mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hamfest is dying...

Probably about 8 or 9 years ago, one of my friends/coworkers introduced me to hamfests - which are basically swap meets for ham radio enthusiasts, not celebrations of tasty, frequently smoked pork products. When I went to my first one, it occurred to me, as I wandered among the tables of electronic crap, that I too had plenty of electronic crap that I could sell. At the time I was doing some eBay selling, though not nearly as much as I do now. It occurred to me that I could unload some of the stuff I'd bought that wasn't worth eBaying - and as I got into it, I realized that I could also buy stuff specifically to sell at Hamfests.

So over the years, it's gone from me just unloading my extra stuff to specifically going to auctions looking for items that would be good hamfest fodder - things like desktop computers and monitors, electronic enclosures, and some stuff that was a gamble - like cases of pint glasses (which turned out to be a losing gamble so far). It's always been hit or miss - I've been to hamfests that were miserable, than come back to the same one the next year and sold 3x as much stuff. I've grossed as little as $!3 and as much as over $1300. I've sold everything from foam body parts to Dell Precision workstations. And I've bought a handful of items as well, most of which have been flipped on eBay (or in the case of the 100-pack of Tyvex envelopes I bought at the same hamfest where I sold $13 worth of stuff, used to pack stuff I sold on eBay)

But in the last few years, I'll always hear people muttering about hamfests not being what they used to be. I've seen the effects of it, as well - the Timonium hamfest going from 2 days with outdoor tailgating to one day, indoor only, the disappearance of the big Fredrick Hamfest, one I had always liked. But my sales were still decent, and I kind of shrugged it off.

But I'm starting to re-evaluate this view. My last few have been slow - I used to sell a ton of PC's and monitors, now I'm lucky if I sell one or two. Today's Howard County hamfest had a lot fewer vendors than last year's, and fewer customers as well - despite a clear sky. I still did OK, but instead of a mix of OK and great I've had several in a row that have just been OK. And it's been more work to get that way - grinding it out, selling lots of couple dollar a piece items instead of a few big sales.

I don't intend to stop going to hamfests anytime soon. But I'm changing my buying and selling strategy - right now I have a ton of PC's and monitors, and I'm not going to be buying any more until I've sold them all (I mean, unless I have a chance to buy a bunch of i7's for $10 each or something. But that never happens). I'm also willing to sell stuff at cost, or take a loss, just to get rid of it.

The reality is that when I look around my house, when I look at the stuff I'm tripping over, much of it is hamfest stuff - despite the fact that the money I make from it is a very small part of my income. Granted, part of this is the nature of the beast - eBay items can quickly come in, get listed, and get shipped out, while hamfest stuff has to wait until the next one and hope it sells. But I'm tired of tripping over stuff, I'm tired of spending over an hour loading my truck the night before a hamfest, and then unloading most of it again. My goal going forward is to have a lot less stuff, and for the most part to only buy stuff that I know I can resell quickly, preferably that is light and doesn't take up a lot of room.

Hamfests aren't dead yet, but they are changing, and I need to change with it, before I'm crushed by a stack of unsold Dell Pentium 4's that I couldn't pass up because they were $5 each.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Behind every auction is a story...

In the words of Semisonic, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. And when that end is an auction, it usually means that something has ended quickly and dramatically. Sure, occasionally places - especially government agencies - will auction off surplus items, to make sure the public has the opportunity to buy it and that it's sold for fair-market value. But generally, the auction is the sledgehammer of the selling world - something bad has happened, and someone needs to get rid of everything now. Sometimes it's an estate auction, because someone has died - as I once overheard a fellow auction-goer remark at a consignment estate sale, "In life, everything ends up on one of two tables - the auctioneer's table or the mortician's table". Sometimes, it's because a business has failed, for the reasons that businesses do - not enough customers, too many expenses.

But sometimes it's more interesting than that - when I see an interesting auction, I often do a little digging, and the stories are interesting. One was of a charity that was supposed to be helping to put technology in schools, but was also taking out fraudulent loans by leasing computers, then getting loans using the computers they didn't own as collateral. Another was doing sham mortgage relief. Another had been stealing money from the elderly woman she was a caretaker for, and spending it on crap from QVC and HSN.

I recently saw an ad for something called The Harrisburg Auction and was a little surprised - Harrisburg, PA isn't really known for much beyond it's status as Pennsylvania's state capital. But then I did a little reading and understood. For those who follow the problems that municipalities are facing in terms of coming close to bankruptcy, Harrisburg is one of the poster children. It's got the usual issues - declining tax base, municipal pensions, plus an incinerator that cost way more than expected. But it also had a previous mayor who had a very expensive, but not very coherent, vision of turning a working-class state capital into some sort of tourist mecca.

His first project was the National Civil War museum, which I'v visited, if by visited you mean "drove thought he parking lot of". See, Harrisburg is also home to the PA State Surplus Warehouse, and as a semi-professional crap reseller I usually try to stop there on my way up to my parent's house in NJ - as long as it's a weekday before 3pm, when they close. A wrong turn sent me into the Civil War Museum's parking lot, which was very nice, and in front of a very nice building. It also appeared to be very empty.

The mayor's other brilliant plan was a Wild West museum, despite the fact that Harrisburg isn't even really in Western PA, let alone in the actual West. In preparation for his museum, the mayor went out and acquired a whole bunch of crap, but luckily for Harrisburg tax payers, never actually opened the museum. Evidently, the city has finally decided to sell of their giant collection at auction.

No, I won't be going - it's not my kind of crap, I usually go for the more technology-related kind. But it's an interesting story.