Posts Tagged ‘collectibles’

The Quick Flip

July 31, 2014

Monday July 28th, 2014 – Waukegan, IL

I’m still basking in the radiant glory of my killer business triumph yesterday, flipping the stash of toy cars I nabbed for $2 at a thrift store for a cool crisp twenty. Actually the bill was a kind of soggy and rumpled, but twenty bucks is twenty bucks. The point is I made a profit for little work.

That’s the pure essence of what every fly by night huckster has been attempting to do since the beginning of time. It has never been easy, and never will be. I just happened to luck out and I am fully aware of that fact. The universe threw me a couple of bones, and I flipped them for twenty.

I realize it’s only $20, but there are much larger implications involved. What if I had purchased an item for $200 and sold it for $2000? I would be a lot more excited than I am now – and I truly am now. It feels great to pull off a successful deal, but it also makes me wonder if I did it right.

My two main wheeler dealer mentors have traditionally been quick flippers, and both of them were able to stay in business twenty years or more. They may have varied on rare occasion, but for the most part they’d get something in and flip it right back out. If they doubled their original investment, they’d do it day and night until they couldn’t do it anymore. Then they’d do it again.

Greed is part of the human bag of tricks, and everyone thinks about how they can score a sweet financial deal that gives a ridiculous return. This is why casinos stay in business. People that won big can’t just walk away and appreciate that they won. They have to try and clean the casino out.

I must admit I did think on the way home yesterday that I could have kept those cars for a little while and tried to move them on Ebay. I only went to one dealer, and he gave me my price. What I don’t know for sure is, was my price correct? Ten times my investment is great, but did I have a stellar load that could have sold for a lot more? That would have involved a lot of extra activity.

I would have had to list what I had for sale on Ebay (which I have never done before), write up all the sales notes, take pictures and eventually mail them to each buyer. Maybe I could have put them all in one lot, or maybe I should have split them up into several. There were many options.

My initial investment was very small, so I could afford to sit on the whole bag as long as I felt like it. Knowing me that would be months or even years, and I don’t want to start stockpiling old clutter at this point in my life. I want to get rid of as much as I can, and only collect cash piles if I collect anything at all. I was able to turn my investment into a healthy return, so I’ll accept that.

I also came across some old sports cards I forgot I saved. They weren’t anything great, but they were old and worth something so I took them to a sports card shop today and got $40. I can’t put an exact price on what I had in them, but I’d rough guess $20. I bought them several years ago so I’ll count that as total profit. They were just lying around, and I turned them into in pocket cash.

Who hasn’t had the dream of starting with something tiny and turning it into a fortune? This is not the first time I’ve done deals like this, but I always end up needing the money and that ends the game before it starts. I’ve got a couple of other trinkets I can cash in, and I should be close to $100. That’s a nice round number to start, and I’ll keep watching for deals. They’re out there.

From now on, this is the only collectible I am interested in acquiring mass quantities of. Everything else is for sale.

From now on, this is the only collectible I am interested in acquiring mass quantities of.

Trans Am Treasures

July 31, 2014

Sunday July 27th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

I was walking through a thrift store a couple of weeks ago and ran across a bag of toy cars that were on sale for $2. It was a generous sized bag for that price, and I noticed it was packed with a collection of Pontiac Trans Ams for whatever reason. When I was growing up that was a hot car.

Somebody had obviously been collecting them, and they were donated. I have always liked toy cars, and anytime I can cop a sizeable load of them for a low price I’ll do it if for no other reason than I like to give them away to kids. The look in their eyes when they get a big bag is priceless.

This seemed like an especially good find, so I gambled the two bucks knowing I wouldn’t lose. I opened them in the car, and was impressed with the quality of the load. There were Hot Wheels and Matchbox and Corgi which are all brand names. They were in top notch condition and there was a nice variety. There were also a couple of slot cars – both Trans Ams – and a Batmobile.

When I got home I immediately emptied the bag for a count, and it was 27. Not shabby. That’s far less than a dime a car. I looked up some of them on Ebay, and saw they had asking prices of up to $15 a car. There was a Hot Wheels special edition that was a mail in offer exclusively, and there were four of those. The Batmobile had asking prices between $10-$15, so I knew I’d be ok.

Even the no name Trans Ams had to be worth at least a buck each, and there were also a couple of higher end Matchbox models of older cars that were in excellent shape. There were also a few cheapo cars in the bag that would probably sell for a quarter or less, but as a whole it was a haul.

Today I took my weekly run through the flea market in Wilmot, WI and decided to bring along the bag of cars to see if I could sell them as a whole. I would much rather turn a quick profit and let some vendor make out than set up and sweat my Sunday away trying to sell them all myself.

