Niagara Rainbow 63: Blog

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March 29, 2013
Posted at 3:11 pm

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

There is a question that many people probably asked a long time ago and then proceeded to, reasonably, forget I exist. And that question is: "Where did that bloody fool disappear to?"

It deserves an answer. The first part, quite frankly, is that in I've Been Everywhere, I ran into a dead end. Not in the short story portion of the book, but in the running-here-and-now plot. Its not insurmountable, I don't think, but it requires a lot of thought. And I haven't had time to think about it since the last chapter posted, quite frankly.

Where did I go? I started my own business. I went into the ever-so-easy, set-your-own-hours, outside-all-the-time work of flea marketing. If any of you ever think of starting out at flea markets for anything other then being in a centralized garage sale, I have great advice for you. Lay down until the feeling passes.

A way back in July of 2010, I came up with the greatest idea ever, a product I was going to build myself in a custom manner, using hard to get parts and selling them at premium prices through a flea market. I started off at a large and old flea market that ran on weekends. Six months later, another Vendor suggested I pay for my rent for the year, thus saving over 30%. I listened, idiot that I am, then promptly (like within two months) came to the conclusion that my product was not going to sell. Derp.

A vendor across from me who was doing well selling another product, and dabbled in wholesale, suggested that I sell his item. So long as it wasn't at that particular market. Fine. I did a test run at a market 20 miles away, and came away with what I thought at the time was a successful day. Something like $150 in gross receipts. Yeah, I know. Trust me, you're not laughing at me harder then I laugh at myself.

I tried another market, about 30 miles away, and a third market, maybe 90 miles away. The 30 miler worked, the 90 miler was a joke that I kept on telling for like six months. I bought one truck (a Ford van) and ran it for a year, at which point it died and replaced it with a bigger truck (a GMC T6500 cabover). I moved one state over to do other markets, making money for a brief period of time approximating 10/11 to 3/12. At which point I hit a brick wall, was conned out of money by a crook of a flea market owner, and moved back home to sell 4 days a week indoors at that 30 mile away market.

Except moving only happened once I bought a house. So I spent six god damned months either having gall bladder surgery, recovering from a broken ankle, or driving 90 miles each way from the Reading, PA area to Southern Jersey. Four days a week, not to mention stocking days.

We have now bought a house in South Jersey, sell at the 30 mile market that really was the only successful market I ever played at, and managed to, after working 48 weeks with 90 or more hours logged by two people (that is, 180 man hours plus a week), managed to squeeze our first profit last year. $202. No, there aren't any implied zeros after that. With over $200,000 invested in the business, with over 150,000 vehicle miles logged in two years, with over 9000 man hours logged last year, we made Two-Hundred Two Dollars And No Cents. Also no sense. Whatsoever.

Believe me when I tell you, too, that we have a good, sensible product that certain people (a cadre that seriously does frequent flea markets) must buy, which we beat major retailers on both quality and price. We are good sales people, especially my wife. I have years of retail experience under my belt, and she was born to sell.

Every morning we drove a huge box truck many miles to a market. Every morning we parked that truck at around 5:30 in the morning, ate breakfast, and then proceeded to build, literally build, using pole tents, pop up tents, tarps, folding tables, circle racks, and some display equipment we built ourselves, a retail store, complete with computerized sales system, and put out on display over $50,000 worth of stunningly high quality merchandise. Every day we sat there watching people either make fun of us or have retail orgasms* over our merchandise. Every day we sold no more then a few hundred dollars worth of stuff. We sat there until well after dinner. Then we took this huge $50,000 filled store, broke it down, put the merchandise back into boxes, took apart the mobile store, and loaded it back into the truck. Then we'd drive many miles home and fall into bed.

That is the life of a nomad Flea Marketeer. I was one of the most successful people I knew, too. We are now trying sedentary flea market life, living 10 miles from where we work. My wife can handle the store herself three of our four work days, so I may have time to work on stories. Dear god I hope so.

Although let me tell you that I am now working on a third book. It is entitled "The Flea Market Economy: A Descent Into A Retail Asylum", and is mostly non-fiction. I think if any of my work friends read it, we won't be friends much longer. It should be an interesting read when its done, but I don't think it will be good material for this site. If I get enough arguments about that, I may start to post drafts of it here.

*Retail Orgasm: A retail orgasm is when a potential customer examines an object in a store and proceeds to go orgasmic over the items price, quality, value, or all three. E.G. OHMYGOD THIS SPORTS JERSEY IS SO BEAUTIFUL! AND ITS REAL FOR $10! Followed by them, for some odd reason, walking out of the store. No, I don't understand it, either.