With the ability to do retail arbitrage, I tend to sell a wide range of products from books to toys and (nearly) everything in between. There’s more good stuff out there than I can buy on my budget, but still the number one question I get from new sellers is “Where do you find your inventory?” I thought it was worth some in-depth discussion. I’ve covered various retail outlets like Target, Toys R Us and BigLots in past blogs so it seemed like a good time to talk about books.
Fall and Spring are the big seasons for “Friends of the Public Library” (FOPL) and other book sales. Many of them are annual and you can get on their mailing list for future sales. For a small membership fee (usually $5 or $10) you not only get the newsletter, but you can get into their book sales a day early for the “members only” sale.
There are some that are really large and tend to advertise like the Arlington FOPL sale. You’ll find other dealers there, but they are so big that you can usually find good merchandise despite the competition. In fact, I’ve had sales where I came up right behind a competitor using another scanning system and snapped up books for $1 that I could resell for $10 and up. I was curious about his criteria…but not enough to stop and ask! At another sale, a nice couple of merchant sellers actually handed me books that they didn’t want that they thought I might be interested in – one of them which I re-sold for over $40. I did take a minute to talk to them about FBA.
Some sales are so large that even if I work them every day for four days, I can’t possibly get to all the books I want to scan…and neither can anyone else so don’t be afraid to check them out. There is one caveat to this. Many FOPLs in Texas have started hiring consignment companies to come in and pluck out the high value books for re-sale on the internet. Since they have a huge team and days to work in the warehouse, they take away a lot of potential inventory.
My colleague Frank Florence who sells a lot of collectible books still goes to those sales since the consigners don’t take the time or effort to check out collectible books. As I don’t sell collectibles (you need special permission from Amazon to sell collectible books and have to understand the lingo), I stay away once I find out the FOPL has hired a consigner. Most of them announce this big change in their newsletters – another reason for becoming a member. I’ve gotten to where I try and call ahead now.
The best sales for me, however, tend to be the smaller library sales. Many of them don’t advertise and there aren’t a lot of dealers there. My last live class was at the tiny Lakewood public library and my team found a great selection of text books, science fiction, VHS, DVDs and audio books. There was no other dealer the whole time we were there and most of the items we bought were not library materials but donated materials in really good shape.
There is one book sale not far from me where it is donation only which means they don’t put prices on the books but take whatever you give them. I love that sale and am usually the lone scanner in the room.
The easiest way to find your local library sales is to look them up online and call the FOPL. The Dallas Public Library not only has sales at individual branches, but they have a permanent “store” in the main branch which has sales once a month. Each branch has their FOPL volunteers.
They are anxious to clear out their books at the end of the sale and many will sell their remainders for a really good price. Having done it, my suggestion is to choose a small sale. It is months later and I’m still plowing through tens of thousands of books that I bought for $300 and put into a storage unit. It has more than paid for itself, but it is a long process and I’ve had to get rid of the majority of the books through trips to Half-Price books and local libraries and thrift shops. Given my limited time to work this business, I doubt I’ll do it again.
Besides libraries, universities, school districts and charitable groups often have book sales. These take a bit more research to find, but are great sources for books and often only publicized to their local constituents (students and their families, members of the charity, etc.).
One more note on book sales – I often find new and used toys and games as well as VHS, DVDs and CDs so take a good look around. With FBA Scout, you can scan it all.
I find that the prices for books at thrift stores varies wildly so if you hit one store that is selling books for $4-$5, check out another store. I tend to buy most of my used books for under $2 no matter where I shop. Even the expensive stores will often have sales on their books that make it worth a visit. Sometimes it is regular like “every third Saturday” and sometimes you have to get on their list to find out when a sale is coming.
Because these are donated books, you never know what you’ll find. I tend to focus on non-fiction. If you work a store regularly, you get a feel for how often they replenish and where they put the new books (believe me, no one is alphabetizing). Ideally you want to find a thrift store that has a lot of turnover in their inventory so if the dust is an inch thick on the books, you probably don’t want to come back for a while.
In my neighborhood, there are thrift stores everywhere. Besides the Salvation Army and Goodwill, there are a ton of smaller thrift stores that give their proceeds to veterans, animals, Catholic Charities…you name it. The easiest way to start is to drive around and look in that strip center you usually ignore or focus on that small shop next to the grocery store. You can also look them up on line. Some thrift stores focus on clothes or furniture, but I find the majority tend to do a little bit of everything including books, CDs, DVDs and videos.