My cousin Jef Parker used to own Collector’s Edge Comics in Milwaukee, and I would watch him wheel and deal comic book collections. He said there were always two strategies, and buyers had to decide if they wanted to flip it for a quick profit or piece it out in detail and squeeze every cent out. The latter would entail much more time, effort and expense so he preferred the former.

I also watched master sports card dealer Ray Gunderson of Gunderson’s Sports Cards in West Allis, WI pull off deal after deal and that was his strategy too. He was always about a quick flip – even if he lost out in the long run. He didn’t care if the buyer got an extra good deal, and in fact he wanted that so they’d come back and buy from him again. “This ain’t no museum,” he’d say.

Whatever he paid for anything, he’d move it out the door for 2-3 times what he paid for it. He kept his doors open for 20 years doing that, and everyone thought he was crazy for having such low prices. But his success was being able to buy low, and he did it regularly. He was a master.

That’s exactly what I did with this bag of cars. I stumbled upon it by chance, and it was able to be had for the right price. I suppose I could have farted around on Ebay and maybe made $100 or more, but I settled for a quick $20 from a dealer who was sweating in the sun. Maybe I could’ve tried for $40 or $60, but I kept it fair. I made a nice profit for doing nothing. I’ll take it and run.

I copped a load of toy cars at a thrift store for $2. Not a bad haul.

I copped a load of toy cars at a thrift store for $2. Not a bad haul.

This isn't even all of them. I feel like a miniature used car dealer.

This isn’t even all of them. I feel like a miniature used car dealer.

Flea-ing The Scene

July 25, 2014

Sunday July 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

There’s a flea market that’s now a lot farther than it used to be from where I lived, but if I have time on a Sunday I’ll still make the drive. It’s a ski hill in Wilmot, WI which is really close to the Illinois state line, and having a flea market in summer is a great way to make use of their space.

I discovered it last year, and even though it’s not that great I still go at least a couple of times a month to if nothing else get in an exercise walk. It’s always an enlightening education to soak in the human freak show at any flea market, and I look at my $1 admission as really cheap tuition.

My main goal is to scope out a product I think I can sell myself. I realize nothing is easy, but I sure don’t want to be doing what 99% of the vendors are doing. Most of them pack up some kind of truck or trailer with a random collection of useless crap I wouldn’t take for free. Why do that?

The grunt work alone of setting up and tearing down couldn’t begin to come close to any profit that may possibly be brought in. I can’t believe some of the flat out junk some people put out for sale. What are the chances someone will come along and need a left front fender for a ’67 Buick Wildcat or a pool table with a ripped felt? Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to bring pictures instead?

If I would happen to be looking for a used pool table, I wouldn’t think to look at a flea market in Wilmot, WI – or anywhere else. But I see people week after week with displays that make my eyes tired just to look. It reminds me of my Grandfather and father, and I want to set it all ablaze.

My grandparents, father and uncle were all borderline hoarders. They had issues with throwing anything away. When they eventually died, everyone else had to clean up their messes. I vowed I never wanted to be like that, and I intend to keep my word. I am not going to put anyone through that kind of hell when I croak. I want all my possessions to fit into the back seat of a small car.

The reason I go to flea markets is not to buy something for .95 and hope I can sell it for $1.50. I want to see how and what the public buys – if anything. Times are getting tighter by the minute and not many of us have a pocket full of disposable income. I’ll bet all those vendors are hurting.

Collectibles as a whole are going through the floor. I’ve been wheeling and dealing sports stuff for years, mainly to give me something to do. That business is occupying the bottom of the toilet, along with stamps, coins and especially Beanie Babies. What a waste of time that stupid fad was.

Come to think of it, they’re all pretty stupid. Sports cards are basically pictures of sweaty men. That may be popular at a bath house somewhere, but as far as contributing to society it really has no lasting value. It’s kind of fun to collect, but when life gets hard who has time for any hobbies?

My only ‘hobby’ at the moment is trying to pay bills for another month and keep my aging car on the road. Trying to track down a three legged albino porcupine Beanie Baby is a luxury I just can’t indulge myself with right now. And if I could, I’d hunt for it on Ebay without the sweating.

Still, I enjoy walking in the fresh air and taking in the sights which are many. I have no idea of what I would ever sell, but maybe I’ll find a product. Whatever it is, it won’t be old pool tables.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational - but finding a real bargain is pretty rare. It's mostly junk.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational – but finding a real bargain is rare.

