~An AmeriCollector.com Exclusive~
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Yard sale speculators, eBay entrepreneurs, garage sale gamblers – you read it here first: There’s a new show just for you! It’s called “Real Deal,” and it premieres on Sun., Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on the History Channel (or, as they call themselves, HISTORY; can they actually trademark that?), with a bonus episode on Mon., Nov. 28, at 11 p.m. ET (after brand-new episodes of “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars“).
Now, there are a lot of collector’s shows on cable now – “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers,” “American Restoration,” “Storage Wars,” “Oddities” – and I’m a big fan of all of them: I must be, since I’ve seen every episode of all of them at least once. But there’s still a niche to fill: Few of us own pawnshops – or any shops at all; few of us tool around America’s back roads for a living, rifling through old barns and warehouses for days on end; few of us have the time, knowhow or money to restore old, rusty motorcycles or gas pumps or arcade games to their original condition, then sell them for a profit.
In fact, not that many of us make our bread and butter by buying and selling collectibles … but when we can, many of us DO buy and sell collectibles for extra cash – on eBay or Craigslist; at flea market or antique mall booths; or by consignment to auction houses. And this is ESPECIALLY true in this slack economy, when disposable income is meager, and a little wheeling and dealing can really help pay the bills.
“Real Deal” follows four collectibles dealers as they negotiate with sellers for flippable items, which requires not only nerves of steel but in-depth knowledge of the collectibles themselves and the current demand for them. In each case, the seller can accept the dealer’s offer, haggle or auction the item off.
For example, how much would you offer for a ’56 Lincoln Mark II that looks like it just rolled out of the factory? “Gary,” the seller, knows he’s got a hot item that could fetch to the tune of $70,000. Our “Real Deal” regular offers $30,000. Gary declines and the car goes to auction, where it realizes $45,000. Gary considers himself a winner, having shrewdly turned down the 30 grand.
(Of course, ordinarily a consignor would have to transport the item to the auction location at his own expense, wait for the auction to take place, hope the bidders are biting that day, deduct from the hammer price a 15 to 20 percent consignor’s premium for the auction house, deduct a listing charge if a catalog was issued, then wait six weeks for a check to come in the mail. And the item could go unsold for lack of interest or because it did not reach the reserve price, or it could sell for a lot less than the consignor expected. I’m just saying: Auctions are not only a crapshoot, there are various charges involved.)
“Whether it’s a collection of footballs signed by NFL legends or an autograph by Harry Houdini, a World War II German Storm Trooper dagger or a 19th-century spittoon, everything that comes into the auction reveals something about an earlier time and the way people lived in the past,” reads the “Real Deal” press release. “But an article that’s rich with history doesn’t necessarily make its owner rich. One seller thinks he can get $580 for a 1904 home electrotherapy machine. The dealer offers $240. No deal, decides the seller, and heads to the auction house, where he gets only $225 for it.”
And you thought “Let’s Make a Deal” was high suspense!
Seriously, if you fancy yourself a junkyard Indiana Jones, as I do, “Real Deal” comes closer to real life than other the collector’s TV series: It’s like “The Art of the Deal” meets “Antiques Roadshow” (or even “High Stakes Poker” with the Keno brothers).
But tension, conflict and plot twists are not enough: All good programming needs charismatic characters, and “Real Deal” would seem to have them. These include champion auctioneer Bryan Knox of Birmingham, Ala., and the four competing dealers: two pawnbrokers, Glen Parshall (of Bargain Pawn in Las Vegas) and Chip Plemmons (of Carolina Pawn and Gun in Canton, N.C.); antiques dealer Jason McCoon, owner of Tory Hill Auction Company in Raleigh, N.C.); and Troy Howerton (aka “The Redneck Picker”) of San Diego, an enterprising Everyman who works out of his own home but has truck/will travel to make a gainful transaction.
Troy is, in fact, a fellow many of us can immediately relate to – one who has taken some hard knocks but keeps getting up. “I’m just a regular guy who lost his job due to the economy,” he told me. “While I have always had the picker mentality, I knew I was out there on my own. It was time to pave my own way again. My true passion as a young man was to be a coach. However, that opportunity did not come to fruition.
