Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lemons into a little lemonade.

All of us labor at the garage sales and thrift shops, hoping to score big on every find. But let's face it, not every find is going to turn into big bucks. In fact, some can turn into a big bust! Sometimes it's because the item bought turns out to be broken. Back a few blogs ago, I described how I repaired a shortwave radio then sold it for over $200 bucks. That potential bust turned out great, but what if you just can't fix it, are you stuck with a loss? Maybe not, here's an example of a small salvage operation that saved me money.

Above is a Eighties era "Speak and Math" computer toy by Texas instruments. I bought this at a garage sale for three bucks. These vintage computer toys do very well on eBay. The company also makes a "Speak and Read" and other educational models. I've sold a few of these and usually get around thirty five dollars for each one. So when I bought this one, I figured I had another thirty bucks coming my way! But when I got the toy home and popped in some batteries guess what happened? Absolutely nothing...the dumb thing would not turn on! So there I was: three dollars in the hole and a dead toy...a major bummer! Hating to just throw away a hunk of plastic, I considered selling it "as-is". Maybe a handy fix-it type buyer would buy it and get it working. But I was just kidding myself, there's not a huge demand for broken electronic toys from the Eighties.

However researching further on eBay, I noticed a common trend with the "Speak & Math" toys. A fair amount of sellers were selling the toy with a missing battery door. This is a common bug-a-boo with many toys, the battery door goes missing like some kind of escaped convict busting out of jail. (Don't even get me started on TV remote battery doors, mine is always leaping off the clicker and tunneling itself between the couch cushions!) So while my toy didn't work, it did have one thing going for it...the battery door was still present and accounted for! In a desperate attempt to recover my initial three dollar investment, I decided to try to sell only the battery door. A collector would have the opportunity to make his Speak & Math complete...I was like a matchmaker!

I listed the battery door for five bucks with free shipping. I had to be the only seller in the whole eBay world listing a Speak & Math battery door, but you know what? The little piece of plastic actually sold for five dollars! After paying a minimal shipping cost and listing fee, I was now in the black instead of the red!

You may be thinking, "Dude, you made a few bucks...what's the big deal?" Well, in this business you have to avoid taking losses, even a small one. I was almost stuck with a worthless toy that cost me three bucks, but instead I recovered my initial investment and then some. Now I could put that money back to work for me. Maybe those recovered bucks would buy me a doll that I could flip for fifty, or a team jersey that makes me a hundred! It's basically a chance for a do-over !

So if you buy stuff you think is broken and worthless, don't write it off just yet. Look it over and try to salvage something from it. You may be able to turn lemons into lemonade!
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dear tire kicker - Mind your own beeswax !

Have you ever been low-balled by potential buyers regarding your auction prices? It's happened to me more then once. Watch out for bidders who will test you with an e-mail asking for a low "Buy it Now" price. Their objective is to snap up your item before it can be bid up by other buyers. Don't let them fool you! If you're confident you've done your eBay or Terapeak research on it's value - stick with your price.

Here's a case in point on staying at your price: I found this slot car set at a local thrift store for just six bucks. Vintage slot cars and trucks are a hot eBay item and always see good bidding action. If you see them at the garage sale or thrift shop don't pass them up!

This particular set was a pair of racing trucks sold by Chef Boyardee back in the early Eighties. They were part of a mail order promotion and could only be purchased from Chef Boyardee. I was pretty stoked when I found them. For only six dollars, I had a special edition set complete with hand controllers and track. Throw in the fact they were never used and in the original box...a total eBay home run!

Knowing that slot cars are a hot selling item on eBay, I confidently set the starting bid at fifty dollars. I knew I could easily get that and probably much more. With a click of my mouse the set was posted and I began to count my potential profits. But shortly after posting, I received an e-mail from a "tire kicker". These are people who want to question you on your price with the hope of getting you to come down. This fella found time in his busy schedule to counsel me as follows:

"You want fifty bucks for that? Ha, good luck!"

This guy was a real downer! But I responded back with a friendly, "Yeah, that's a good deal for the set right? "

His terse response, "Ha, yeah right. I'll give you twenty"

It's never a good thing to start an e-mail war with some folks, so I ignored his smart-alecky e-mail offer. I knew full well this set was going to soar in price....but I did hold onto his e-mail for a later time.

As mentioned, there are a tremendous amount of slot car collectors on eBay. Just as I anticipated, bidders got revved up for my Chef Boyardee truck set. The fifty dollar starting bid didn't slow down the collectors at all. The auction bidding went viral and closed with a final price of.... are you ready?.......$103 dollars! Boo-Ya!

Remember the "tire kicker" who laughed at the starting bid? I knew he was probably stalking the auction from afar and had seen the final closing price. But since he had jumped into the deep end of my eBay pool, I just had to give him a last zing. I sent him an e-mail which was extremely brief and to the point. It said only the following:


He quickly responded back and unfurled a few inappropriate words on me and called my wonderful buyer a bleeping idiot. I am not sure why he was so upset, but his angry, over-the-top reaction cracked me up!

So don't let the naysayers and tire kickers keep you from earning your money. If you have done your eBay homework, stick to your price and you'll be rewarded!
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the trash you shall find it!

As you may know by now, I am no stranger to a little trash picking from time to time. You may remember when I found my daughter's old Ugg boots carelessly thrown in my trash can. I fished them out and sold them on eBay for $32. Well, sticking my head into trash cans continues to pay off for me!

I have routine whereby I drive over to a local middle school and retrieve cardboard boxes out of the school's reclying dumpster. It's a great source for shipping boxes in all shapes and sizes. One day after grabbing a few boxes, I naturally took a peak in the adjacent school trash dumpsters. School had just wrapped up for the year and you never know what might be in there. I've come across some useful items; scissors, writing paper, books and more. Once I even found an entire set of stage pieces built for the school play, "Seussical, the Musical". I told my eccentric-musician friend about all the colorful Dr Seuss pieces, and he salvaged them for his music studio basement!

On this particular day, I opened each trash can lid and did a quick scan inside. On the last one, I peered down and took note of a varsity style jacket bundled up in between some plastic trash bags. I speculated it was probably a kid's jacket left in the school's lost and found. When the school year ended, the custodian tossed it in the trash. On the front of the jacket I could make out some kind of stitched logo, I figured it was the school mascot or something. Being naturally curious, I reached in and pulled out the jacket.

As I shook out the jacket I began to chuckle to myself. This was no school was an embroidered State Police jacket! The logo I spotted wasn't the school mascot, it was the State Police insignia stitched on the front! It was a quality garment too; colorful embroidered State Police Insignia, varsity bands at the waist and cuffs. The size was even large. (I find XL is the most popular Men's size to sell. Look around, there's more XL guys out there then any other size.)

I could not believe my luck! Normally, I have to labor through racks and racks at the thrift stores to find law enforcement gear. Here was one just laying in the trash waiting to be discovered! As noted in my blog last month, law enforcement shirts, jackets and hats are all hot eBay items to sell.

Although it wasn't really dirty, I ran the jacket through the wash just to take off any "trash can" smell it may have picked up. The jacket came out fresh and clean. Since It was a jacket, I waited until Fall to post it on eBay. Once up for auction, the law enforcement collectors took trash can find sold for $28 big bucks!

Isn't it amazing what people throw away? Money found in the garage...uh, I mean school dumpster.
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Monday, January 3, 2011

Jackie revisited

You may remember my personal saga back in the Fall when I was confounded by a Goodwill employee. I had discovered a Jackie Gleason Esco statue weirdly placed in the middle of a Goodwill Store Halloween window display. Esco's are highly valued by collectors and Jackie is on the top of that list! Knowing this, I attempted to "liberate" Jackie from the display by purchasing him. The sales clerk yelled at me sternly! She told me in no uncertain terms that window display items were not for sale until the Saturday before Halloween. Once the display was taken down, Jackie would be available for purchase. I left the store depressed that I would never get the chance to buy Jackie.

I never forgot poor old Jackie after that day. So guess where I headed that Saturday morning before Halloween? Yep, to rescue Jackie...that is if he was still there! My plan was this: I would run through my usual Saturday morning garage sales but would depart for Goodwill about thirty minutes before they opened. This would put me at the store right at 10 am when they unlocked the doors. That Saturday, I finished right on time and steered the truckster towards the Goodwill Store. It was nice sunny October day as I raced to the store, hoping against hope that Jackie would still be there. I pulled into the parking lot right at 10 am. True to the word of that stern Goodwill clerk, they were breaking down the Halloween display in the lobby. I ran inside and looked for Jackie. I looked at the empty shelf where Jackie had been weeks before but he was gone! Like a kid who just lost his puppy, I said to the lady tearing down the decorations, "Hey, what happened to the statue that was sitting in here?" She barley turned around and with her hands full of Halloween cobwebs she pointed, "it's on the counter inside."

I turned to look inside and like a love-struck teenager, I saw my Jackie Gleason Esco statue! He was sitting on the counter and smiling at me! I am pretty sure I heard harp music playing and little birds flying around Jackie's head, but I may have just imagined that! I briskly walked over to the counter and grabbed good old Jackie. He was no longer just a Halloween display, he was now official Goodwill store merchandise for sale. I looked for the price sticker and found it on the back of his head. I was taken a little aback when I saw what the price was...$30 bucks! It was way more then what I usually paid at garage sales. Normally, I pick up Escos for only five or ten bucks. Ironically, I once paid only five for a James Dean statue at another Goodwill store. But that's Goodwill for you-no consistency with pricing! The inflated price may have been due to me and other thrift store collectors asking about Jackie over the weeks that he sat in the window display. We were telegraphing to the employees that the statue was collectible so they jacked up the price!

But what could I do? I came this far for Jackie, I couldn't leave him behind. So I paid the $30 under silent protest and left with the big guy cradled under my arm. Jackie and I had a long talk on the way home. I apologized to him for leaving him there that day in September, sort of like Tom Hanks did with "Wilson" the volleyball as he floated away from the raft in the movie Castaway.

After our heart-to-heart on the drive home it was time to get back to business. Jackie went on eBay a few days later and I started the auction's opening bid for exactly what I paid - $30 plus $25 shipping. I also uploaded five pictures including front, back, sides, and close up of Jackie's face. Esco collectors are very concerned with chips or cracks, so pictures help alleviate these questions. The auction ran it's usual seven days with a nice amount of interest. My Saturday rescue mission was worth the effort, Jackie sold with a final closing bid of $70 even!

Even though I have done better with other Esco statues, I was happy with a $40 profit. Part of the satisfaction on this flip was acquiring Jackie after being flatly denied on my initial attempt to buy him. So it's not just the good money you earn that makes this business fun, but the thrill of the hunt too! As for Jackie? Never again will he be forced to demean himself in some tacky Halloween display!
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