Friday, Nov. 7, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Thrift Hunters, Season 1, Episode 6
The items you throw out as trash could become somebody else’s treasure, and Las Vegas’ “Thrift Hunters” stars Jason T. Smith and Bryan Goodman have turned that philosophy into a burgeoning business and a hit reality-TV show.
In fact, last year’s Season 1 of “Thrift Hunters” did so well for Spike TV in the ratings wars that it won a Season 2 for our Las Vegas experts and their mantra, “Buy low, sell high.”
They had 1 million viewers a week and improved their time slot by 23 percent in the key ages-18-to-34 demographic. The fifth episode airs Saturday as Jason and Bryan reach the midway mark of the 10-episode Season 2.
The half-hour, non-scripted TV series follows the cross-country shopping adventures of the two thrifting gurus. Thrifting isn’t just a hobby for them as hosts: It’s a modern-day treasure hunt.
They target the biggest and best garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets across the country. When the shopping haul ends, the real drama begins as they put their strategically purchased items up for auction.
With the demands for rare items in constant cycle and new trends evolving by the minute, there are no guaranteed scores anymore.
Each time they auction off their goods, they are at the whimsical mercy of unknown buyers. But with a sixth sense for bargain hunting, the duo has managed to turn second-hand unwanted goods into a first-rate profit.
I talked with the twosome on a buying break in their cross-country travels before they left for another spending spree.
So, Bryan, how does it feel to be back with Season 2 of the series?
Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s an achievement just to get the show on the air at all. It’s probably a very small percentage I guess of shows that make it to the one year that are lucky enough to get a second year. I guess that’s speaks highly of it, and I’m really thrilled that we were picked up for a second season.
Is it getting easier to thrift or more difficult because you’ve become reality stars?
It’s always nice. We do get recognized. It’s not like we get recognized everywhere, but certainly in thrift stores, we get a lot of people who come up to us and ask us to pose for pictures. It’s really nice; we’re happy to do it.
It seems this year they have you traveling far more across America than last season. Are you finding better deals out there because you’re going farther afield?
I think we find great deals wherever we go. It’s nice to go to different areas. We’re looking at things from a different perspective. Sometimes if you go into the same places all the time, you see sort of the same stuff, but when you go to a new place, you might find a piece that other people have passed on for months and months and maybe years, but you’ll recognize the value in it. It’s nice to freshen up the show by going to a lot of different places.
The popularity of the show, has that meant more and more people interested in thrifting, causing you competition or higher prices?
Some people like to say that. The high-end prices don’t matter because the market sets the price. If prices are driven up too high, people won’t buy, and they’ll be brought down again. As far as more competition, there is so much stuff out there, it’s virtually impossible to buy everything. I see stores that are jam-packed with people, yet there’s tons of great merchandise that they haven’t purchased.
We definitely have put more people into thrift stores. I can see that every place we go. There’s more competition? I don’t think so. I think people just like the idea of finding something for a few bucks and turning around and selling it for quite a few bucks more. You can’t do that with everything, but if you get good at it, you’ll do really well.
Already in Episodes 4 and 5 of Season 2, have you come up with something that’s really knocked you off your tail?
Yes, there have been a few things. Things are coming up that haven’t aired yet that are really quite unique and different. I bought a number of things in quantity. Some have done very well so far for me. We’ve got some unusual stuff coming up. We have good things every show, and that’s what makes it interesting.
If we were buying the same things show after show after show, it would make a good movie but not episodic television. We like to change it up. We’re always looking for different things because it makes it fun. We get contacted by so many people through our eBay store and website who say, “Oh, you found something — that’s the thing I’ve always looked for.”
Every week it’s something. We’re hitting on somebody’s nose a little bit, and some people don’t like us exposing some of their secrets, but there really aren’t any secrets. You find things, you get it at a great price, and you know that you can turn it around for a lot more money; that’s the deal. I always laugh when somebody sees something on the show that we didn’t buy, maybe over our shoulder or on a wall or something, and they are almost screaming at us online saying you missed so and so.
Well, yeah, maybe we did, but maybe they didn’t see that it was priced more than we can sell it for. Not everything comes cheap. For a half-hour show, we film a lot of stuff and look at a lot of things. We actually pick some of the more entertaining, funnier, and what’s even more heartwarming to us is what it means to other people.
We have so many people who come to us and say we’ve changed their lives. These people, when they saw our show, an idea went off in their head. They may have been struggling or stumbling around looking for something to do in life, and the light bulb went off when they saw what we do. We get so many emails, I can’t answer all of them. I try to, but it’s starting to get overwhelming about how wonderful it is.
