Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thrifting As A Professional Picker/Antiques Dealer

Yes, I am a picker, and yes I do go to thrift stores.

 I'm a hardcore picker...I do it all!

And why not?  Thrift shops are sort of like a daily garage sale, but indoors...and when it is -20C outside, shopping in a heated environment is welcome!

When I am out picking, and happen to be cruising through a little town, I keep my eyes open for such places, and take note of them for next time I am in the area. This includes second hand stores, consignment stores, etc, etc. I will stop in and check them out, if convenient, and they are open. If they are closed, I will check for a phone number posted in their window, which is usually an invitation to call and have the proprietor/proprietress open up. Usually, I do weigh the possibilities of the place, my schedule, and will pass of the store if other places in the area that may hold more potential at that moment.

I have done well from such places, especially in more rural areas where many/some/certain antiques & collectibles are/may not be recognized as having value, and not immediately snapped up left, right and center.

Last week, en route to pursue up a lead, I stopped in at one such country thrift store.  I suspect I spent about 3/4 of an hour there, as it was one I have never been in before, so I didn't have a set "search pattern" already in mind as I was looking around.  I left with 3 bags of items, as well as a a few bulky things.

 As part of the $42 (and change) that was spent I acquired some neat items, including:

2 bunches of 100+ year old, glass trade beads

 Yes, of the type that were used for trading for furs and such during the Fur Trade period in North America. What most people do not know, or not realize is that these were also used for the same sort of trade in Africa and other nations during that period. Being found here, though, their intended purpose was for trade with the native population here, over 100 years ago.


$1.00 for the lot.  (These I have already been sold, by the you won't see them for sale in my inventory.)

These were a fun and cool find, and the oldest item from that buy, but not the most profitable.  I also bought a hand tinted photo, done by a noted, and heavily collected, Eastern Canadian Photographer.  It was $15. My retail price is $75.   Am thinking I may also be able to work a decent trade with a local collector of his works. If not, it will go with me to a show, or maybe it will end up sold at a wholesale price to an eastern Canadian dealer.  Also in the purchase was a painting that may turn out to be of decent value, but am still researching it. 

Also as part of the finds, I bought 2 large, heavy, well made, shallow, bowl like plates....which are actually collection plates.

 No, not "collector plates"... I do mean collection plates, from a church!  They are only from the mid/late 1950, but for $3 each I couldn't leave them there!  

Maybe I can use them in my new picker cult!

Wanna join? 

Toss your $50 bills in this plate please....'cause I need it to go pickin'!

Buying Old Junk - Business VS Hobby - Is That Item Truly A Bargain?

You are going to find that passing up on what you initially see as a bargain, and highly "profitable" inventory is a constant struggle.

Why pass up a 25 cent buy that you are pretty sure is worth $15 in a store?  Well, read on, and you will find out.

Some days resisting the urge to buy every "deal" you see will be far easier than others. If you are like myself, our addiction is the hunt and the big rush we get when we find some cool treasure, especially if it was CHEAP.

 After awhile, like any addiction, it takes something more and more spectacular to give us the same "rush" we crave.

But, when it is a significant part of our income/business, also, we need to temper that treasure hunting addiction with common sense and good business acumen. 

Yes, that ornament is only priced at 25 cents, and it is salable for $15 in a shop or online, but is it truly worth the time? And the cleaning? The supplies you use for cleaning? The time spent on cleaning? Time spent photographing it? Editing the photosListing it online? Fees for listing it online? Emailing and answering questions? Invoicing a final buyer? Packing? An the packing materials? Time spent packing it? Mailing? And the gas to the post office? Time spent standing in line at the post office?  Emailing the buyer to say it is in the mail,and sending tracking info? Customer service after to make sure it arrived and they are happy with it?

A the markup on that item was a theoretical profit of $14.75.  But there is an argument to be made that it actually cost you money to deal with that item. 

So, that 25 cent purchase may well have turned into a loss when you factor into the equation all your other expenses.

I struggle with this daily. I have lots of "low end" inventory.

However, I don't buy that many low end items purposely for resale, anymore. Only the odd quarter from my pocket are spent on an item that is only worth $15.

I have lots of that sort of "shelf filler" already.  But, I still acquire that sort of merchandise for other reasons,  by other methods, an din other situations.

When I am out picking, sometimes spending $5 on a $20 item is what you need to do to get in the door.

Making a pile of quarter priced items at a second hand shop can show I am a serious bulk buyer. Might even eventually lead to the "good stuff" in the back room, and/or make a long time and good contact in that area. Perhaps end up with referrals to some of their sources, for items that are priced too high for them, but are bargain priced in your view.

Local thrift stores I go to, I do spend some of my quarters. Some places are run as money making enterprises in support of charities, and are worth supporting. I'll get my twenty five cents back, hopefully, and end up breaking even (once I factor in the $14.75 worth of expenses I have incurred by buying that item!)

For me, it is sort of the equivalent of any expenditure for items of "pleasure" buying a soda at the convenience store, a coffee & donut at the local Timmies (Tim Horton's) , popping it in a video game, dropping it in the coin slot of a slot machine, etc.  IN the case of "in support of such and such charity" thrift stores, it is akin to buying a overpriced giant chocolate bar from the local neighbor kids who are raising money for a new bunch of basketballs.

The difference is that I can write it off as a purchase of inventory.  I slaked a bit of  my thirst for a "score" and made the world a better place for only 25 cents!

That is how I rationalize it, anyway! 

That said, I now pass up more "bargains" than I buy. China and glass items are one of those things I pass up more and more, unless the potential resale value is significant, or it is something I am curious about, and/or  want to research it as part of my ongoing self-education in a variety of collecting areas.  I also do buy the odd thing just as a 3-D reminder of an event, place, etc. A souvenir of that stop, and a bookmark in my memory to stop by there again.

Plus, there are those items I buy solely for some of their "parts". A lamp I can cannibalize for a part or 2 to make another salable. The parts may be obsolete, but still are not intrinsically valuable. Even of they are still available new, it is cheaper and/or more convenient to buy the junk lamp than make a trip to the hardware store, or order it online. Plus, the "patina" of age is already there, and the replaced part of the repair/restoration doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.

I get plenty of the $5 to $25 items in box lots at auctions, etc. Even now that I strictly limit my garage sale purchase, thrift shop buys, etc, those $5 - $25 items still  pile up, and I still need to be careful as to how I deal with them.  My accumulated knowledge means I buy more than the newbie, as I recognize more of those 25 cent items as being worth far more than 25 cents. So, the struggle will be eternal. More you know, the more you can buy, because you see more bargains on the tables than the part-timer standing beside you at that garage sale.

I certainly still do not make tons of money when it is all said and done.  I'd be lucky to make $10 an hour.....which is less than minimum wage, here.   If it was ALL about money, I'd be able to do very, very well with a 9 to 5 job.  Heck, on the "oil patch" in this area, even a kid fresh out of high school can get a job with a starting wage of $25 an hour (+benefits)...PLUS they get a pretty new 4x4 company truck to drive.

However, I am "happy" with what I do.  One of these days my chosen profession and skill set I have created, honed, add to and constantly improve on, will all pay off big....

Or so I hope! 

And now it is time to get back at it. I have a stack of boxes to deal with, full of things with 25 cent price tags. 

Pass me that bottle of Goo-Gone, will ya?

Makin' Lemonade from Lemons - Vintage Reflections

You likely read about my mis-buy at the auction in the last post.

The remnants of the deal was a 1950s, faux-paint-textured cardboard print in a faux-antique frame. The thick cardboard these sorts of prints are made from is useful as stiffener when shipping paper collectibles and other thin items, to prevent bending in transit. So, off it went into the shipping room to be sliced up for that purpose.

I suspect in 50 years I'll be lamenting my destruction of 1000s of those things, cursing myself for not hoarding them...a potential million dollars destroyed. Then again, with inflation the way it is, "a million dollars" then might not be what it is today. So, I may only be loosing out on covering the cost of a meal at a good restaurant by not hoarding them...Ah heck, I'll probably be sucking my means through a straw by then anyway.

What to do with the frame....

It was sort of attractive...could paint it white, and distress it...

Toss a mirror into it...but, that means buying a mirror...

Or does it?

I had a broken mirror, removed from a cheap, paper/fibre-board dresser acquired from a clean-out I did. I smashed up the dresser itself, as it was beyond repair, and tossed it in the trash.  The mirror was intact, for awhile. My main storage space is, well, just that, space...outside.   It was in a frame that did a poor job of imitating real wood...other than being made of the industrial equivalent of laminated sheets of paper. That materials acts like a sponge for water...especially rain. Yes, it got wet,  warped in 5 directions, then the thin mirror fell out...and broke.  Never saw nor heard it break, so should I assume I missed out on the predicted 7 years of bad luck?

 Does a mirror make a sound when it falls, breaks and no one is around?

Anyway, there was a chunk that was big enough to cut to size to fit the frame!

VOILA, add a piece of "junk" mirror to a "junk" frame and you have a $35 - $45 hall mirror!

Two negatives DO make a positive!

Hmmm...might make some profit on my bad buy yet!

Yes, I am being melodramatic... it didn't quite happen with the "voila" with magician type flair. I already was thinking about how to make lemonade out of my lemon of a purchase, after I was done flogging myself for the stupid mistake.

The lesson here is that 2 pieces of junk can still make you MONEY

Combining things that are otherwise useless, have no value, etc is like creating gold with Alchemy...except in this case, using junk as your ingredients CAN create gold from combining other things, unlike using Alchemy to create gold...which is far as anyone has revealed, anyway! And if you HAVE figured it out, let me know, I won't tell a soul! I promise!

Janet Picard, friend from years back, an artist, and the original owner/founder of Ragpickers Anti-Fashion Emporium of Winnipeg, created jewellery from found, salvaged objects. She created works of quality, long before the now commonly seen pieces with watch gears, brass buttons, bits of china, chain, etc, in a collage form. She created many wearable sculptures in the form of earrings, brooches, necklaces and assorted other jewellery.  She called her artistic enterprise "Salvage Alchemy".  After doing a quick online search, I see many others of a similar artistic bend, as well as folks in different areas of "salvage" have found/thought/adopted the use of the name as well.

To me, though, "salvage alchemy" a perfect term for what many of us in the junk business do...

Or rather, those of  us who can think "outside of the box."

That trash can be made into CA$H with a little effort, and it can pay you back in spades for that little bit of time and imagination.

If you wish to survive in the "junk biz", as a picker, antiques dealer, storage auction locker buyer, scrapper, flea market seller, swap meet seller, etc, etc, my advice is to embrace "salvage alchemy" as part of your business wholeheartedly.   

Ok, junk alchemists, now go dig into those piles of mis-buys, junk, trash and scrap and see what gold nuggets you can come up with!