Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Stories I Tell

Like most of us I was raised to tell the truth and be honest.  This can present a minor dilemma for re-sellers.  Now, I'm not meaning to imply that selling goods secondhand requires dishonesty or that re-sellers are immoral liars (well, most of them aren't), but we do suffer from a couple of commonly held public misconceptions that can make being totally honest in certain situations difficult.

First off, there's the idea that we're all jerks.  This is, of course, due to the minority of dealers that really are jerks.  All it takes is one or two assholes showing up too early to yard sales, bullying sellers for bargains, and generally not going away when they've overstayed their welcome and, suddenly, all of us are believed to be like this.  This is why I go to great extremes to distance myself from a lot of dealers.  I don't like to be around people like that and I certainly don't want to be associated with them.

Then, there's the perception that we're all making money hand over fist.  A few overly-publicized eBay auctions, plus shows like American Pickers and Antiques Roadshow have created this impression.  What they don't show is how hard you have to work for that big score.  How many small sales and busts you have to wade through.  How many great finds that don't pan out into scores.  It takes a lot of searching, traveling, cleaning, picture-taking, listing, packing, mailing, stocking, tracking, etc etc etc to find and sell this stuff.  It ain't easy and it ain't glamorous.  No matter how much fun it looks like on TV.

So, when the first misconception meets the second one, it leads to a third:  the idea that we are out to rip people off!  We know we can make a killing on that flim-faddler.  That's why we're trying to bargain with you on it.  Of course, it's bullshit.  We may know we can make a few bucks on the flim faddler, but we need you to come down a hair to make that more likely.  And, if there were a ton of money to be made on it, then it's available to you as well--if you're willing to do all the extra work, pay the fees, do the research, do the packing and shipping, etc. etc. etc.  But, of course, you're not, which is why the flim faddler's in the front yard with a price tag on it to begin with.  So, how exactly am I trying to rip you off by offering four bucks instead of five again?

With all this rolling around in the ether, sometimes sellers will treat you differently if they think you are a re-seller.  Folks having yard sales will get snippy or sarcastic or refuse to deal with you.  Staff at thrifts will be less courteous.  Some thrifts even try to bar folks who re-sell from shopping there.  I've not had anything like that happen to me, but it does make me cautious.  As I shared above and in the past, though, I really have no desire to be seen in the same light as some of those other vendors, and that desire is also a reason for caution when I'm out searching for merch.

Honestly, for a lot of re-sellers this isn't a problem.  And for most of the sellers we buy from it isn't either.  We are offering money for stuff after all, and money is good.  Right?  But, there are a minority of seem to take some sort of umbrage at what we do, usually due to one of the misconceptions above.  Most of my desire to be cautious stems from a desire to avoid them.  After all, the hunt for stuff to sell is stressful enough as it is.  Why make it worse?

Usually, it's no problem.  You find something.  You pay for it.  You act a politely as you can to everyone involved.  And you go on your merry little way to look for something else.  No need to worry about exposure and certainly no need for self-disclosure.  Until....they ask you a question.

It happens from time to time.  You'll get an overly chatty cashier at a thrift.  (And the more often you're in there, the more likely it is to happen.  People start to act a little more familiarly with regulars.)  The person running the yard sale will make a random inquiry as an attempt at small talk.  Some sellers have this burning need to know that their stuff is going to a "good home."  (Which I guess is somewhat understandable, given all those stories about flim faddler abuse you see on the news.)

Now, here's the quandry.  I don't want to out and out lie.  But, neither do I want to just come out and say "Oh, I'm going to sell it."  Why ruin what to this point has been a good transaction?  Why invite conflict?  Besides that, does a doctor or a lawyer feel obligated to disclose their profession at a yard sale? (Barring, of course, someone having a heart attack on the premises?)  So, I try to play the political card of being truthful without telling everything.

Seller:  "Wow!  That's a lot of toys.  Do you have kids?

Me:  No, but I have a niece and a nephew.  (Totally true. I didn't say I was going to be giving them the toys.)