When we’re out in public and people come up to us and tell us about these things, it almost brings both of us to tears because it’s just very, very nice how well received it is. We’re not anything earth shattering, but we’re taking something simple, something anybody can do with just a few dollars, and making it attainable. It’s something that you don’t see on television all the time. Our thing is low risk with potentially large rewards. That always goes well with viewers.
I’m guessing you must get a couple of people every now and again who come to you and thank you for doing it because it showed them the way to save something going wrong in their life.
Absolutely. I just had a message last night from somebody, a very long email with parents dying and sisters dying and stuff that was hidden from them. It’s hard to go through all of these, but ultimately they’re looking for help and direction, which we give them. We’re very happy to help people. We have a huge Facebook group that has more than 11,000 people in it.
People put up their finds and they need help identifying or listing them. We give them ideas and help them out. It’s not just Jason and me; the members of our group help out, too. We do that all for free. So many people have found great items and made a lot of money by just using our help and a little bit of our ingenuity.
Think back over the four episodes that have aired this season. Tell me your best buy.
One of the best buys I had was a bunch of auction catalogs in the first episode that aired this season. I’ve already been selling them. I paid I think $100 for the lot, and one of them sold right away for $45. There’s probably about 80 catalogs. So some are selling for $10, some $20, but overall it will bring a lot of good money if they all sell. There’s some good things coming up that I won’t reveal.
Bryan, what were you doing before you went into the thrift treasure-seeking business?
I was in the car business. I was a manager at an automobile dealership in Boston. Back in 2008 when the economy took a tank and the car business just went away and severed my job, I decided even though I’d been selling eBay part time that it was something that I could do full time and just turned it up a notch.
As a thrift hunter, is this the ultimate definition of turning lemons into lemonade?
I think so. A lot of times things that you find, whether it’s at a thrift store or a garage sale, are things that people are discarding, and they find no value or use for them themselves. So in that sense it’s something that’s unwanted, and we see the value in it, and we see how maybe there’s somebody somewhere who might like it.
In some ways, we’re personal shoppers without having specific people in mind. We know the items are desirable to somebody. We know how to photograph them, we know how to put great titles on the items to draw attention, so we take what’s discarded and turn it into money.
It sort of amuses me in a nice way that you can spot somebody else’s trash and turn it into treasure.
It’s true, though. It’s funny, sometimes people have discussions that maybe we take advantage of people by not paying enough for something, but the truth is in a lot of cases when we make a deal and pay $20 for something, that person may be thrilled because they were ready to throw it out. It’s all whatever your perspective is.
I think we make fair deals, we offer fair money when we negotiate, and we walk away from things if the deal isn’t good enough for us. And we have people who walk away from us sometimes if it’s not good enough for them. Being in the car business so many years, I learned a lot about negotiating. I’ve seen people storm out of a car dealership upset that we didn’t give the man an extra $2,000 off and 20 minutes later sell the car for $2,000 more.
You have to know your market, and I think Jason and I do a very good job at keeping up with trends. Jason is amazing with pop culture, and I’m a little better with older stuff. The two of us together are often in a thrift store picking up an item saying, “Here, this is up your alley, why don’t you take it?.”
We bounce those ideas off each other, and I think it shows that we get along, we help each other, and we try to pass that along in a much bigger way by helping the people who watch and by helping people in our group.
Jason is still on the hunt for a headless tiki mug?
Yeah! When I finally make my big money, maybe I’ll just buy one and hide it in a thrift store so he can have the thrill of finding it. I don’t know if he’s ever going to find it.
What are you looking for?
I like so many different things. I’m not looking to possess anything. I have things in my possession that I enjoy for a while, but I like reselling them. That’s my joy; finding stuff that other people find amusing or like or enjoy and to give them something they like and knowing that I played some sort of part in that chain of finding that thing they’ve been looking for for years.
I just like whimsical things. Things going back to old movies. I happen to be a big Laurel & Hardy fan, but I’m not a collector, per se.
Q+A WITH JASON SMITH
So, Jason, here you are again thrift hunting across the world. What’s the difference this year than the previous season?
We have two extra episodes and a lot more travel this year. We covered everything from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes to the Bellagio Fountains and almost to the Pacific Ocean. We got to Portland, Ore.
So what have you found so far that’s blown you away?
Well, in terms of just sheer volume, in the last episode, I found an awesome pimp blue suit sized 6 XL.
And you bought that for how much?
I bought it for $12.50.
And you sold it for? Don’t forget the IRS will be really interested in this profit.
I sold it for $65, and it went to Florida.
What on earth made you buy that?
Well, I saw it on the rack, and the color really stuck out. When I picked it up, the heft on it was amazing. I’m a big guy, like XXL or XXXL, and I put it on, and it dwarfed me. I’m like holy cow! Plus, I always buy bigger clothes whether it’s men’s or women’s.
I buy a lot of big bras because people who wear that size don’t have many options, so it’s really easy to shop online for anything especially if you wear a 6 XL suit. You can’t just walk into Macy’s and get a 6 XL suit;. Some people, when you get that size, obviously aren’t that mobile, so it’s just easy to buy clothes and have it shipped to you.
But “Thrift Hunters” doesn’t really specialize in bras. It specializes in what else?
Oh, gosh, we bought everything this season. I bought a lot of cool antiques. We did an episode in Palm Springs and got a lot of nice vintage glassware, vintage Hawaiian dresses, found a “Tonight Show“ mug with Jay Leno on it. That doesn’t sound like anything all that exciting, but once Jay retired, those kinds of things go up in price. Before he retired, that mug was probably worth about $15; the second he retires, it goes up to about $25 or $26. If he had happened to die, it would probably go up to $40.
We have a Facebook group where we talk about this a lot. t’s just the reality of today’s times of when a celebrity dies, there’s that instant “Mom” reward. People who really love that celebrity want to connect one last time, so they go online and buy something.
When Michael Jackson passed, his lasted a month because the world was really mourning hard. So the time that you’re hot depends on how big of a star you were. When Paul Revere of The Raiders passed away a month ago, there was about a six-hour window on eBay when all of a sudden people were buying Paul Revere stuff.
It’s amazing. Has the whole thrift scene changed at all in the year since the first season of the reality-TV series? Is it harder for you to buy bargains because you’re now known?
No, the bargains are still there. Just this week in Las Vegas, I found tons and tons of great stuff. The big thing that changed is shopping is a little slower now because obviously I am recognizable, and my voice is recognizable. People will come six aisles over and say, “Gosh, I heard you!”
I do love it because everybody wants to tell me hi and tell me their best thrift story that they ever found. That’s the best part of the show for me — the love and people just wanting to share. I love that part of it.
And what is your best thrift success story?
The first season I sold a jacket for $700 that I paid $10 for. I bought a collection of CDs that turned into $3,500 in sales. I bought a $2 CD that turned into a $510 CD, so on the margins that’s probably the biggest one.
When I spoke with in February, you told me you’d been searching all your life for a J. Geils Band album. Did you find it?
No, I’m still looking. The last J. Geils Band record was without their normal lead singer, and it only came out on CD in Japan, and I’m still looking for it. That’s kind of what makes a thrifter or a hunter go out every day because even though I’m buying stuff to resale and make money, I also have my Top 10 things that I’m looking for for myself. If I never find them, it’s all part of the hunt every day. Every day I hope that I’m going to turn the corner, and there it’s going to be.
What else is on that Top 10 list?
I’m a huge tiki mug collector. I’ve got about 800 mugs in my personal collection. My house is a museum to all things tiki. There’s a mug that’s the holy grail of all the mugs for any tiki collector called the severed head. It’s just what it sounds like. It looks like an upside-down severed head.
I do not have it yet, but when you find it, it sells for $1,500. I could have bought one by now for $1,500, but I’d rather find one much cheaper, and I much more enjoy the hunt than the purchase.
Why isn’t somebody making them en mass if everybody wants it?
Funny, somebody did make a tribute one, almost identical, and those sell on a secondary market for $400. I think they sold them new for $80 or $100. Even the duplicate skyrocketed in value.
Let’s be deadly serious and compare the current economy with the economy last year in terms of what people are putting out to sell.
We traveled a lot, so you definitely see lots of different looks around the country. Here in Las Vegas, the one thing that never changes, and you know probably living here, everybody comes here thinking they’re going to be the next hot bartender or next showgirl and make the big time. And then when they don’t, they leave and they drop all of their stuff at the thrift store and go on to wherever they’re going on to.
So here in this town I find so much good stuff and a lot of it new with tags still. When my folks come out and hang out with me, they’re like, “We never see anything new in the thrift stores in Cleveland, but here you see tons of new stuff.” This week’s episode was my hometown episode, and you got to see my folks.
They get tons of awesome mid-century modern furniture because a lot of people are living in the house that their grandparents lived in, that their parents lived in, now they’re living in it, and they finally got tired of grandma’s furniture and they get rid of it. That’s what I love about Cleveland — a lot of mid-century modern art furniture.
