Desperately attempting to fund a road trip, I find hundreds of documentary VHS tapes behind a college library.
I have more than a few obsessions, but two of them are: Road trips, and making the road trips pay for themselves via sourcing on the road. This is a story about both.
Twice a month or so, my girlfriend and I have the same conversation: What new weird town should we drive to for a few days? Lately, our road trip options have been running thin. We are pretty much out of towns within a six-hour radius to drive to.
Last week, we picked the bottom of the barrel. A town with a reputation of being so dull & vanilla that, in our dozen-plus road trips together, it had never even been proposed as an option – despite being under two hours away.
All the experts agreed – this town was really boring. As evidence, I present a screenshot from a text conversation with a friend who grew up there. I asked her for hotel recommendations. Here’s the relevant part of the conversation:
Well maybe the food would be good…
Where Amazon meets the road: My road trip formula
I travel a lot. And I make 80% of my trips pay for themselves. Even the expensive ones, involving planes and hotels. It’s not hard when you get a formula down.
And I had pretty much mastered my formula: Bring the right tools, create an airtight sourcing list of the highest-profit / lowest risk sources, then pack and ship everything out from the road using a combination of hotel printers and wifi.
All of this means I literally get paid to travel. If I do it right.
But this trip, I was totally dropping the ball
The “boring” town turned out to be not so boring. And we stayed so busy during our three-day visit, I made no time for sourcing. Which isn’t how I like to operate.
Between hotels and gas, we were out $250 for this trip. On the last day, I finally came to my senses and announced we needed to do some sourcing, somewhere, fast, to recoup costs.
One big problem: It was midnight, on our last night.
Where can one someone find cheap, used media that can be resold on Amazon, in a town they’ve never been to before, at midnight?
There was only one source open at that hour. And it happened to be something that never closed: Dumpsters.
The dumpster hunt
Its extremely improbable to find a dumpster book source on short notice.
For one, even dumpsters that are fruitful aren’t fruitful all (or even most) of the time.
Two, there is no single place that consistently throws away books (or other sellable things) that exists in every town. Even building up a small roster of consistent dumpsters takes me living in a town for months and months. There’s no checklist you can follow.
It was late and I was desperate, so I defaulted to the closest place to our hotel that might have books in their trash: The university library.
Ten minutes later…
This is what we saw when we peered into their trash:
Hundreds of VHS tapes. A bittersweet find.
Good because VHS tapes can be valuable, and they do still sell. When you consider that the majority of VHS releases never made it to DVD, there’s a higher demand for VHS than you’d think.
Bad because 1) It wasn’t books. I always prefer books. 2) VHS can be slow to sell. 3) The tapes had no sleeves. Can you sell VHS tapes without covers? I had no idea.
The closer I looked, the more I liked this
If I had to pick a mix of VHS tapes to find in the trash, it would probably look close to this. Niche educational / documentary titles on weird subjects like hypnotherapy and the train system in Siberia. I suspected few of these ever made it to DVD. Which is a recipe for value.
The problem was: There were no covers on any of them.
It didn’t take any genius math to surmise that where there are cover-less VHS tapes, there are covers not far away. Naturally, I found the covers in the recycling dumpster a few feet away. Problem solved.
I keyed a few of the tapes into my phone on the loading dock, and there was some serious value here.
So, better get the car….
First, here’s the video my girlfriend made me film
I really don’t like doing videos. But my girlfriend pulled out her phone and insisted I say a few words from the library loading dock.
Here’s the (mostly redundant) video:
Back at the hotel…
I started the laborious process of looking up each video manually on Amazon. Even with the sleeves, almost none of them had barcodes.
I separated into three piles:
- Worth $7 or more
- Not worth $7 or more OR no Amazon product page, but no one will ever pay money for these
- No Amazon product page but people will possibly pay money for these
Here’s what the “worth money” pile looked like when it was all sorted:
And here were the final stats:
- Total tapes listed and shipped: 51
- Total listing price: $1,329
- Average listing price: $26.05
- Total net payout, eventually, maybe: $902.61
Oh and the average sales rank: 398,982 (not great).
Couple additional notes:
- I didn’t factor in a 5-tape set containing raw courtroom footage of a notorious celebrity trial. This footage was not available on the internet, anywhere. As the only person in the universe selling this footage online, I expect a documentary filmmaker or rabid fan will pay a pretty penny for it, one day. I listed it for $499. (And I did not include this one in the above figures).
- I accidentally left a couple-dozen tapes in the hotel room when we left. So the maid scored.
- I still have 50+ VHS tapes with no product pages on Amazon, that my Amazon value-radar tells me will have a small but determined demand. I intend to make product pages for each of them and list at $99 each.
For short notice, a job well done
These just hit the FBA warehouse, so no sales stats to report yet.
With such low-demand items, can I be sure this $250 road trip paid for itself?
No. But pretty good for scrambling for an inventory source at midnight on a Saturday night in a weird town.
Oh, and the “weirdest tape of the score” award goes to this anti-skateboarding 70’s propaganda video (which I’m keeping):