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Scouting for Books: Road Trip Edition

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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

36 Comments

  1. I hope you let the steak house know you drove all the way from Colorado just to bite into one of their prime ribs.

  2. I live on the road, full-time in 68 square feet of home and FBA works well for me (although I do a little eBay too). I’ve been trying to come up with a plan that balances sourcing with camping in the boonies (where there are no thrift stores) or spending a week at the beach (where I don’t care about thrift stores) or doing whatever trips my trigger. I was trying to do everything at once (source, camp, etc, every day) and it wasn’t working so well. I recently decided to separate my activities by doing my own version of a sourcing road trip one week (or X amount of days), walking the ocean shores the next week (or X amount of days), then sourcing, then camping in the boonies, etc. It works much better that way, it’s more productive, less stressful and I get to enjoy my lifestyle. Thanks for all the tips n tricks you share 🙂

    • Maybe for u check out Raiken Profit on you tube has hundreds of videos some of them are on these sourcing trips on the road from listing inside motels thrift stores maybe help you out ..

    • That’s brilliant, Connie! You’re truly living the dream. And finding ways to carve out time for sourcing and then enjoy the boonies or beaches is wise indeed!

  3. Hey Caleb,

    Did you discuss what your average rank came out to be for this trip?
    Just wanted to know what kind of books you are buying to sell at ~$17 list price.
    Thinking of going on my own little trip as well!

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Not to be too specific but were any of these thrift stores u sourced from chains or mom and pop mostly..

  5. Hotels – $175.95 – really? How many nights was that for and where were you staying? In this part of the country that would not even cover two nights…

    • The Midwest ain’t Jersey… I stayed 5 nights total but 3 nights were with friends so no hotel bill there. $175 was for 2 nights total, and we booked them on hotels.com. In smaller Midwest towns, $100 a night is a fairly standard rate for a 3 star hotel. It’s one of the benefits of hitting the road for books!

  6. I am planning a 10 day trip in my RV. From Missouri to Florida to visit my parents then heading back a different route. Plus side of the RV, we can have our processing set up and ready to go…. no transporting in and out of hotel rooms!!!

  7. You didn’t say how was the Steak this time around.

  8. Instead of Kansas City next time, I would hit the two college towns Lawrence and Manhattan, which are close by. We used to have a small bookstore in Lawrence, a great little artsy college town. That was 20 years ago, so I can’t vouch for the quality thrift there.

  9. This sounds like it was an awesome trip! You guys were able to source an incredible amount of books at a great average price. I’ve had having trouble finding suitable books around the Nashville area, as it often seems to be quite picked over. I think I need to take myself on a trip..

    The mention of the Dymo label printer made me wonder – what labels do you use? Purchasing the labels through Amazon adds between ~$0.39 and $0.56 cents (per buying 700 or 7000 labels at once) to each book – and that’s not including the printer itself. Though that cost does diminish per-book as your volume increases.

    This cost seems quite painful as opposed to taking Amazon’s hit ($0.20) and letting them take care of it for you. The benefits are saved time, effort and cost with the only negative being a bit longer for your books to hit the ‘for sale’ shelves. Any thoughts on this?

  10. Hi Caleb. I’ve been reading through your blog and is amazing the valuable information that you share. I’m a corporate employee at this moment looking to get into book flipping as well. Do you offer or recommend any training for people like me that don’t know anything about the business ?
    Thank you!

    • Hey Ardomis – I do offer limited coaching if that’s something you’d be interested in. No commitments – just pay as you go. There is tons of great info out there about getting started, just take a look around YouTube and Google. Once you get started, if you’d like to fine-tune your strategies, I’m happy to help!

  11. That seems like a lot of books to get. How many hours per day would you say you ended up scanning?

    • Probably averaged around 4 hours scanning each day. Most of our time was spent driving from city to city. There were two of us scanning, and we averaged roughly 30 minutes in each location. Some stores were 10 minutes and had very little, others had great selections and we spent 60-90 minutes. It was a total of 39 locations over 5 days.

  12. Great article.I am flying out to Virginia to pickup my son and make a 9 day road trip back to California this month. Was thinking of stopping in the cities along the way but now small towns make more sense. Any good sources along the I 40.

  13. Love this model! I think I see a 31 bag on that hotel cart – good call!

    Thanks for the article! Really enjoy your blog and posts!

  14. Hi, thanks for your great blog articles!

    I too send out single box shipments but am providing box level content for each. Is this required? Also, Amazon will split up the books for me even in a single box shipment. Am I doing something wrong?

    • No need for box contents on single box shipments… Shipments generally don’t get split up when they are under 50 items, but part of that depends on where you live in relation to FBA Warehouses.

  15. This is what I needed to read today! I was in Wyatt’s RV FBA group. I had been planning on getting a camp host job for the summer but then couldn’t figure out how to incorporate my book sourcing into it. I was thinking about just traveling and sourcing but wasn’t sure how profitable it would be. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to get as many books in a day as you, as I don’t have a partner and I DO have a 4 year old.

    I would be able to use free wifi at rest stop parking lots to list if needed. My biggest question is how to get the easiest setup to list and label without spending a ton of money. I currently list through seller central on my phone, get on a computer, create my shipment, print my labels and shipping labels, and get it all boxed up. It takes forever but I have sped it up by batch listing by condition, which I then paste in. I have a KDC scanner. Any ideas?

    Also, I just read your article on your book repricer test and could not find any follow ups for it. I would love to read more of them as I am considering a repricer, possibly Amazon’s as then there wouldn’t be the 20 lowest prices issue.

    • I thought of another question, so I’m hoping you see this. When calculating mileage on a normal sourcing trip, do you count to the store and back home again?

      • Hey Jenn – yes, any mileage done specifically for business purposes can be deducted. Check with your CPA for rules about hitting a thrift store, then a friend’s house, then back to your own house.

    • Don’t use Amazon’s repricer – they only reprice down (not up) and they will drop your price immediately to your price floor if there’s another competing offer. Plus I don’t want Amazon to have my pricing rules in their possession.

      I’d look at a listing program, such as AccelerList or InventoryLab, that will allow you to print labels as you go, saving you tons of time as you’ll only have to touch each book once. AccelerList is only $29/month right now, while InventoryLab is $49.

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