Family heirlooms and treasures stored in attics and basements are Brandi Rockwell’s specialty.
Her online/home-based business, Old Soul Millennial, is headquartered in Panora, Iowa, a small lake community about an hour’s drive west of Des Moines. Tourists flock to the area year-round to enjoy outdoor recreation on Lake Panorama, as well as the Raccoon River Valley Trail.
A native of Panora, Rockwell, 28, also works as a breast-feeding consultant and cares for her two young children.
“I’m kind of a free spirit, so set business hours are hard for me, and with home schooling, I need flexible hours. Selling online helped a lot so I could keep the kids home with me,” she explained.
She has been drawn to throwback fashions, décor and music since she was a little girl. “I’ve been thrifting before thrifting was cool,” she said. “It was a means of survival. Things were expensive growing up and you wanted to keep up with classmates, but sometimes the money wasn’t there to go to the mall and buy the designer things.”
That’s why shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army and vintage stores in the Des Moines area proved to be lifesavers for the fashion-conscious adolescent. She also spent time hanging out with her grandmother, Shirley Donovan, who worked at Twice Nice consignment store in the nearby town of Guthrie Center.
Rockwell’s business model is simple and clear: bring in a side income for her family while passing on bargains to the consumer.
After the births of her children, Charlotte in 2013 and Emmett in 2017, thrifting took on a second act.
“New kids clothes are so expensive and they grew out of them quickly, so I’d shop thrift stores and garage sales, then decided to resell those to have money to buy more,” Rockwell explained.
Being drawn to mid-century modern designs, she began filling her home with various finds of yesteryear.
“I personally really love vintage. It was hard in Panora to have a good market for that, but then I started meeting people who love it, and got recruited helping them look for bargains,” she said.
Upon realizing she didn’t have enough wall space or room in her hutch, in 2013, Rockwell began listing items for sale on Instagram.
“At that time, Instagram selling was super popular; people would just take a picture of the item and create little shops, so I was photographing pieces and people would claim them with their PayPal address,” she explained.
The budding entrepreneur then got the opportunity in 2014 to open a brick and mortar business in Panora at Treasures, a store that has since closed its doors.
“The elderly woman who ran it was looking for assistance. That was my first experience with a storefront and then I took it over with a lot of the merchandise already there from consigners,” Rockwell said. “It could be hard because people were really sentimental about their items, but it didn’t mean it would fetch a high price.
” She rented the building through 2016, leaving it behind due to structural issues. Merchandise was relocated to her family’s home, and her format was changed to purchasing pieces outright instead of on consignment.
“The inventory took over our house. We were doing a lot of local pick-ups, then I got inquiries from people across the state, then the country, and started to ship,” she added.
Rockwell and husband Justin tag-team: she secures the merchandise and he packages the items and provides tech support.
She specializes in these vintage finds: McCoy and Hall crockpots, cast iron skillets, turquoise jewelry, video games and cartridges, Hot Wheels toys, Little Golden Books, board games, Fisher Price and some clothing.
“People are crazy about those Fisher Price little people,” she said. “Even my kids like the old school ones better than the new ones. And my daughter has a lot of fun with vintage dresses.”
She said she has enjoyed delving into the history of Hot Wheels.
“To most people, it’s just a box of Hot Wheels cars, but once you dig into the makes and models and tires, the history is cool.”
A Pyrex aficionado, Rockwell obtained price guides for this brand of glassware and kitchenware to better educate herself on the rarity of pieces and how to price them.
“It taught me about the years the patterns were made, but a lot is knowing your market. More stuff sells better online than what I would get at my old storefront,” she noted. “Google an item. The first couple of things that pop up are just the asking price; you also have to look and see what it ended up selling for.”
Rockwell takes a notebook with her thrifting, browsing garage sales, auctions and estate sales, often purchasing an entire box of goodies, even if there is just one item in it she likes.
“I write ISO (in search of) things such as cookware, books and furniture,” she said. “People will tell me this is my budget: I’m only really willing to spend twenty dollars for a vintage side table. They’ll give me dimensions, too, so I look around and send them pictures.”
Rockwell enjoys the thrill of the hunt.
“I try to thrift once a week. I just find that stuff ‘in the wild’ and it’s a lot more fun than going to a big store and taking it off the shelf,” she said of the experience.
It’s the nostalgic factor that keeps customers coming back for more.
“Little Golden Books are neat because sometimes I find first editions. Moms remember having the books. I also have a woman who shops with me and she buys vintage books that aren’t in the best condition and takes the book covers to make journals and picture frames. I also had a customer join my sale group each week and spend twenty to fifty bucks for a box of books. She told me her husband worked on an oil rig down in Texas and so the nearest store or library was over an hour away, and it was worth it to have them shipped.”
One customer purchased a new and sealed tray puzzle from her — thrilled to gift it to her children at the holidays.
“It was a Christmas scene from the ’80s,” Rockwell explained. “And a woman messaged me, she knew she’d had it as a kid, and wanted it for her children, so the nostalgia is always fun — to hear about those connections. A week later she messaged me a picture of her as a child holding the exact puzzle. She’s in her late 30s now.”
Rockwell said that contrary to what those in the older generations may think of millennials, many people her age love vintage finds and want to preserve them for future generations.
“If people keep throwing those things away, they will regret it. I feel like I’m saving these items,” she said. “I just think we live in a time when millennials are cast in a negative light.”
Rockwell jokes that despite being married to a minimalist, her personal style still shines through in their home.
“I do catch some flack. People comment and say, ‘This looks like my grandma’s house.’ For me, I think it is good memories,” Rockwell said. “The quality of a lot of these products is better and stands the test of time. New stuff is cheaply made, and I especially notice that with toys for my kids.”
One of her most prized possessions is a painting of the Roman Colosseum, once belonging to her late grandfather, Edward “Skip” Cox.
“He would say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ I have that hanging above our mid-century desk and it reminds me of him and that perseverance,” Rockwell said.
She is planning to open a storefront for her business in the near future, based in her new home. She’d like to offer pop-up shopping times throughout the warmer months.
“When people come to pick up their stuff, they can see what else we have,” she said.
What doesn’t sell, she donates.
“A lady who shops with me helps with a domestic violence shelter and they’re always looking for kitchen items,” she said. “We’d like to have a drop off spot for people to donate items because Goodwill is an hour away from Panora. There’s a lot of people who want to get stuff out of their homes.”
In addition to buying and selling vintage goods, Rockwell has an eye for spotting what pieces could be repurposed.
“As a little girl, I remember my grandpa got this really cruddy little table out of the dumpster. He was all excited, and at the time I wondered what the hunk of junk was,” Rockwell reflected. “I went home, then the next time I came to see him he had this pretty table and he said that was the table I thought looked so bad.”
Where someone sees junk, she sees potential.
“Wood glue and Old English go a long way,” she concluded.
She offers local pick up in Panora and can also meet with people in the Des Moines metro area. She ships worldwide.
To learn more about her business, find her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OldSoulMillennial50216. She may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.