I’ve been busy since the last time I checked in. Of my ten ideas for growing the business, I’ve tried two. Instead of turning my car in for a van, I got a tow hitch installed. And I’ve tried selling things myself and putting them up for consignment, so I can get a bigger share of the profit.
When I was in Denmark last year, there were trailers lying around all over the place and most cars had tow hitches. That’s how Europeans get away with having such tiny, fuel efficient cars – all of them are expandable by adding a trailer.
Trailers are great, compared to vans or pickup trucks. You can throw any awful thing in them without concern about upholstery or scratching paint. I decided to get one last week when I realized that this table, found in Parksville for an incredible price with matching chairs that didn’t even need upholstering, would not fit in my tiny hatchback.
I hit up Kahla for her truck, but she couldn’t let me have it that weekend, which is fair enough. I had to come up with something else, and it turns out that you can rent a big covered U-haul trailer for like 20 bucks a day. Compared to the price of renting a truck for the trip up to Parksville – more like $300 – it was an easy choice.
Unfortunately, the trailer hitch guys are hardworking, busy guys who could not drop everything and install my hitch between Thursday when I saw the ad, and Saturday when I could drive up there. I had to wait until the following weekend, and by then the table was sold. Ah! Pain! Suffering! But at least now I have a hitch.
Though I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be car-free or at least car-lite, now that I have a reason to own a car, I’m discovering how much more effective it makes me. Even without the hitch, I can deliver awkwardly shaped items to people who live downtown and don’t own cars. There’s only so much high-end Danish furniture on the island, but there’s plenty of cheap drawers and bookshelves, and plenty of people who need them.
Offering free delivery for small items like that has allowed me to flip $20 items and fill in the cashflow gaps while I wait for larger items – like this incredible Frem Røjle table that I refinished – to sell. It’s standing on consignment at the Fabulous Find downtown.
Technically I’m down by about $700 at the moment, but I have high hopes for the two dressers that I have in the basement now. One is cheap and small, and I can easily make $40 on it by delivering it. The other is a great big teaky thing that needs refinishing, but it will be a beautiful statement piece once it’s done.
I’m sure glad I don’t have to make a profit on this yet! But at least this is a cheaper hobby than motorcycles.
As you may know, I'm working on a side hustle selling Danish furniture.
I've been "practicing" – buying Danish or midcentury modern style furnishings for cheap up island or online classifieds, running them back to Victoria and/or refinishing, and reselling to local vintage shops. I've yet to make any money, but I'm covering my gas bills at least. There's decent demand this style of furniture here, especially as it tends to be compact and sort of insubstantial, airy – a Danish modern sofa doesn't fill up a small room with a huge, blocky mass.
It's great for condos, in other words. Have you seen all those towers going up? Once you've put in your down payment, you can't afford new furniture anyway.
I hope to bring a container of stuff from Denmark to Victoria in July, and I'm working on finding my customers for it. July is a long way off though, so I've been thinking about ideas to keep the momentum going while I wait.
Get Sylvia to do a lot of upholstery for me. Find other upholsterers and put them all to work.
Sylvia bought seven teak chairs off me last week. She reupholsters them in her basement in Fernwood and flips them.
Good upholsterers are hard to find in Victoria, I'm told.
Import some new goods. Just a flat instead of a container. Lamps.
Expensive! How would I sell them? The used shops I've been working with won't want them.
Staging companies, people furnishing offices and airbnbs.
Try to find a big wholesaler near Copenhagen like what Lindsey does. Maybe get more stuff, and faster.
Lindsey works at By Design Modern in Vancouver. They import 3 containers per year to their warehouse on Commercial Drive.
My guy in Denmark can probably fill up my container, but if I do another run relatively soon, he might not have time to restock.
Sell my car. Get a van. Make it possible to work with bigger stuff, tables and bureaus etc.
I really love my car.
But, it's just a car. And a van would make this a lot more efficient.
Do runs to the shops in Vancouver.
$140 round trip plus gas, so I have to make sure I'm bringing back at least $3-400 profit each time to make it worth the effort.
I'll need a van for sure.
Write blog posts about Danish design. I've never been able to focus my writing on anything, but if I can, focusing helps build an audience.
I like this idea because it involves something I'm already good at, writing, and it's free, and I don't have to go anywhere.
I dislike it for the same reasons; it doesn't challenge me in the areas where I'm still weak, ie. selling stuff.
It's a meta-activity. I might generate contacts from my blog but I'll never sell anything.
Get some floor space at Union 22 or the Old Attic and put some stock there.
This is actually a good idea. Most difficult part is acquiring some goods and holding onto them for a few days until I can get them to the shops.
Make friends all those people who think they ought to open a new co-working space, and sell them furniture for it.
Haven't the faintest idea how I would go about this, except that I know one person who has co-founded a co-working space in the past.
Rent my own shop space. Get the flippers on UsedVic to consign stuff with me.
There's probably room for one more shop in Victoria, with all these condos going up.
It'll solve the storage problem, anyway.
Go to Monterey and Palm Springs, or just the southern mainland, and hit up their version of UsedVictoria.
No idea if stuff is cheaper there – there's probably a few opportunities though.
I'll definitely need a van.
With a little luck, I'll get five minutes in a row next week to work on one of these ideas.
Before I gamble a lot of hard-earned money to buy designer furniture, stuff it into a steel box, and ship it from Denmark to Victoria, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure I know the market.
Can I sell this table? This chair? For how much? To whom, in what condition, and how long will it take? You can’t run a business without knowing, and you can’t know without doing it.
I want to have my container here in early summer, which leaves some time to learn. And so on a rainy Sunday morning in January, Christina and I spent a day getting educated. Or rather, I got educated, and Christina, who knows everything already, came along for the show.
She met me on the corner outside her house at 8:30am. We went first to the Legion on Gorge Rd. There was a flea market there for 2 bucks entry. We went through the maze in 20 minutes and I found a wooden coffee grinder. Christina said “Cat,” and pointed out a brass cat.
“Cat,” I agreed. We pulled our hoods up and went back to the car. There was a bit of weather that day, so I took the Malahat slow. The conditions were perfect for getting the car into a hydroplane then blowing off the mountain on the next gust of wind. We survived, and drove on toward Chemainus. When we got to Cassidy I said, “Isn’t Chemainus before Nanaimo?” Cassidy is the last town before Nanaimo.
“Oops,” said Christina. The conversation must have been too good. We did a U-turn and headed back.
In Chemainus there’s an antique mall where people rent out floor space to sell their stuff. I found some Pyrex mugs with green polka dots. My phone told me that with the full set, including the punch bowl that comes with them, this design is quite desirable. However, the mugs were selling for seven dollars each, and there was no punch bowl in sight. The seller knew what they had already.
The thing about Pyrex is that a lot of people are super into it, often the same people who are into Danish modern, and it’s easy to fit a lot in a small hatchback. Also, I kinda really like it myself. I’ve spent more time that I’m comfortable to admit admiring the Pyrex section in Wal-Mart. I was shocked to learn that people collect it.
We poked into one other shop on the high street there, but there was little Danish modern and nothing underpriced.
There was a table in Campbell River that I wanted to see, and the owner was going to drive up to Parksville to meet us at 1:00. We still had plenty of time, so we went to the Value Village in Nanaimo. The furniture there was entirely cheap junk, but I found some neat Pyrex as well. Christina pointed out a square blue measuring cup and said it was a neat thing that I could sell. “You sure?” I asked, turning it over.
“Mmhmm,” she said. I didn’t believe her and left it. The following week, when I was trying to sell that day’s finds, she pointed out an identical one in a shop in Victoria. It was selling for triple the price of the one at Value Village. So it goes.
I found some mugs and a bowl I liked and bought them. A few minutes of research on my phone verified that some mugs were worthless, recent, Chinese Wedgwood mugs, not vintage, unique, made in Britain Wedgwood. I left them as well and we continued to Parksville.
We found our sellers hanging out in their truck in a Starbucks parking lot. Christina had been talking shit about the table I wanted to buy all the way here. “It’s ugly,” she said. “In fact, it’s fugly.”
The table was not Danish modern, but a Canadian imitation. It was nowhere close to as elegant as what the masters make, and even though the line it came from had some very collectible pieces in it, this was not one of them. It’s a round end table with a teak top and a vinyl-wrapped column, by RS & Associates of Montreal.
I disagree that it was fugly – however, it wasn’t a statement piece that would make any room come alive. It was just a table. It would fit in somewhere.
A man got out of the truck and took the table out of the backseat. “Did you look up this designer?” he asked. “I’ve seen their tables selling for 3 or 4 thousand online. I even had an offer for $125 for this one last week. Eighty is a real bargain.”