Seller:  "Are you going to give it a good home?"

Me:  "I'll try my best."  (And, indeed I will.  With a brand new price tag on it, it should attract someone who likes it.)

Seller:  "Why are you buying so many of these?  Do you like them?"

Me:  "I think they're kind of cool."  (Which is usually the truth.  I tend to buy stuff I think is cool.)

Seller:  "Are you a Cowboys fan?"  (Got this when I bought a Dallas Cowboys glass.)

Me:  No.  It's for someone else.  (Totally true.  I just don't exactly know the person that it is for.)

Seller:  "You must like comics.  Do you collect them?"

Me:  Yes.  (Anyone who knows me at all knows that this is true.  But that doesn't mean I'm keeping this batch.)

Seller:  "Are you a priest or are you in seminary?"  (Got this one when I was buying a bunch of religious books and crucifixes.)

Me:  "No.  Believe it or not, I collect them."  (Again, if you know me, it's true.  I just sell a lot more than I keep these days.  Actually, I probably could have gotten a discount if I had been able to lie about this one.  Maybe I should have said, "I'd like to be, but you all won't ordain gays.")

Seller:  "That's a lot of stuff do you have a booth somewhere?"

Me:  "You got me."

Now that last one is the only instance where I don't dance around the topic.  The only way to not tell the whole truth here is to flat out lie.  And I won't do that.  However, this has only happened once, and it was at my favorite thrift, and it was my favorite cashier who did it.  And, thankfully, it hasn't had any repercussions, other than her saying:  "You're so much nicer than the other dealers we see in here."    So, at least part of my concern and strategy is justified.

I know this approach is not for everyone.  I know this whole thing may not even matter to most re-sellers, but I do know folks who have found themselves in uncomfortable situations for admitting they were going to re-sell what they were buying.  I'd rather just avoid the hassle.

One thing I will not do is tell what I might get for something.  That's an invitation to trouble.  I just tell them I'm not sure, because I have to research the item a little, which is usually true.  Another thing I won't do, which less scrupulous dealers will do without a problem, is concoct stories to get a lower price on something.  If I ever tell an anecdote about an item, it's always true.

Weaving your way through potential minefields to get what you need is tricky.  Doing it and retaining a sense of personal ethics is even trickier.  I don't feel that I violate that sense or do anything wrong.  I'm not out to rip people off at all.  Dealers who resort to lying or outright stealing disgust me.  I'm just a guy looking to pay his mortgage.

Sometimes, though, it can lead to some odd situations.  Not too long ago, I was in one of my favorite thrifts at the same time as a very loud, very intoxicated woman.  She was one of those drunks who gets overly friendly with everyone and was popping around the store asking other customers all kinds of questions about stuff she wanted to buy and stuff they wanted to buy.  Just driving everyone NUTS, in other words.

When I went to check out, she was hanging out at the register, drunkenly flirting with the cashier, who was desperately trying to get rid of her.  As he was ringing up my stuff, I saw a couple of AnnaLee dolls behind the counter and asked about them.  (They were part of the great AnnaLee flood I talked about last week.)  Well that got her involved.

She wanted to know what they were.  She wanted to know why I was interested in them.  She wanted to know how I knew about them.  She wanted to know what they were worth.  Above all, she wanted to know what I would do with them.  In short, she was getting on my last damn nerve!  And, in true drunken fashion, she was totally oblivious to that fact.

I chose a couple and she really got pushy about what I was going to do with them.  After ignoring her for a few minutes, I finally said that I didn't know for sure, but I would probably pass them on to someone else.  In my mind, that's all the information about me that a drunken, obnoxious stranger needs to have.  She kept asking and I kept giving the same answer.

Finally, she got upset and said "Why are you being this way?  I don't know you!"  Which is kind of exactly my point.  Why are you so interested in my affairs?  Then she said "They're probably for a woman.  You're going to get some nooky tonight."  And she left the store.

So after finally getting to pay for my stuff, I went out and got in the car and told Keith:  "Apparently you've got to give me some nooky tonight."

No comments: