Sourcing

Scouting for Books: Road Trip Edition

The Back Story: There’s something you should know about me. I don’t like to sit in one place for too long. Two weeks ago I decided to scratch the travel itch and take a spontaneous road trip with my wife through a few surrounding states. The reason for the trip – at least on paper – was to snag a few hundred books to add to our Amazon inventory.  But the REAL reason was to track down a restaurant in Columbia, Missouri, where I tasted the best steak ever on a work trip a few years ago.

The Route:  My wife and I set off on route that would take us through five states in a shape that somewhat resembled the Big Dipper. I have college friends in Salina and Tulsa who were gracious enough to open their doors and allow us to crash in a spare bedroom (thanks, Miles and Jon!). The steak joint was in Columbia, which also happens to be the home for the University of Missouri. Fayetteville is also a college town (Woo, Pig Sooie!) where some of our closest friends attended school, so we wanted to check out the sites there to see if it lived up to its billing. Here’s the route we embarked upon:

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The Results:  Overall, we spent 5.5 days on the road, leaving just after church on Sunday morning and arriving back home on Friday evening (conveniently, just in time for the tip-off of college basketball season!). We didn’t purchase any books on the way to Salina, so that left us with 5 full days to purchase books along the way. It’s worth noting that we ONLY hit thrift stores, which is the lowest hanging fruit available. We could have gone to libraries and tried to purchase back-room books there, or stopped by college bookstores and offered to buy up their dead stock, but we stuck with the easy route to see if there are still good books on the shelves available to the general public.

Spoiler alert – there are!

One of the benefits of a road trip is that you can move along at your own pace. If you find a profitable source, you can stick around for as long as you’d like. If you run across a town that has been completely picked over (I’m talking about you, Kansas City), you can shake the dust off your shoes and move along in search of greener pastures.

Here’s how we did:
• Total books purchased: 863
• Average cost per book: $0.86
• Total list price: $15,145.65
• Average list price per book: $17.55
• Expected Amazon payout: $7,269.91 (80% of total list price selling at a 60% margin) (read this article for more information on those numbers)
• Miles driven: 1,845
• Mileage deduction: $996.30 (54 cents per mile)

Expected Amazon payout: $7,269.91
Cost of books: $744.57
Food: 310.11
Hotels: 175.95
Gas: 124.06
Total cash out of pocket: $1,354.69
Total expected positive cash flow: $5,915.22

Not bad for a week of work!  A lot of hours went into the whole process, but it was well worth it, and enjoyable to boot.

Top 5 Reasons to do a Book Sourcing Road Trip:
5. Cheaper Inventory – The average price per book in Denver’s thrift stores is between $1.50 and $3.00.  Our average cost in small towns in the Midwest was under a dollar.  As a side benefit, shipping to Amazon’s warehouses from the road was cheaper than it is for us in Denver.  That saved even more money for us.
4. Focused sourcing time – If you’re prone to distractions (like I am), then getting away from home can be a great way to force you to focus on the task at hand.  This model could even allow you to source for a week at a time, reach your monthly goals, and then free up your time for the next few weeks to golf, bike, work on a side project, write a blog post, golf again…
3. Access to untapped sources of inventory – Some of the cities had been fairly picked over, but there were plenty of good books to be discovered in small towns that had likely never seen a book scouter within their four walls.
2. Mileage deduction – Our estimated net cash flow on this trip is going to be close to $6k, but nearly a grand (1,845 miles times 54 cents/mile) will be deducted from that amount due to the standard mileage deduction we get for using our own vehicle for a work trip. That means we won’t have to pay taxes on that thousand dollars of income, and it only cost us $124.06 in actual fuel costs. Sure, there’s depreciation and wear and tear on the vehicle, but we still wind up ahead thanks to the standard mileage deduction.
1. For the sake of adventure – In what other line of work can you consider an 1,800 mile road trip to track down a delicious steak a legitimate business expense? We got to explore some new cities, enjoy time in coffee shops and restaurants, and enjoy time together on the open roads. Not a bad gig.

Tips & Tricks for Processing Books on the Road:

  • Travel light – leave room for lots of inventory. We brought a duffel bag and a backpack and the rest of the space in the car was available for inventory.
  • List and ship from the road – this will free up space and allow you to continue acquiring more inventory. Don’t worry about listing everything, just enough to allow you to buy more books.
  • Bring key supplies with you – we brought along Scotty Peelers, a Dymo printer, boxes, UPS labels, and a USB scanner. This will allow you to maximize your sourcing time, instead of having to track down supplies along the way.
  • Do single box shipments – when working with limited space in your car or hotel room, it’s a much faster workflow to label your items as you list them (we use AccelerList’s private mode), then place them directly into the box. When the box is full, we finalize the batch, enter the weight and dimensions, and save the box label as a PDF to print out later. Smaller batches mean we don’t have to deal with split shipments, and we don’t have to provide box level contents either. It allows us to touch each book only once during the listing process, and saves time and hassle when on the road.
  • Use the hotel’s tools to help you – when it comes time to print your box labels, you can use the lobby printer, usually for free. Also, the bellhop cart is indispensable in moving heavy books up to your 9th floor room.
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  • Staples is your friend – you can drop off your UPS packages at Staples, and print box labels using their printers if needed (for about 10 cents per sheet). If you run out of boxes, you can snag a few more without the need for stopping by a second store.
  • Find thrift stores by using Google Maps – be sure to look for clusters of stores that you can hit with minimal time between them. You probably won’t hit every store on your way through a town, but try to hit as many as you conveniently can before driving to the next town.
  • Enjoy the journey – make random pit stops along the way. This allows you to stretch your legs, walk around quaint downtown areas, check out a park, and enjoy eating quality food along the way. You can work hard, make good money, and enjoy the adventure at the same time.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of embarking on your own scouting road trip, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below about how it goes or ask other road trip related questions you may have. Even if you still have a day job, consider taking a few days of vacation to jump start your Amazon business with a sourcing adventure. You’ll definitely improve your scouting skills along the way, and you may just find enough quality books to help you step away from your day job!  Or at least earn enough profit to help pay for your next vacation.  Whatever your goals may be, a road trip may help you achieve them.

By the way, if you ever find yourself in Columbia, Missouri, be sure to stop by CC’s City Broiler.  You won’t regret it.

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Until next time,

-Caleb

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