“I have a background heavy in sales and management,” he explained. “I was also a small business owner. I have failed my way to success in today’s crappy economy. I made a conscious decision that if I made this business work for myself, I would help others in the same situation. I have helped countless people learn how to make extra money and have a better life. I wake up every day with a good attitude and am grateful for a roof over my head! I always am thinking that someone else has it worse than me. Self-motivation and a strong sense of urgency are what keep me going. I have a family to support and bills to pay like everyone else. I am making the switch from full time picker to author and teacher in the reselling business.”
Honestly, can anyone NOT like a dude with an attitude like this? He’s even written a book that will be released right after “Real Deal” hits the airwaves.
I couldn’t help asking Troy some specific questions about himself and picking as a livelihood. Here’s what he told me …
AmeriCollector: How did you get interested in picking, and how long have you been doing it?
Troy: I first got interested in this business when I was 15. I used to go with my grandfather to auctions. I first took collectible picking seriously in 2001. I lived in the Midwest and collectibles were easy to find. Here in California, they are hard to come by!
AC: What are your favorite “picking grounds”?
Troy: I really like the swap meets and auctions. Although I have found great collectible items at yard sales too! I have a great network of fellow collectors. My phone rings every day from someone who wants to buy sell or trade.
AC: Do you specialize in anything when you pick? Are there any kinds of collectibles that you stay away from, and if so, why? (For example, Rick Harrison on “Pawn Stars” won’t trade in Nazi memorabilia, and Dave Hester on “Storage Wars” won’t sell weapons in his store.)
Troy: I really don’t specialize in anything particular. It’s about two things: profit and finding a home for your find. You have to keep in mind, I’m not picking for ME, I’m picking for somebody else. About the only thing I stay away from is art: It has a smaller niche market, and it’s something that does not really interest me. Now trench art or “steampunk” – different story!
AC: Do you collect anything yourself?
Troy: Not as much as I used to. At one time I had a very large pedal car collection. That bug bit me real bad in the early 2000s. I had over 30 cars at one time. I also had one of the largest Zippo lighter collections in my area. They were both very expensive habits! Now I stick to old license plates, porcelain signs, college football memorabilia and old tin toys.
AC: Do you find it hard to sell some great items that you pick?
Troy: Very rarely. I think I have a good enough eye to sell most everything I find whenever I put forth the effort. I always keep in mind my profit level. Sometimes you may have to wait a little while to find the right buyer. It also is economy of scale: Some folks would buy it in a heartbeat is it were less expensive!
AC: Do you ever restore anything that you pick before selling it?
Troy: Sometimes. I usually will sell things as they are. I leave the restoration process to the professionals like Rick Dale of “American Restoration.”
AC: What are some of the really great picks that you’ve made, both in terms of the rarity of the items and the money you made?
Troy: Several come to mind. Probably my favorite, most fun and one of the most profitable was a box of vintage toys, Major Matt Mason action figures from the 1960s. I bought the whole box for $15. It had an old Zeroid robot toy in there as well. I pulled in over $1,500 for the whole lot.
Another would probably be the old Gamewell telegraph register. I picked it out at an auction and bought it on a hunch: paid five bucks and sold it for $200! Funny, as the same week I bought this, there was an episode of “American Pickers” and Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz found a similar one. Probably the one and only time I knew about something that they didn’t!
AC: What do you consider a reasonable profit margin that you hope to get when you make an offer on an item?
Troy: I think a reasonable profit margin is at least 300 percent, or tripling your money. That is fine for most people, but I like the sweet spot of making five to 10 times my money. Those items are out there, you just have to know what to look for. That comes with a continuing education!
AC: How do you usually sell what you find?
Troy: AS FAST AS I CAN! (Laughs.) I sell about 25 percent online, 25 percent at auctions – such as Don Presley Auctions in Orange, Calif. – or at swap meets and 50 percent within my picker network.
AC: I think a lot of folks fantasize about becoming pickers. Is it a tough way to make a living?
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Troy: This is NOT an easy business! You have to be self-motivated and have your working capital invested at all times. You must always be educating yourself as well.
I don’t know what jobs out there that can provide the flexibility and freedom that this industry can, but if you are not self-motivated, you are sure to fail – not just at this business but at anything you do in life. Also, I don’t know where you can invest your money by making a disciplined buying decision and get the returns on your money like you can in this business. When I am working this business to its fullest capacity, there are days I will make $20 to $100 per hour – but there are other days you don’t make a dime!
AC: Do you think TV shows like “Real Deal” and “American Pickers” will raise the public’s awareness of picking?