Football Fasting

October 8, 2013

Sunday October 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I love football. I love the action, excitement and drama of a well played game and I’ve loved it since I was a little boy. I loved playing it then, and even after I stopped it has remained an annual staple in my autumn schedule. I especially love the NFL and the Green Bay Packers in particular.

I have written in detail of my inability to stop being a Packer fan, and at this point I consider it a hopeless addiction. It should make no difference whatsoever to me – or anyone else that doesn’t actually play or coach for them – if they win or lose five minutes after a game, but it totally does.

I’ve resigned myself long ago to the embarrassing fact that I will always care somewhere in the deepest part of my existence whether the Packers win or lose even though I know it carries a zero effect or less on how my life turns out. Even though I know it means nothing, I know it still does.

Instead of seeking the years of intense therapy I probably should for this deep rooted condition, I have chosen instead to take a different route and wean myself off of watching games whenever possible. It was damn near impossible at first, but now I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding them.

One thing that helps tremendously is that I live in a place where they aren’t the prominent team on television. They weren’t on this week, so I would have had to drive to Wisconsin to watch the game which I didn’t feel like doing. I did drive to a flea market and walked around all afternoon.

I mainly did it for the exercise, and it felt good to take a brisk walk on a fall day. A few people did have radios playing both the Packers and Bears games, so I caught up with the scores of both whether I wanted to hear them or not. I didn’t mind in small doses, but I didn’t want to waste the afternoon in front of the TV riding that emotional roller coaster one more time. I don’t need that.

What doesn’t help is that I’m in not one but two fantasy football leagues. I should keep a closer grip of what’s happening, but my friend Jim McHugh is my co-owner in both and he does a more thorough job of combing the waiver wires than I ever could. He’s the perfect man for that job.

I am not saying I won’t ever jump back in with both feet, but for the immediate future I choose to participate in what I’m calling a “football fast” and use at least the three hours that the Packers play to do something much more productive. I will hear the final score soon enough, but nothing of my personal doing will have had a thing to do with it. Whether I watch or not doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I get at least one of my own flailing projects off the ground. The NFL isn’t going to miss one lone nut that chooses to do something else for a while, but I will cease to exist if I don’t figure out a way to get some legitimate steady income flowing in my direction. A three hour chunk of time to work on that comes in handy right now, and I don’t want to waste it.

I didn’t spend all three hours walking through the flea market, but it didn’t take long to realize I’m not going to haul in much money there. My idea of being a picker of collectibles and turning a profit has been a lot less consistent than I imagined. It’s too high of a time outlay for too tiny of a return, but at least I can do it on my own schedule. The smart thing to do is keep working on all my ideas like The King of Uranus, “Schlitz Happened!” and the rest. Football can wait a while.

The NFL is a drug - with 32 varieties.

The NFL is a drug – with 32 varieties.

My personal drug of choice since age 8. Is there a 12 step program for NFL addicts?

My personal drug of choice since age 8. Is there a 12 step program for NFL addicts?

To Pick Or Not To Pick?

December 30, 2012

Saturday December 29th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   There’s a part of me that absolutely loves the process of treasure hunting. Shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars have made it hot with the masses, but I’ve been around it as long as I can remember. My grandfather loved to visit thrift stores constantly, and my father of all people had a great eye for junk and was an excellent picker himself. He scored regularly with antique deals.

 On my exercise walk today I discovered a really neat antique shop in downtown Reno. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, but the prices were so reasonable and the people were so nice that I did happen to pick up a couple of tiny items to give as gifts for some friends who are also collectors.

I found a patch from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $5 that I’ll send off to my old friend Dave Wilson who lives in Indianapolis and is a huge race fan. Dave is a great guy and he booked me at his comedy club One Liners for years. The least I can do is send a small gift to say thanks.

I also ran across some clean old professional wrestling magazines from the California territory of the mid ‘70s. There were four of them, and they’ve got the great old blood soaked pictures of wrestlers from that era like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson and even Andre the Giant. They’re really cool, and I picked up all four at $10 each. If I can’t at least break even, then I’m a flaming idiot.

Depending on who is asked, there are rather serious doubts as to whether I am an idiot anyway. It’s not gambling rent money, and it’s something I had never ever seen in all my travels. I looked them up on Ebay and there was another issue that I didn’t have that had an asking price of $25.

I was talking to one of the dealers at the shop, a very nice guy probably in his late 50s. He said he’s been wheeling and dealing for decades, and his specialty is pocket watches. He’d purchased a new old one from a walk in customer about an hour before I got there, and he told me he’d paid $50 for it. A pawn shop had offered the guy $25 apparently, but he wanted $50 firm so he bolted.