Estate sales are a great source of really good quality books. It depends on the reading habits of the deceased, of course, but I’ve found some amazing high-quality art and coffee-table books, text books and non-fiction book collections through estate sales. The easiest way to get started is to pay attention in your neighborhood for signs that say “estate sale.” Once you are there, you can get on the list for future sales. Those run by professional companies want dealers to come.
Sometimes you can offer to take all their books off their hands for a set price. They don’t want to haul them off. Anything you can’t sell on Amazon, you can sell to Half-Price Books or on Craig’s List. The last day of the sale tends to be the half-off or more day and is a good time to negotiate.
You can also look up professional companies that run estate sales and call them to see if they have an email list or newsletter so you can come to upcoming sales. Don’t just think local, think about that super-wealthy neighborhood across town or that yuppie suburb. Besides books I look for games, puzzles, small appliances (in their original boxes often) and more.
BOOK SALE FINDERS
There are several services that help new sellers find books and I list them on my blog HERE. Each has their advantages and I encourage you to check them out for yourself. The free services basically cover all the sales that advertise.
Frank Florence’s service Book Sales Found boasts a large number of book sources that are exclusive to his service – meaning they aren’t covered by other book finder services. It is very exciting to be the only scanner at a sale. Right now his service is on sale for $9.97 a month which you can lock in. By clicking on the above link, you can try it free for 7 days. What I did was not only check my area, but I checked areas of the country where I tend to travel (Chicago, North Carolina, Florida, etc.) to see if there were good sources of books there where I wouldn’t have to compete with very many dealers.
I like buying new and like new books from bookstores or other retail outlets when the price is right. Sometimes the clearance shelves are at the front of the store to lure people in. At places like Half-Price Books, they have sale shelves in every section. In addition, I scan for textbooks, cookbooks and other high-value books because sometimes the margin is there even at the “regular” price. Half-Price, for example, has several weekends a year where everything is 20% off plus sales in different departments like “all textbooks 50% off” that kind of thing.
I walked into an independent book store (remember those?) one day and they had a couple of shelves of language learning programs with CDs and books bundled together for a dirt cheap price that I re-sold for around $60. Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Polish…I was very excited.
Big Lots, Toys R Us, Target, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Tuesday Morning and other retail outlets sell books too and if they aren’t selling fast enough, they’ll dump them and clear them out. You have to be careful at places like Big Lots and Tuesday Morning since they tend to get their inventory in big lots and usually it is books that already didn’t sell in a book store. At Big Lots, they’ll sell books as low as 25 cents depending on the mark down so it is worth looking during a sale, but be careful about buying more than 1 or 2 of that “deal” because a lot of other people scan at Big Lots, too.
What I do is focus on specialty books that hold their value for a long time like quilting or crafts. I had great success with a Time-Life picture book on Audrey Hepburn. I avoid the thrillers and best-sellers. There are usually thousands of those already up on Amazon.
OTHER CREATIVE SOURCES
These are the main sources where I find books. For a while I worked with a huge Amazon merchant seller and bought his rejects for $3-$5 a box. Many of them were books he had bought in large lots from book stores were in very good and like new condition. I generally was able to make about $50-100 from each box. Right now I have more books than I can handle, but anytime I want 50-60 boxes, I know where to go. He advertised to get rid of his rejects so look around. You may have someone near you doing the same thing.
Others that I’ve heard about but not actually done include storage unit auctions, law enforcement auctions, postal service auctions and charity drop boxes. In the case of the drop boxes, a lot of times the ones that are dedicated to clothing will also get a lot of books dropped in and they don’t have a use for them. Entrepreneurial book sellers have made deals to take those books away for a good price and process them.
Auctions are generally advertised. If you go to the postal service and local law enforcement websites you can usually find more information about upcoming auctions and how they work. The big postal service auctions are in Atlanta and Chicago, but there are some in other states, too. You need to pay cash and haul away the books right then.
Some book sellers focus on particular types of books like textbooks and have put out ads near the end of a term to buy student’s books from them.
The bottom line on books is they are everywhere once you start looking. Carry your Scanfob with you everywhere. Create your own list of thrift stores, big rummage sales, estate sale professionals, retail outlets and book sales. Go to the advertised ones if it makes sense, but also try to find the sale less scanned (as it were). Check ahead of time to find out if they are using a consigner and/or are selling their books online.
Have you found a good source of books not in this blog that you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!