I have always thought that the most fun job in the world would be a Picker for an Antiques dealer.
Pickers are the people who go out and look for things for the dealer to sell. They look for collectibles, antiques, art, vintage and other thing that people will buy. Pickers spend their time digging through other people’s barns, attics, garages, and abandoned buildings looking for particular items.
Often, Pickers are requested to find something specific that the dealer’s customer may want to buy. Some Pickers work for specific dealers and others work independently and will hunt for an item then paid a commission. Many dealers, interior decorators and collectors don’t have the time to go out and search for items themselves so they hire Pickers to do the job instead. Where some may see a pile of rusted metal in a field, a Picker will see the possibility of forgotten treasure.
I worked as a Picker for a collector who was looking for antique, or at least vintage, sound equipment from old movie theatres. As theatres transitioned into digital projection, the old equipment became obsolete for regular use. But there were collectors all over the world who were looking for the equipment. They were using it in private collections, museums and for regular use in regions that did not have the capability for digital. The dealer bought the equipment and then resold it on the international market. My job as the Picker, was to find it. I did NOT go to theatres and rummage around in projection booths! No, I saved myself time and just looked for the old movie theatres first. I made hundreds of phone calls to communities in every state and asked their chamber of commerces if they knew how I could contact the theatre owner. So many of the original theatres have been lost because of the multiplex and digitization and I heard stories that made my heart cry. When I finally contacted the theatre owner, I would have a list of equipment I was looking for and then ask if they had any of it. When I found the equipment, verified its authenticity and age, then I would send the information out to the dealer who then sent a team to dismantle the equipment and bring it back to their warehouse for a good cleanup. Eventually, I was running in circles as I had pretty much contacted every theatre that was still standing in the United States that still had equipment. So, I moved on to other things such as blog writing!!
Being a Picker is not a new occupation. People have been doing it for as long as people have been selling things. In some ways, it is like a trading post where the pioneer brought in their homemade butter and the shopkeeper paid them and then they turned around and spent that money in the trading post. Pickers go to garage sales and estate auctions and travel out in the country looking for things that may be sitting in someone’s front yard, barn or hen house. Driving all over the back roads looking for unusual and difficult to find antiques and collectibles is a fun way to pay your bills. In my case, as a picker, I was the third party who did the confirmation of the items and set up the appointments. But for many Pickers, it is just what they do as their job.
So, how do you become a Picker? First, you have to like digging around in some dark and dirty places! And, you have to know what you are looking for and what you are looking at. Create a name for your business and set up a bank account so that people can pay you as a professional. Have business cards printed because you are going to be handing out lots of them! Not everyone is eager to sell to you on the spot. Some people take a little time to think about it and when they do, you want to make sure that they have your phone number. Reading and researching should become a part of your daily rituals. You need to be well educated about items that are trending in the antiques and collectible markets and know how to spot them on a table in a flea market from ten paces away! You will also need to set up a route of antique shops, thrift stores, pawn shops and flea markets to poke around and find the items on your list. You will also need to spend several hours every week checking out sites online. Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook Marketplace and others will have things for sale that could also be on your list. You will also need to post on forums and chat spaces on a regular basis. Tell others what you are looking for and ask if they can help! Your cell phone is going to become your right hand. You will need it to take pictures of items, look up comparable prices and to use it as your GPS as you go into the more remote communities.
Over time, you will develop a contact list of people who have junk that they are willing to sell. These relationships are the backbone to your business. You will need to be consistent with your offers because more than likely you will buy from them several times. You can grow that contact list by putting a classified ad in the local newspaper or shopping guide. Just list what items you are looking for and state that you are “paying top dollar”. You will notice other ads looking for old vinyl albums and porcelain dolls, comic books and train sets. Go to real estate offices and drop off your card. Explain that if they are selling a house from an estate, you are willing to come in and make an offer on the discarded items. And, finally, probably the most important item of all is a truck or van. You will need something bigger than a subcompact car to go out exploring in the countryside for unique and unusual finds! You do not want to throw a rusty wire shelf system in the back seat of your car, so you will have to invest in a truck or a van in order to transport anything bigger than a bread box.
You will also have to train yourself to be a very approachable person. Many times, you will be driving by a place and happen to spot something in their yard that you would like to take a further look. When you knock on the door, you want to be nice, charming, jovial and well spoken. You do not want to scare anyone. And… you don’t want to be shy! Don’t be afraid to knock on the door. If the person says no about the offer, be very kind and offer your business card for contact if they change their mind. Never show any judgment in your voice or in your manners. Respect their space and lifestyle. They may not think their junk piled up in the barn is worth anything but when you start asking how much they want or offer a big price, it may put them off or make them suspicious. You need to be warm and start with some small talk and show genuine interest. Be upfront and be careful on how much interest you show. Just like negotiating at a flea market, you know your price range and so do they. Make sure that you check out the prices on Ebay before you make an offer. You want to be fair for all involved. Check out price guides also for accurate values.
Upon my recommendation, if you want to get started as a Picker, you should visit all of the antique shops in your area and see which ones will buy your finds on the spot and what their specialties are. Offer your services. All they can do is say no. Most will tell you to find something and they will see if they want to buy it. You will have to be patient while you build a reputation and a relationship. Years ago, I moved from a 200 year old farm house to a tiny city house and I found some of my antique pieces did not fit in. So, I threw the pieces into my car and drove to the local antique mall. It was a Monday and many of the dealers were there resetting their booths from a busy weekend. The cashier announced over the loudspeaker that there was a seller at the front of the store. Within minutes I had my items sold and cash in hand. I managed to have a couple of conversations to find out what other items they were looking for and suddenly, I was in business.
If you are going to be an independent Picker, you will need to keep track of your mileage and any supplies or equipment that you may buy. The accountants like having the receipts! It will take you a while to make a profit as you gain experience and develop a buyers list. Set out a map for a day’s journey and research all of the thrift stores and antique shops along the way. Take the backroads and enjoy your beginnings as a Picker!