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The Real
By Cliff Ennico

You do realize, don't you, that so-called "reality shows" on television are not real?

While the actors picked for these shows are not what we might call "Hollywood attractive," and therefore look more like real people than Hollywood actors, they are still actors, aren't they? And let's face it - reality is just plain boring most of the time, so the producers have to spice things up a bit to keep up their Nielsen ratings.

We all love treasure hunt/buried treasure stories, and so the hot new reality show is "Pawn Star", about a real-life Las Vegas pawn shop. On a recent episode, a guy walks into the pawn shop with a first edition Ernest Hemingway, signed by the author. If you had something like that, would you ever bring it to a pawn shop?

Remember the 1990s PBS series "Antiques Roadshow"? A poor schlep walks into the room with a beat-up old pocket watch to see how much it's worth. The dealer rolls his eyes, jumps out of his chair, and says "Omigod! See those initials 'G.W.' on the reverse? This is George Washington's pocket watch, which he lost at Valley Forge. The Smithsonian has been looking for this for decades - it's worth millions!" That sort of thing happens every day at your local antiques shop, I'm sure.

Think of "Pawn Star" as "Antiques Roadshow" for a downsized economy. "American Pickers" is right behind: two guys in a rusty pickup truck rummaging through people's garbage and coming up with - gasp! - buried treasure.

The thing that bugs me about all these shows is the "treasure hunters" don't give you any real advice for finding "real" buried treasure in your neighborhood.

Time to get "really" real, folks. At a recent eBay sellers' convention I bumped into Jason Smith and Bryan Goodman, two eBay PowerSellers who have started "Thrifting With the Boys" ( With offices in Las Vegas, Nevada (actually right down the road from the "Pawn Star" shop) and Boston, Massachusetts, the TWTB crew travels the country speaking at seminars, hosting "thrifting excursions", and teaching people how to find bargains and treasures at their local thrift shop.

When these guys walk into a thrift shop, people notice. Think of a ZZTop tribute band without the guitars. Jason is six-foot-five, shaved head, hillbilly beard, built like an NFL linebacker, booming bass voice, and painted toenails. Despite that last detail, you call him "sir" if you know what's good for you.

Bryan is beardless, has a bit more hair, and lacks a few inches in height. Clearly the "good cop" -- the guy who suggests you reduce the tag price on that red-white-and-blue Bicentennial bowling ball so his partner Jason doesn't get excited, if you catch my drift.

Seriously, these are two of the sweetest guys I know in the eBay community, and they're quite a show. But they are deadly serious about turning other people's tax deductible donations into their customers' treasures.

"There's really no drama in what we do, and we are not going to create it artificially," says Jason. "Like in that 'Pawn Star' episode where the guy drops and breaks something and they have to deal with the customer who's standing right there. I mean, come on - that just happened when the cameras were rolling?"

The "Boys" show their customers - primarily eBay sellers and others looking for bargains they can then resell online at full market value - the ropes of dealing with thrift shop owners, getting the best deals (yes, you can negotiate even though the offered prices are rock bottom), how to time your trips so you arrive when the trucks are being unloaded (before your competitors show up), and learning to spot the "good stuff" in a disorganized pile of - ahem -- merchandise.

"Sometimes the best stuff isn't what you would think, like the collectibles from 20 years ago or the vintage clothing," says Bryan. "It's the everyday stuff that people bought but never really used, and that can still be used today."

Here are some tips for eBay sellers from "The Boys":
  • Buy "Hard Rock Café" and "Harley Davidson" teeshirts - they must be authentic with original labels, but they do well on eBay;
  • Use a mobile phone application to scan books and other items at thrift stores to see their approximate value (why pay $2 for a book that sells for a penny on; and
  • If you are buying to resell online, consider your time in packing the item -- big things can be costly to ship safely, so start with easy-to-ship items like clothing.

If you're in Boston or Las Vegas or at any eBay sellers' conference (for a schedule, see, sign up for one of their thrift shop tours. If you're not, keep your eyes open on YouTube and other online video venues for their thrift shopping tips.

The "Boys" are talking about a reality TV show, and I really hope that happens - watching these guys in action certainly beats watching Snooki do her nails.

Cliff Ennico (, a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of "Small Business Survival Guide," "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book" and 15 other books.  Permission granted by
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