Hot Wheels Insider - June 1999
© 1999 Paul M. Provencher
|A Hunting We Will Go...
One weekend in March, my friend from Canada and I spent our time hunting down Hot Wheels. First, some background about my friend we'll call "SCALPER". Way back in 1995 when I was first getting active in the Internet community I spotted this guy who was from Canada at the weekly conferences on Compuserve. Knowing that foreign countries got some interesting Hot Wheels I struck up a conversation with him that has grown into a great friendship.
After a year we first met in person (with some trepidation) at "Atlantique" in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Our wives were instant buddies, suffering as wives often do, the side-effects of the Hot Wheels disease. That was to be the first of several exchange visits we have enjoyed that has led to this most recent visit.
When I first met SCALPER online he was a generous fellow and was one of my favorite people to trade Hot Wheels with. We mailed many tons of Hot Wheels through customs to each other. Did I mention that my friend is now a benevolent scalper? He wasn't always this way, but went "bad" at some point along the way. From time to time I do have to remind him that we are friends and that I expect to pay no more than retail for anything we exchange. SCALPER seems to tolerate my idealism pretty well. Knowing him has provided me with a first hand view into the mentality of a scalper. He lives to find new and hot die cast and resell them on the weekend for 5-10 times what he pays for them.
The interesting thing this time out was the object of his desire. Contrary to my expectations, his entire trip to the United States aside from visiting us, was for the purpose of finding every Sugar Rush Series car that he could find. I can almost hear the amazement of even moderately interested Hot Wheels collectors. Why in the world would anyone want to pay extra for something like a Sugar Rush Series car. With the possible exception of the Butterfinger Mustang, they are what I like to call "peg warmers- cars that no one seems to want. Here's the rub - in Canada it seems that there are no Sugar Rush series cars in retail stores. They didn't make it north of the US border. So my friend checks the border towns, comes up dry and then calls me. I tell him that the Sugar Rush series cars are as common as dirt. He is knocking on my door before I know what hit me.
We started our weekend Hot Wheels frenzy by exchanging cars from each other's trunks, away from the critical eyes and ears of our wives. Then we checked the clock and decided that there was enough time to visit a few stores. It would be my second shopping trip that day and a continuation of his first, which started in Toronto and dotted the trip south down to the Mid-Atlantic states. Needless to say his wife would not be interested in coming along on the hunt. My wife was happy to stay home and visit, so off we went.
Wal*Mart, Target, and a long run into the dark down a winding road to the "24 Hour Wal*Mart". We had found some good stuff at the first two stops and returned home in good spirits. Both of us bought Target Special Edition "Street Rods" sets of 4 cars. I bought a smorgasbord of die cast that included Racing Champions "Street Wheels", Ertl "Farm Country', and Johnny Lightning Muscle Cars. SCALPER concentrated on the Hot Wheels and bought every Sugar Rush Series car that he could get his hands on.
We took the next morning off from the hunt and went to the museum. Later that evening, SCALPER and I hit the trail again. This time we hit a couple of Toys R Us stores and an Ames. We scuffled over a Butterfinger Mustang from the Sugar Rush Series and SCALPER brought home another 72 mixed Sugar Rush Series cars. But the real hunt would not come for another 24 hours when we arrived at "The Show". Or so we thought.
Once every three months there is a show. It's one of my favorite shows. It just happened to fall on the weekend that SCALPER visited. What better opportunity to observe a scalper in his/her natural surroundings. My electronic calendar faithfully reminded me of the event on the third Sunday - unfortunately the event was held a week earlier than usual and we found ourselves standing in an empty parking lot at 8:00am. It was just a little embarrassing and a little too early in the morning. So we went to McDonalds and planned our next move. With my knowledge of the area we proceeded to hit 13 stores and still get home by 3:00 p.m. I went home with several new Hot Wheels, Racing Champions and Matchbox and an empty gas tank. SCALPER lumbered in with 144 mixed Sugar Rush Series cars...
On the Road with Pablo de Collector and SCALPER
Along the way I asked him some questions, trying to understand what makes someone switch over to "The Dark Side".
TT: "So, why did you become a scalper?"
SCALPER: (The Jag engine purrs for a few seconds and then he answers) "Well, I guess because it's easy money"
TT: "Do you feel guilty about cleaning out the stores and selling stuff to people for way too much money?"
SCALPER: He gives me a sidelong glance and then says "No, not really. You have to understand - people don't know where to look for stuff, and sometimes they don't know what is hard to find. I just help them out."
TT: "Yes, but don't you feel bad that you charge them a lot more money than they'd have to pay at the store?" (Dateline here I come)
SCALPER: "Not really - I don't charge nearly as much as most of the other people who sell at the shows. I go around the tables at the beginning of the show and make sure that my prices are the lowest. People go around and see the prices and then come back to me for the best price."
TT: "What about loyalty? Do you get repeat business and do you care about your customers?"
SCALPER: "Yes, people come back, show after show, because they know that I will have what they want and they know that I will have the best price. And I try to get them things that they have asked about if I can find it."
TT: "You make it sound like you are really just a buying service with ESP. You must be interested in making money though. Do you really think you make a profit after all your driving around and all the time you spend preparing for and sitting at the shows?" (This is the big set-up question - Morely Safer would be so proud of me)
SCALPER: "Yes, I think that there are a lot of people that don't have the time or don't know where to find Hot Wheels. And I like to educate people about them so in that sense, Yes I guess you could say I do provide a concierge service for Hot Wheels Collectors. As for making a profit, I would say that I do make a handsome profit. And for all the hard work and knowledge that I bring to it, I think it is deserved. I mean I work as hard at this as a regular job so I have to make something out of it."
Scalpers Wanted - $8.39 an hour
At this point I did a really quick accounting of expenses and demonstrate to him that he did not make a handsome profit. The math is pretty simple.
Assuming a total sellout in one show (it didn't happen) of all cars at $5 each, the gross income would be $1080.00. Wow, sounds like he made a killing right? Wrong. Remember those expenses? Lets subtract that $736 worth of expenses from the take and we come up with a net amount of $344.00. Well you could go home from a show feeling great about having $344 dollars in your pocket right?
Wait. Lets see how that comes out by the hour. $344 dollars divided by 41 hours comes out to $8.39 an hour. And there are hidden costs that I didn't even begin to consider. That's just a little over minimum wage. No health insurance, retirement plan, etc. I have to tell you that after driving for 32 hours, sitting at a show all day long, the number of times I had to get in and out of the car, I'd need to make a lot more than $8 an hour to quit my day job.
My friend SCALPER is in denial. He refuses to accept my accounting of the business and insists he does better than that. But all money aside, after the weekend of shopping and three months later, I still have all my cars, and no two of them the same. I think I'm gonna keep them forever... I don't think the scalper's life is for me...
Paul M. Provencher
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