The guy at the antique shop showed it to me, and said it was worth probably $300 minimum as is, but quite a bit more with just a little cleaning and maintenance work. He said he expected he’d get about $450-$500 depending on how long he chose to sit on it and hold out for the best price.

I had a nice long talk with the guy, and compared notes on how the collectibles game is playing out in the tough economy. He said something that really resonated with me. “There’s a whole lot more junk than people in the world to go through it all. There will ALWAYS be deals around.”

Like anything, there’s work involved and it’s not easy but he seemed to think anyone with any kind of work ethic and drive could turn a fair profit by putting one’s effort in. He suggested there be a field of specialization, only because there’s too much out there to know about everything.

My quandary is, do I slice my time even more and wheel and deal part time to bring in an extra few bucks or blow it off and put every last ounce of energy into comedy? Nothing is ‘stable’, and I’ve had time issues in the past. But I need money and I love the hunt. I’ll have to think carefully.

This really got my mental wheels spinning though. I’m at the point in my life where I am either going to make my mark or fade into obscurity like everyone else in my family. I’m the single nut off our family tree that actually has a chance to do something noteworthy. As much as I love and respect my grandfather, he was a small time hustler. He admitted as much, and he regretted it.

On his death bed he told me a story about how he and a couple of friends of his could have had dibs on early McDonald’s franchises in the Milwaukee area. It would have been risky, and would have involved selling off some rental properties they all owned together. Gramps turned it down, but his buddies didn’t and they ended up doing extremely well. Gramps wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Gramps told me that was his biggest regret in retrospect, but at the time he said it was a matter of stability. He knew for a fact that people needed a place to live, but fast food wasn’t what it is today and he said he just didn’t see the potential of the big picture. He said he’d worked hard for that money, and just wasn’t willing to put it all on the line. It was everything he had in the world.

I can’t say I blame him, and it’s easy to look back on what could have been. I look back at how many things I’ve screwed up in my own life and I have no fingers to point at anyone else. I made more than my share of stupid decisions, but at the time with the information I had, they appeared to be correct. It’s a whole different perspective from the heat of battle than it is from hindsight.

Right now I’m in the heat of my biggest battle. I’ve given everything I’ve got inside me to both comedy and radio, and my results have been extremely disappointing. In hindsight, I should have chosen one or the other, but I didn’t. I kept getting radio opportunities, and then I’d get fired and go back to comedy. Just as that got going, another radio offer came along and it started all over.

It’s too late to go back now, but here I sit with lots of comedy and radio experience – just when both of those industries are sliding down the dumper at a lightning pace. Radio jobs are harder to find than Amish video games, and it’s a struggle to keep myself booked every week in comedy.

It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago, and I’m twenty years older. Nobody thinks of that being a factor, but it always is. Everyone ages, and our needs evolve as it happens. I don’t have the same needs or wants I did twenty years ago. Being a major star was never on my agenda mainly because I was too busy trying to survive month to month. I thought it would all work out.

How wrong and naïve that was. Nothing just ‘works out’ in life. We have to plan in detail, and then follow up and work that plan. IF and only if we do that, then we can hope for luck to put us in the elite class we may dream of being in. I didn’t do the right things it took to get myself there. I did what I had to do to survive, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now – but not anything more.

Am I a small time hustler like my grandfather and father? Unfortunately, I’d have to say yes to that very difficult and humbling question. I aspired to much more, but never achieved it. Now, do I continue to pursue the long shot that gets longer by the day, or change plans and begin to wheel and deal collectibles because I enjoy it and could probably do ok. I really don’t have the answer.

Ten Cent Triumph!

November 9, 2012

Thursday November 8th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   One of a precious collection of useful things my grandpa told me that still sticks with me today is the difference between good luck and bad luck is good luck isn’t funny. When someone else is mired in a losing streak, those who see it laugh out of sheer tension relief. The only one laughing during a streak of good luck is the one experiencing it. Everyone else is feeling jealous or angry.

I’d much rather be the only one laughing, and today I got my chance. Actually, I have been in a tremendously upbeat mindset of late, and I can’t say it’s bothering me in the least. I’m enjoying a brief respite from being life’s dart board, and quite frankly if I never go back to the other side I’ll be more than fine with it. ‘Mr. Lucky’ is a character that lives onstage, and he needs to say there.

Dobie Maxwell is an entirely separate entity. He’ll take all the breaks he can get – funny or not. Today I caught a nice one, and it piggybacked on a couple of others I’ve had recently. I’d like to gratefully acknowledge them all, and vehemently ask the universe to keep sending them my way.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to find a $10 bill crunched up on the ground and stuck it in my wallet to decide what to do with it later. A few days after that, I was walking through one of my favorite thrift stores and happened upon a collection of Apollo 12 collectible drinking glasses dated November 19, 1969. There were five of them on the shelf, and they were priced at $1 each.