Jason, do you go out, not for the TV show, but just for your normal run of business, do you go out with a set amount of money to spend, or does it vary from week to week as you run your business?
I don’t take certain sets of money; I just look until I’m done. Most days I find good stuff. I went out last week with a friend to a thrift store, and I bought three things, which is very, very odd for me. Usually I’ll buy 20 to 30 things, maybe even 100 depending on the day. I don’t have too much of a set allowance, but it also helps to have a wife with a nice job.
When you buy as many as 100 things, how long does it take you to dispose of them?
I do have a storage unit, so thrifting is kind of a little bit of a sickness. I’m a thriftaholic. Typically I have an assistant, I just hired a new one, so now that I have an assistant since I’m working so much on the show, they can start doing all the listing for me. I can get that 100 up in about three days. That’s taking the pictures, writing the listings, getting it all ready to rock and roll.
And do they sell pretty quickly?
JI use a term called “li-fi” — lift it and forget it. Some things are long term and you’re just waiting for that right customer with the right price in mind, and some things sell rather quick. I sold a bunch of collectable tiki mugs. I put them all up for auction last week, and they all sold for a nice profit this week. I’ve also sold a couple of items this week that have probably been in my eBay store for about a year.
What did you do before thrift hunting?
Right before the thrifting started, I was delivering hot tubs for a store here in Las Vegas.
So you went from hot tubs to making another kind of a splash?
Yeah! I’d always thrifted as a little kid, and I’ve always sold online since almost the beginning. I started selling online in 1997, but my wife’s job kept us moving around the country, so when we would get to a new house or condo, I would unpack the boxes and sell online for a while, then I’d go find what I would call a real job and just still sell casually on the weekends.
When I was working for the hot tub store, it was back breaking. Delivering hot tubs in Las Vegas in the summertime, I was just getting miserable. My wife said “I know you can sell well online, so quit and go back to selling online, and you’ll be much happier.” That first month selling online sitting in my underwear, I made as much as I would have if I had still been delivering hot tubs into backyards.
So it’s not too far of a stretch to say you’ve become famous out of this, but you’re not yet rich out of it.
Yes, that’s pretty accurate. I pay my bills, I have my tiki collection, I’m not wanting for anything. I definitely feel rich in terms of the people who thoroughly enjoy it. Some people have learned from us from the show and our Facebook group; they’ve learned enough to keep the electricity on, and that’s something very powerful that we didn’t expect to happen.
When we first started this a long time ago, we were just going to share with friends who did the same thing. And then people who were kind of at their wit’s ends learned a couple of things and took their last 20 bucks and were able to go to the thrift store and buy some stuff we’d shown them is worth more than you’ll find at a thrift store.
And when they see us at events or on the street, they’ll hug us. I’ve had people cry on my shoulder and say, “Thanks, what you taught me kept the power on this month,” or “I fed my family.” That blew me away.
That’s amazing, isn’t it? Do you find since the show started and the two of you became TV figures that you’ve now got competition from people who said, “Well, that’s a job I can do.”
Oh, we hear that almost daily: “This show is terrible. Those guys are awful, but if the show would have been about me, it would have been great!” We hear that, but more often than not, we have friends who do it, and we hear a lot of, “Thank you, Jason and Bryan, for showing my family what I do is actually work.”
Some people don’t realize; they think selling online is easy. If it was easier, they would do it. It is a lot of work. It can give you a lot of rewards, it’s nice to be able to sit in your house, the dogs are at your feet. That’s the enjoyable part.
What’s the website where we go find today’s best buys?
We have ThriftingWithTheBoys.com, and we have our Facebook group with the same name that has 11,000-plus members who talk about thrifting all day and help each other.
People will be at a thrift store and pick up something cool, put a picture in our group asking what is this. Usually within 60 seconds, you’ll have 60 people telling you exactly what it is and if you should buy it. That’s all free help to anybody who wants to join.
So if you go shopping tonight and find something, I might find it up on your website Monday and you may have sold it by Tuesday?
And when I find something amazing that I found cheap and sold for a lot, and we all do this, I definitely share it with my group. This past month, thrift stores have costume sections, so they put what they think are costumes in the costume section. I bought a pair of overalls out of the costume section for seven bucks and within about four days I sold them for $129.
Just a pair of overalls?
Yeah, they were from the 1990s and were kind of an urban hip-hop brand, and you don’t see them all that often. They were a hot commodity, and they still are.
Is it an interesting life?
Yes, and I love it because above all of it, I’m a treasure hunter at heart. I always know that around that corner, something cool is just waiting for me.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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