Troy: Absolutely! It’s not only profitable, but it’s FUN! You meet some great people along the way too!
AC: How did you get a book deal? And what’s the book about: Is it strictly a bio or a how-to? And when will it be available?
Troy: I had the idea to write a book about nine months ago. I actually wrote the first draft and didn’t like it. I shredded it and started over!
I figured it would be a great medium for folks who wanted to learn how to get into this business and earn some extra money. My main goal was just to help others who needed to earn some extra money working from home. The book is part self-realization, motivation, tips and tricks, but most importantly how to find the stuff, use problem-solving techniques with the power of cash, negotiate and make disciplined buying decisions with a twist of my scientific techniques.
The book will be available on my website on Sat., Nov. 26, the day after the premiere of “Real Deal” on the History Channel.
AC: Speaking of which: How did you get on “Real Deal”?
Troy: I started a YouTube channel in October 2010. I was contacted by Mike Toole from Mike Toole Casting via my Facebook page. I thought it was a JOKE. I was just sharing my finds and giving some advice, and all of the sudden I was inundated by production companies! I was very flattered and excited to be “picked” out of a lot of other people they were looking at. I went to the offices of Zodiak Media Group and auditioned. I actually had to try out two more times after that.
I was chosen to be on the show with auctioneer Bryan Knox three other fine gentlemen: Chip Plemmons, Glen Parshall and Jason McCoon.
AC: Did you know the other cast members before going on the show? How do you get along? Are there rivalries, as between Dave Hester and Darrell Sheets on “Storage Wars” – or do you all work independently?
Troy: No, I did not. We all get along fabulously. We are just a bunch of regular guys that buy and sell for a living. We all come from different geographical areas and are all different in a lot of ways, but we are all cut from the same cloth!
No rivalries, but I think we all try equally as hard to make each other laugh as much as possible. We all work independently of each other. The other guys are in the pawn or auction business.
AC: How does “Real Deal” differ from, say, “Storage Wars”? Do you pick only collectibles, or do you also go after usable goods that you can make a profit on?
Troy: When you compare the shows they are very SIMILAR for a few reasons: (1) You have very little time to make a wise decision on what you see. (2) You have no time to research! (3) You better be damn sure you know what the value is before you make an offer and, more importantly, what costs are associated with HOW you are going to sell it! A lot of variables in a very short period of time! Sometimes you have to “play” the seller and not the item. Kinda like poker!
There is a GIGANTIC difference when you are picking. Let’s take a storage unit auction, for instance. You can only bid on what you see and have to take it all no matter what the price. When you are picking, you can make a more disciplined buying decision because you have a couple of great advantages: opportunity for research, TIME and the opportunity to use your problem-solving skills.
Finding a good “true” pick (like you would see on “American Pickers”) is not that easy. Finding a good pick can take days or weeks! It takes time to build a network of people to get that “pick referral.” Yes, you can wander aimlessly up and down country roads, but that is time-consuming and often you wind up coming home empty-handed with a big fuel bill! Finding storage units are really simple these days. I just go to StorageTreasures.com and can find one in my area in minutes!
Don’t forget that part of being a modern-day picker is NOT all about collectibles. Think about everyday commodities! With the tight economy we live in today, everyone wants to save some money. A truly good picker can buy and resell things like appliances, furniture, electronics, exercise equipment and more! I talk in great depth in my upcoming book about how to find and resell industrial items like restaurant equipment and other commercial products. So you don’t have to be an expert in antiques to be considered a picker!
AC: Why do you think reality shows like “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers” and, we hope, “Real Deal” are so popular?
Troy: My humble opinion is this: It’s all about the “deal”: Was it good or bad? I think the fans like to “play along” at home … They ask: What is it really worth? Did the seller take less than he or she wanted? Was it a good decision? It’s the tension of the negotiation! Or: That guy only offered him that much? Cheap bastard!
AC: Are there any especially dramatic incidents that we should watch for on the 10 pilot episodes?
Troy: Oh, there are plenty! You will just have to tune in to “Real Deal” on the History Channel, airing Sun., Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. ET (with a bonus episode on Mon., Nov. 28, at 11 p.m. ET), after the new episodes of “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars.”
Keep visiting AmeriCollector for more about Troy Howerton and “Real Deal.” Learn more about the show on the History Channel Web site: www.history.com/shows.
Images courtesy History
Commercial for Real Deal
Don Presley Auctions