renovate, and show the furniture all in one place. Currently, they partner with some others to do major renovations as to not ruin pieces they purchase.
Also, they have help from friends and associates who know who to contact when they find a neat piece of furniture, which could be Instagram gold for someone else.
“I mean it’s an image-sharing platform and we assumed furniture would sell better on it,” Cartagena says about their use of Instagram.
On Instagram, under the profile @FurnishingsByJensen they share new photos and pieces a few times a week.
They say about 50% of their business comes from Instagram, and the other half from Facebook Marketplace.
It’s a tech-savvy and new-age way to make ends meet in a pandemic, as they continue their search for a new, but old, piece of furniture to share with roughly 1,000 followers.