No doubt about it, Picking is popular. Television shows such as Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and Storage Locker Idiots have taken the once obscure hobby of 'thrifting' and turned us into a nation of treasure hunters and wanna-be antique flippers.
As someone who has been in the picking game for a decades (admittedly more often for collecting junk than reselling it), I can tell you without a doubt that the big scores are getting harder to find. I live in a pretty large city and most thrift stores are bereft of super deals these days. Throw in the ease and popularity of reselling items on eBay and books and games on Amazon and it can seem like there isn't any good pickings to be had anymore.
It's great that anybody can make money picking and reselling items online. The bad news is that everybody is trying to make money picking and reselling items online. Competition is fierce. Especially in the densely populated, hip cities.
A possible solution, one that has been practiced for a long time by antiques dealers, is the Picking Roadtrip. The idea is simple enough: Head out to the small towns where the bumpkins don't care or know the value of what they've got, buy up all their good stuff, and head home to sell it at a tremendous profit. Sounds simple and fun, but is it a reality?
I know several vintage clothing boutique owners who have sustained successful business for many years using the Picking Roadtrip as their primary means of inventory acquisition, so clearly it can work. I asked them for some roadtrip picking pointers for this post, and here is what they clued me in on:
- Have a plan and a budget. Randomly wandering the countryside looking for amazing deals is going to get frustrating but fast. The romantic notion of stumbling onto a barn full of affordable and resellable antiques is extremely improbable. Know where you are going to go, how much it will cost you (gas, accommodations, food), and what you are hoping to find.
- Know what you want and what it's worth. Some folks don't take to kindly to you researching their goods on your fancy computer-phone right in front of them. You need to be prepared to buy items quickly when those deals show up.
- Know how to haggle. If you are picking from garage sales, flea markets, and swap meets, you darn well need to be able to haggle. The ability to negotiate price can turn an ok deal into a big score.
- If you are going with a friend, agree beforehand how you will be dividing goods. Roadtripping with a partner is great fun, but it can go sour real fast if one person thinks the other is not being fair. It's also a good idea to plan on how expenses and driving time is going to be divided.
- Have a shipping plan. You may find more great stuff than you can cram into your car. It's a great problem to have, especially if you have a plan and budget to get those extra items back home.
- Leave time to explore. Allocate time for those side-trips and wild goose chases.
- Have fun. Enjoy the trip and the experience of going to new places. You may very well come up empty handed, so you might as well have a great time.
Now, I, myself, have never taken a roadtrip with the sole intent of picking. However, I often make picking a part of any roadtrip or vacation. I simply love to visit junk stores, flea markets, and garage sales in new places. Some great deals can surprise you in unfamiliar turf, and often the pickings are much better in the smaller towns.
PS - I just learned about the Antique Road Trip video game, so there is that, too.