My friends Ryanne and Jay over at ScavengerLife.com (formerly eBay Scavengers) took a very interesting "vacation" this summer, incorporating sourcing for eBay with budget travel and visiting family. I really like what these two creative people are doing with their eBay business. It isn't just about selling things online, it is a way of life. Here is an interview about their trip and how they planned ahead, took advantage of opportunities, and managed their eBay store while they were on the road for 3 weeks.
Did you take Amtrak the whole way on your trip?
We did a multi-city trip, so flew for the longer legs of the journey. Amtrak is really great along the East Coast: affordable and comfortable (with Wifi). We love stopping along the way, filling up duffel bags of inventory, then bringing them home on the train. There doesn't seem to be a strictly enforced bag limit so we've been known to carry four huge overfilled bags. I guess they assume if you can carry it, you can bring it.
How much money did you spend on inventory during the entire trip?
We probably spent about $300 on inventory over three weeks. We're super frugal and hate spending more than $1-5 on any item because we like to make at least 10x profit vs what we pay. This is the fun of being a scavenger. If we spend the time, we can always find low-cost/high-profit items. It means we have to be creative and look in places other people ignore. It means we're always researching and learning about new items. We could never specialize because we'd pass up too many opportunities. We'll sell anything.
That being said, our goal is to continue to raise the profit we make on each item. Lately we've been willing to spend up to $15-$40 on items that we hope to sell for $400-$600. Things like furniture, art, lamps. But then there are issues of difficult packing, higher expectation of quality, and really doing deep research to know the value. But isn't this the fun? We love problem solving.
How much inventory did you ship home? Did you carry anything with you on the trip back?
We personally travel light so we ship much of our inventory home (except when taking the Amtrak). We've found that shipping through FedEx At Home is about $1/pound. Usually this means that future profit of one item in the box will pay for the shipping. We always travel with a roll of packing tape. Usually it's easy to find boxes and packing paper for free at local stores. On this trip, we mailed eight huge boxes home. Then we carried several bags on the train. Coming home and unpacking is like finding stuff for the first time again.
What cities did you visit, and were you visiting family along the way?
We did Austin, Boston, and NYC on this trip. We still run another business (video production), but take the opportunity to scavenge in places we've never been before. Since we live in a rural area, scavenging trips to cities are an urban vacation for us. We usually rent rooms on Airbnb.com. Ryanne has family in NYC and Boston which is fun because they're all scavengers too. Ryanne's mom picked us up from the airport and we went straight to an estate sale.
Where did you do thrift shopping, CL curb alerts, estate sales, scoping out trash night, etc.?
We love scavenging because it gets us into parts of a city that we would otherwise never visit. We go to auctions, estate sales, and yard sales. Usually avoid thrift stores these days because they're just too expensive with predictable, dull inventory. We're basically meeting the local scavengers at these events so it's like being with friends. City people should always check the "free stuff" on Craigslist. Looking through dumpsters behind apartment buildings and around universities is always a thrill.
How much time did you spend sourcing vs actually vacationing?
We aren't good at vacationing in the traditional sense. You'll never see us on a beach with a colorful cocktail. Our idea of fun is learning the public transportation of a city, finding cool places to eat, and meeting people. New experiences and problem solving. Scavenging for inventory allows us to do all these things. It's perfect because we're having a stress-free time while also earning a living. We aren't ever "on vacation" with the knowledge that we have to go back to a 9-5 job. Our time is always our own time, uninterrupted. Everyday is Saturday for us.
How many items did you have to ship when you got home?
eBay allows you to put your store on vacation but continue to sell. A banner appears at the top of our store/item page that tells the buyer there will be a delay in shipping. Nine out of ten people are perfectly willing to wait. Over a period of three weeks away, we had about 90 items to ship when we came home. The key for us is constant communication which is easy since we use the eBay app on our iPhones. Every buyer is messaged about the delay and any question answered immediately. Imagine me eating a delicious taco in one hand and writing buyers on my phone in the other hand.
How much profit did you make while on vacation away from your business?
We'll most likely temporarily lose our Top Rated Seller status because we aren't shipping next day, but we made about $5000 while "vacationing". We like to just keep selling. The key for us is maintaining a large inventory (over 3400 items) with everything on "buy it now". We could stop listing for probably six months and have pretty consistent sales. This give us a a buffer if we want to travel, work on personal projects, or if one of us had an emergency that kept us from listing. Storage was a challenge at first, but just another problem to solve. Living in a rural area means we build another small outbuilding when we need to expand. Every sellers runs their store differently, but this works for our lifestyle.
Thanks Ryanne and Jay for taking time to do this interview!
So there you have it. Don't let the scavenger name fool you - these 2 sellers are sharp clever people who have figured out how to refine an eBay business to a level where the business takes care of them if they want some time off. Scavenger Life usually has a new podcast every week and so far they have over 120 podcasts to listen to. (I like listening to them while I list on eBay.) You can listen to Scavenger Life podcasts at: