Welcome back, readers.
I'm sure I have attracted a non-trivial following in my years writing for Quiet Speculation. Like, I'm really sure of it--this following has literally followed me to other venues, where a lot of you read and comment on my offerings. Thank you for the support.
Still, while I have a following here, I imagine a non-zero number of you didn't start reading my writing until I transitioned to the paywall side of the site. You don't care about my personality or writing style, you're reading because you paid for an Insider subscription, and you'll be damned if you won't get every penny's worth by reading everything behind the paywall. That's a good thing--it's that kind of attitude we'll need to channel today.
Last week's article covered the easy way to deal with bulk. It's not the most profitable, but it's so easy. When you have enough bulk, it can be as easy as waiting for someone to come to you and pick it up.
However, for some of you, buying bulk for $4/thousand cards and picking it, then selling it for $5/thousand cards is a poor value proposition. The time you invest in picking and sorting doesn't seem worth it if the worst-case scenario is that we make $1/thousand cards. If you're not buying cards by the hundred thousand, that likely works out to you paying yourself $0.50 an hour, and if I wanted to make that kind of money, I'd assemble iPads.
You can't count on everyone you buy from to be terrible at picking their bulk before they sell it and you can't count on Craigslist collections with tens of thousands of cards to come along three times a week.
Since we're unlikely to be able to get away with paying much less than $4/thousand cards, we're going to have to increase the value equation on the other end to make it worth our while, namely selling for more than $5/thousand. In order to do that, we're going to need to get creative.
Change Your Role
If you're buying bulk at $4/thousand in collections or just wholesale from other players and turning it around and shipping to a dealer for $5/thousand, you're taking on some sort of bizarre middleman position. If the sellers at $4/thousand were savvier they would pick the stuff better and sell directly to the dealers you want to ship to for $5 themselves. You're doing a job no one needs to do and not being compensated very well for it.
Granted, that is only in cases where the cards are already entirely picked and you're not making your money by pulling the copies of Fabricate and Dragon Arch out of the bulk, but it's still something that has happened a non-zero number of times to me.
Your role as an unnecessary middleman necessarily is an endangered one, so let's look at transitioning out of that role.
The good news about shedding this role is that when you get your new workflow established, you can benefit from those juicy scenarios where you're buying totally unsorted cards full of good stuff on Craiglist or however you get collections. Since your buy-in cost is the same but your end-step process is going to net you more money, you're just going to start making more money in general.
Sure, it's easier to just ship at bulk rate, but even in the scenarios I discussed where we're shipping at bulk rates, we talked about optimizing by picking out just the uncommons and the basic land, and if you're going to do that much work, there should be a bit more upside. When you have the mechanisms in place to out bulk more efficiently, you'll probably want to always do it this way.
So if I know both ways to do it, why do I still ship at $5/thousand? The short answer is that it's so much faster. It's easier, but easy isn't necessarily a good selling point when the other side of that equation is "makes you less money". The fact that my sales are guaranteed and I can move 100,000 cards with one phone call appeals to me.
Now, since it's rare that I'll accumulate 100,000 cards as the result of getting in collections, I can afford to invest some more time in a more efficient process. Still, if you don't want to sit on cards and just move a ton in an afternoon, there are merits to the other method.
So if we don't want to be a middleman, who do we want to be? The answer should be obvious--we want to be the people to whom we're selling cards for $5/thousand.
If they buy bulk from me, they know it's pure bulk. I am not going to make very many mistakes in picking because I tend to over-pick, which costs me a bit of time but leads to fewer situations where I'm shipping cards that aren't pure bulk.
Still, they willingly shell out that much money for the cards. They don't do that to turn around and sell for $5/thousand to someone else. They are doing something more efficient with the cards than all that, and it's important to see what they're doing and see if we can't do it ourselves.
Some quick eBay searching shows that people are shipping their bulk in creative ways, and their creativity in packaging is exceeded only by their creativity in pricing. It's hard to tell what's selling here and what's an unrealistic price.
Let's take a look at some completed listings.
This guy has a formula that seems to work. He's charging $8 for shipping on top of the listing price, which should make him a little extra money if he ships for cheaper. By weight, 1000 cards isn't going to cost that much to ship and there are flat-rate options available. Let's check out Amazon, too, and see if anyone there has something that works.
This listing comes up when you search Amazon for "Gaming Etc" or "Troll and Toad" or any other dealer who buys for $5/thousand.
If you pay $5/thousand cards for bulk, throw in $2.50 for bulk rares and sell for $22, you're making real money. If you are in the "Fulfillment by Amazon" program, Amazon is going to take a big bite, but they are also going to deal with shipping to the consumer.
You make up a ton of these lots, ship them all to Amazon and then sit back and wait for a check to come in every month. Amazon will ship them to the consumer for you, handle the customer service for the most part and will store any number of these lots as you send them until they sell.
An afternoon's worth of work packing 1,000-card lots is going to pay huge dividends. You can fit a lot of 1,000-card boxes in a flat rate USPS box to ship to Amazon, negating some of your costs that way as well. You may not like how big a bite Amazon takes and you may like handling the shipping yourself so you can overcharge a bit to help defray some of your other costs.
Making Tyler Durden Proud
If Amazon and eBay don't appeal to you, there is another option. You know that line in "Fight Club" about Tyler Durden selling soap made from liposuctioned fat to department stores--"he was selling their own fat asses back to them"? I can't help but be reminded of that line when I deal with bulk lots. Why?
I sell them on Craigslist.
Once or twice a year, I get the inclination to make up bulk lots of a thousand or two thousand cards and list them for sale on Cragislist as "Instant Collections". I get a lot of interest from casuals who like being able to buy so many cards at once. For them, opening a box is like opening a million booster packs, especially with the prospect of there being rares inside.
There are hundreds of deck ideas, brand new cards, copies of cards they want more copies of and hours of entertainment. These people are totally uncynical and wide-eyed and their enthusiasm for the game makes me nostalgic for the days when buying such a modest collection for such a modest amount of money was the most excitement I could wrap my head around.
While some of the lots I make up may sit in my basement collecting dust and I will have to frequently refresh the Craigslist listing, it's such a small amount of work and such a high return that it's worth doing for sure. You can basically make up any price and as long as it sounds like a good deal to someone who normally buys their cards by the deckbuilder's-toolkitfull, they will sell eventually.
You're basically turning bulk (assfat) into a product that appeals to a segment of the Magic-playing population (soap) and being compensated for it. It's more work than just shipping for $5/thousand, and you have to do a rough sort to make sure you don't ship the same guy 49 Slash Panthers, but I think it is worth doing to an extent.
I don't reserve all of my bulk for lots and I don't ship all of my bulk at $5/thousand just to be rid of it. A hybrid approach has served me well over the years, and since I have been fortunate enough to buy some very large collections with very large volumes of bulk, I have had the luxury of having enough cards to experiment with.
Buying collections on Craigslist, stripping them and moving the bulk back to the same type of players is a great way to use your expertise to take the kinds of cards you can make money from and replace them with the kinds of cards that your buyers want.
Craigslist isn't the only good venue for these instant collections either. I have found that putting about five or so in the case at my LGS where I sell singles will attract attention. Posing a description of what the box contains next to it is usually sufficient as the concept sells itself.
I include 20 of each basic land sometimes but they sell so quickly I can't tell whether or not that has a noticeable effect on sales. I also include about 10 rares, but sometimes I "accidentally" include more than 10. I have used this method to get rid of rares that are damaged and therefore not going to sell for even the bulk rare rate, and one week it had the effect of one of the buyers returning to the store with friends and buying me out of stock on instant collections.
Apparently 10 rares is just about right--11 or 12 is a huge mistake on my part that must be taken advantage of before I get wise and count up the rares in each box to make sure I didn't accidentally include an extra 10 cents' worth of value. These collections served to get people interested in building decks, and once they did, my case full of singles was right next to where they'd gotten the collections.
One final bit of advice is something I saw a store do but haven't attempted myself, which is to guarantee a planeswalker in each instant collection. Just guarantee a planeswalker of some kind in every instant collection, make sure that they aren't all Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded and charge $10 more than you would ordinarily for the set.
You can include very good planeswalkers and still come out ahead because you are charging essentially retail on a planeswalker that they don't even get to select, and you're making your money on a ton of bulk they have to buy to get it. It won't appeal to competitive players, but bulk lots aren't for them anyway.
I already target every single planeswalker I come across in binders, and if you start doing this you'll realize just how many there are and how inexpensive some have become.
The kind of player who is excited about an instant collection is going to flip their absolute $&^* over a planeswalker, and this guaranteed inclusion may urge some fencesitters into buying, even at a higher price. Include a healthy mix of both kids of lots to make sure you don't alienate the budget-conscious shopper and you should have no trouble getting rid of lots and lots of bulk.
Including 10 rares in a set right next to the box in your case where you charge $1 for a rare will naturally encourage the buyer to assume that the value of the box is quite high since there is an automatic $10 of value just in rares when in reality, slotting in 10 rares only costs you a buck.
Not the End
There are other ways to deal with bulk as well, but this should get you started thinking about how you might want to approach it. It's not all shipping for $5/thousand, and if you're willing to do a little work sorting, it can pay off big in the end.