2,000 miles. 20 days. 1,200 books.
I do a lot of traveling. I do a lot of inventory-buying. I even wrote a book on combining the two, and funding entire trips with Fulfillment by
The details of how I came to be in Chicago aren’t too relevant, but after returning for an overseas trip (the primary reason I didn’t post for 6 weeks this summer), I was in the Midwest without any solid plans. I had a month of discretionary time, a car, and an obligation 2,000 miles away in Seattle. I decided to go big.
The plan was a massive 3 week book buying road trip through the deep, deep rural US – straight west through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I would hit thrift stores, library book sales, estate sales, church sales, and anywhere I could find tons of books to feed my rampage.
In many ways, it was a recipe for perhaps not disaster, but possibly a mediocre fate of merely breaking even. I started with zero research, lots of miles (and gas money) between stops, and traveling through some of the most desolate parts of the country where sourcing opportunities were very uncertain.
The results: over 1,200 books (and misc. media) in 20 days, and projected profit of over $10,000.
Note: (The latter figure was reached using my rough “60% rule”, that on average you can expect to pocket 60% of the sales price, and factors in inventory costs but not travel expenses).
The course: Chicago to Seattle, alternating between interstates and two-lane highways, depending on prospective sourcing opportunities and (mostly) my whims. All things being equal, I always opted for the two-lane highways.
The sources: Everything. Approximately 70% thrift stores, and everything else ran the range from school rummage sales to Craigslist ads.
The expenses: I stayed in hotels approximately 2/3 of the nights, and spent tons on gas (in a car that gets 22 MPG). These two cut deeply into my profits, but were both very necessary. The gas expense is obvious. As for hotels, listing sometimes hundreds of books at a time was often too cumbersome to do in public, necessitating hotel expenses. (When I was a week from my destination, I stopped doing daily shipments and sent them in one massive batch when I arrived). When my car wasn’t spilling over with books, I slept in it.
The formula: Wake up each day, make a list of potential sources using (primarily) Google Maps and Craigslist, and hit the road.
Off to a huge start
I started off with several thrift stores between Milwaukee and Madison. The evidence indicated competition was pretty heavy, but they clearly weren’t doing FBA so there was still plenty to be had. I also found an incredibly awesome book dumpster (my lips are sealed) that yielded 80 books in one midnight visit. Off to a huge start.
Took a huge detour to a library book sale in Northern Wisconsin, then realizing I had the wrong date and it wasn’t starting until the following day. What happened next was a case of “creating your own luck.” I went to the basement where the sale was to be held and found the door to the sales room unlocked. So I ducked in and started scanning (in the dark) to a get a feel for if this one was worth waiting an extra day for. It took me about 10 seconds to realize it was a total goldmine. I checked into a hotel and went back the next day.
Spent 6 solid hours scanning books in the two huge rooms (in the dark, I hadn’t even noticed the connecting room the day before). I had so many books they opened up a side room just for me to store them while I shopped. I scanned so much, my Scanfob scanner actually died (This had only happened once, where the battery died from just one day’s use).
I came back the next day and finished off the sale. I pulled just under 400 books, which is definitely a library sale record for me. I didn’t see one other person scanning the entire two days.
Three days in I was already at 500 books, so the trip was off to a huge start.
I wont go into a blow-for-blow, but here are a few notable sources and finds on the trip:
Exactly 25 books (mostly textbooks) worth $99.95 and up. That’s roughly $1,500 profit (on paper, and when they sell).
One title worth (or selling for) $1,995, ranked 1.2 million (not a bad rank, despite what others will tell you). Prices can be artificially high, but according to CamelCamelCamel.com, copies have sold for amounts in this range so I’m hopeful.
I learned to love one source that I had previously believed was worthless: Antique stores. This is going to depend heavily on which one you go to (and where), but after shunning them as overpriced for many years I found some incredible finds. Most of these were in Montana, where some towns have more antique stores than restaurants. Most of the booths you’ll find (esp in rural areas) are stocked by people who don’t look up internet prices. Best find: A rare and sought after UFO title ranked 1 million with no other copies listed. I priced at $1,000. There may be a buyer out there at this price, and as long as I have the only copy on the internet I’m willing to hold out for them.
A lot of my best finds came 5 or 10 at a time from small town libraries, who will often have a small book cart or two.
Because of the general computer aversion of small town America, I found a surprising amount of profitable titles at used book stores. It is usually clear after a few minutes in any bookstore whether they price their titles on
At one school rummage sale in Idaho, I picked up 80 grade school textbooks, never used, for 50 cents each. Most were ranked 100,000 to 1 million, and I’m expecting huge profits.
This is just a quick thumbnail of my huge trip.
Some of the lessons:
- There’s tons of profit out there in even the most desolate parts of the country (maybe especially in the most desolate parts of the country).
- You can make almost any trip pay for itself with FBA. I was nervous about this one with the huge expenses involved, but I came away with huge profits regardless.
- When you’re in small towns, you have to look in the most unlikely places, like pawn shops. I even scored a sizeable load from a place I stopped for coffee, that happened to have 4 shelves of books for sale in the back.
- It really helps to stay in motion. I averaged 60 books a day. This isn’t a lot, but the quality was a lot higher than I find at home primarily because I wasn’t going over my own leftovers, and was hitting fertile, untapped sources each day.
No matter how exotic your trip, or how remote, if you’re in the US and you’re focused on sourcing, you can fund (and profit from) any trip using Fulfillment by