When my shop burned down last November, I went shopping for tools. Most of my big equipment came from one shop that went out of business in South St. Louis. While I was there loading up, I noticed some old lumber carts that the movers were using to clean out the space. I didn’t know much about the carts and never needed them in the past, but my new shop is much bigger and the carts were cool, so I decided to make an offer on them. I didn’t really have any money to spend, so I didn’t feel that I should offer too much, but I dug deep and offered $30 a piece. My timing was impeccable because they really wanted the place cleaned up and the fact that I didn’t offer much was apparently not an issue.
I only came back with eight carts, but those eight carts started a movement, or at least got me involved in one. I started using the carts right away. They are strong, roll easily and fit nicely in the shop. I use them to move lumber from tool to tool and my customers use them to get their wood to their trucks. I line them up like at Home Depot to try to encourage large-scale shopping. So, I have the shop looking nice with lumber on the walls and the carts lined up to move my awesome lumber. But the reverse started to happen. Customers initially come in to look at lumber, but they and especially their wives, are drawn to the carts. I try to direct their attention to the lumber, but they keep asking about the carts. Where did I get them? How many do I have? Are they for sale? NO PEOPLE! They are for moving lumber in the shop. I only have eight and I use them all. Now, focus and let’s look at some lumber.
I didn’t get it until finally someone told me that similar carts are selling at Restoration Hardware for $1,000 and they are selling them as coffee tables – old, dirty, ragged coffee tables. Now, it made sense. Everyone was picturing these carts in front of their couch and assumed that they could make that dream a reality for less than $1,000 by purchasing my carts. I didn’t sell any because I really liked them and just didn’t think selling half of them would greatly change my financial future, so I kept working along and customers kept gawking.
For a couple of months I held out. That was until Crescent Planing Mill in downtown St. Louis went out of business. They had been around forever and had been collecting lumber carts the entire time. When the auction flyer went out the lead items were more than 200 antique Nutting and Lineberry factory carts. I just knew they were going to be mine. I was local and hoped the auction wasn’t well advertised, which would make them sell for a lower price. I knew, if nothing else, that I had an advantage because I didn’t have to ship them.
I showed up to the auction to hang out with 50 of my closest friends, all of whom where there to buy carts. The bidding started out on the best carts and the going price was $150, and if I would have gotten involved it would have gone higher. $150 was a lot more than $30, so I didn’t bid. I was expecting $50-$60, maybe as high as $75, but I wasn’t sure enough about the market on old carts and went to look at the rest of the auction items. I went back for the sale on the final carts and the prices weren’t budging. I didn’t buy even one.
After all of the hubbub of the auction had died down, I went back to purchase from the unsold list (an advantage of being local). To my surprise then (not now) about 30 carts were on the unsold list. I was surprised because literally everyone their would have given at least $25 for the carts, so there was no reason for them to be unsold. I attribute this to the worst auction that the world has ever seen, but that is another in-depth reporting story (probably called “Scott on Your Side” or something like that). I negotiated for the remaining carts and got them for a much more reasonable price of $50 each. Many of them needed a little help, but at that age we will all need a little help.
I started selling those carts on ebay and the average sale has been about $300. That price is good for me, and I think the customers are happy to not spend $1,000. They certainly are still buying. My ads give as much information as possible, and I include my blog address and phone number so people can call and ask questions if they so desire. It turned out that one did desire, and I got a call from Chicago, IL.
Jim called, said he was shutting down a factory and would make me a deal on 221 carts if I could get them out that week. Even at a low price the total was large. I knew that even though I didn’t want to tell my wife, she would find out on something this big. So, I introduced the topic to her and didn’t know how she would take it. I thought there was a chance that she would be encouraged after recent sales, but the overall cost was too big, and she wasn’t. She told me why she didn’t think it was a good idea, that I should focus on the woodworking, that I needed to make money instead of spend it, and otherwise focus on what I was doing. After she told me all the reasons to not go, she asked, “So when are you going to Chicago?” She knows me pretty well.
The funny thing is that now I have so may carts I can’t get to the lumber. But, that doesn’t stop everyone from asking, “Do you have a cart I could put this on?”