I bought all five, thinking if nothing else they’d make fun gifts on The Mothership Connection at some point for either guests or listeners. I paid for them with the $10 bill I found, and in return I received a receipt with a red star on it and was told those are lucky winners of a $5 store credit.

Technically, the glasses were free and I still had the $10 I started with. I decided to keep going and see what else I could buy for ten bucks and hopefully spin it for more. I would have to scour the thrift stores, but I do that anyway. It’s a relaxing pastime I’ve always done. I enjoy the hunt.

It’s kind of like my own personal ‘Storage Wars’ or ‘Pawn Stars’ adventure. I’m trying to find something someone else didn’t know the value of when they priced it, and neither did those who looked at it on the shelf before I got there. Chances are low that it happens, but once in a while it absolutely does. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, and having street smarts.

Today I drove by the same thrift store and was kind of in a hurry but that little voice inside told me to take a quick lap. I almost blew it off, but decided against it as I felt it strongly urging me to do it immediately. Positive things usually happen when I listen to that voice, and they did today.

I walked past a shelf of knick knacks and saw two official National League baseballs in plastic cube holders screaming at me to buy them. One was priced at $2.12 and the other $2.62. I looked closer and saw that one was autographed by Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and the other by some of the 1989 Cubs including Mark Grace, Jerome Walton, Mike Bielecki and Rick Wrona. I couldn’t believe they were priced so low, and I took them right to the checkout and the total was $5.10 for both balls. I gave them my winning receipt and my total was .10! I floated to my car in ecstasy.

So let’s review. I started with ten bucks I found on the ground and bought five collector glasses for $5. With tax, it was around $5.40. I won $5 in store credit, and used that to buy two baseballs in plastic holders – both autographed. The total was $5.10, so my out of pocket cost was a dime.

There’s no way to authenticate the signatures, but I’d bet they are legit. They’re official league balls, and I’ve seen autographed stuff before. These should have no problem selling to somebody in the Chicago area who loves the Cubs, and I can hold out for my price since I have little into it.

All totaled that would mean I’d have five collector glasses, two autographed baseballs plus my left over total of roughly $4.50. That’s a pretty good start, and I think I’ll be able to sell all of it for a healthy profit without gouging anyone and keep the ball rolling. I know how to find stuff.

Selling it has been an issue, and it may continue to be. Where would I sell collector glasses or baseballs? The first thought would be Ebay, but I’ve never sold anything on it before. I bought a ton of stuff over the years, but never sold even one thing. But how hard can it be? I can handle it, but I’m not sure if I want to. I have enough going on without starting some new time demander.

Still, the lure of the treasure hunt is strong. Who doesn’t love looking for the big payoff? I sure do, and I freely admit it. I know every deal isn’t going to be a winner, but I’ve heard tales of big scores through the years and I do believe things like that happen. To win, one has to participate.

I did take a quick lap through Ebay and saw that the glasses weren’t all that rare, and weren’t at all priced consistently. I saw them listed for anywhere from $2 to $20 each, but shipping was the big expense. I’d be thrilled if someone gave me $20 for four of them, and I’d keep one to give to my Mothership Connection co-host Greg DeGuire. He’d enjoy it, and it would be a fun souvenir.

The baseballs should realistically bring somewhere around $100 for both, or at least that’s what I’d look to get out of them. They’re in great shape, and Ernie Banks is a Hall of Famer without a doubt. I know he signed a lot of stuff in his life, but some Cubs fan would love to have that ball.

Say I can manage to score my asking price somehow from someone and walk away with $120 for everything. Couple that with the roughly five bucks I have left from my original $10 and call it an even $125. That’s well over ten times my original stake, and it literally came from nowhere.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect to keep pulling off ten times my investment on a consistent basis, but doubling my money doesn’t seem out of line in the least. What could I invest $125 into that will bring me at least double in return? The possibilities are endless, and I’d love to give it a shot. I’d get it in cash in smaller bills and have them available to make a buy everywhere I went.

Eventually, $125 becomes $250 becomes $500. Then $1000, then $2000 and on and on. It may take a while, and I’m sure I’ll blow it on occasion and make some less than stellar buys, but on a long term basis I like my chances to be able to build a significant wad of cash I can use to keep a constant flow of more items and cash coming in. It’s been done before, but not by me. I’d love to take it all the way from $10 to enough to walk in and pay cash for a new car. It will be fun to try.