“We’ve got some other teak stuff too if you want to look,” called his wife from the front seat. She didn’t get out of the truck, just twisted back between the seats. She showed me a platter – teak, yes, but made in Thailand and nothing interesting about it except the wood.
“So why didn’t you sell the table for $125?” I wondered. I’ve seen the tables he mentioned. They are by the same designer, but they are not the same design.
They answered at the same time, saying a lot of words that included “Victoria” and “long drive”. I couldn’t sort them out.
“How about the Pyrex?” I asked. There were a couple of bowls hiding under her raincoat on the far seat.
“They’re worth forty each, easily,” she said. “This design, the Friendship Birds, is really rare. You want them?”
“Can I have them with the table for eighty?” I asked. I was having a moment of self doubt.
“No way,” she said. “These are really rare. You can sell them for sixty, I bet.”
I squinted at her, but agreed on a price. I don’t know, I liked the birds. Maybe somebody else will too.
That week I restored the table, which involves stripping off the finish with a nasty chemical, sanding, oiling, resanding and reoiling until it was smooth as satin. On Saturday I went around to the shops.
Shirley at Easy Livin’ glanced at a picture of the table on my phone and gave it a hard no. I looked around her shop quickly and saw nothing that looked like my Pyrex.
Roshan was keeping the shop at Trig Vintage and told me to come back and talk to Ian, the buyer, tomorrow.
The Fabulous Find is too high end for this table, so I went to Charmaine’s and introduced myself to Charmaine herself for the first time. She agreed to see it and the Pyrex.
Charmaine admired my refinishing job – nice to see that pay off – and agreed on a price for the table. Not much profit for me, but right now I’m just trying stuff. Breaking even is okay.
On Sunday, Christina was free again, so I picked her up and we went back to Trig Vintage. Ian sniffed at the Pyrex and had no interest in the coffee grinder. Roshan was next door looking after the Fabulous Find that day, so we stopped in to say hello and commiserate.
“You could try Country Comfort for the Pyrex,” he said. “I see a lot of that kind of stuff there. And you can send me a picture any time you see something and you’re not sure if it’s worth anything. I worked auctions for 20 years, I know most of it.”
Ian had bummed me out a little, so the encouragement helped. Kahla joined us on the way to Country Comforts, and she and Christina poked around that shop, the one next door, and Charmaine’s across the street while I went through the box of Pyrex with the two women there. The owner liked the coffee grinder well enough to pay me for it. She recommended another shop for the Pyrex, Kay’s Korner in Cook Street Village. Kay wasn’t in that day, so I’ve still got the Pyrex and I’m starting to think, maybe the Pyrex business is not for me.
Next week I try again – instead of working with a hundred dollars, I’m going to try a thousand and see where it gets me.
As we left Cook Street Village Kahla said, “I like this new hobby of yours, Shannon! I’ve never been to any of these places!”
So I broke even and entertained some friends – it’s a good start!
Danish Modern Design is a style of furnishing and interior design that became a part of pop culture in the 60’s. I mostly know it from Mad Men and the waiting rooms of high-end chiropractors. It’s popular right now in Victoria and has been for about seven years. It’s likewise popular in Denmark, the source.
Danes are bonkers about weird-shaped lamps, stuff made of teak, and interesting chairs. They create them and sell them to each other, then will them to their children, who resell them to other Danes. It’s a whole world of fascination that I failed to notice in my life before 2017, because I was living in shared houses with degenerates who couldn’t be relied on to keep plastic plates and cups in good condition, let alone fine furnishings (I admit, I was as degenerate as the rest of them). I cultivated non-interest to avoid wanting things I couldn’t have.
However, in the past year I helped open a Danish vintage and retro furniture store, in Denmark no less. I learned how to identify a Bumling lamp and a Bretoia chair, and god help me, started to appreciate them. When I returned home from Denmark, my first acts were to gift my father a Louis Poulsen lamp that I brought home in my carry-on luggage, and refinish my parents’ teak dining room table.
Next I started thinking about a business plan that my partner in Denmark suggested to me. You could fill up a container with stuff for relatively cheap in Denmark, ship it here, ideally have every item sold before it came off the boat, and make a little money and a lot of entertainment.
This idea gave me a fantastic excuse to go to each store in Victoria that buys and sells Danish modern furnishings, or anything remotely similar. I made friends with the owners, showed them a photo album, and tried to gauge whether they could be customers or not. Here’s the catalog I showed them.
Easy Livin’ is on Mason Street in an old brick warehouse. The owners are a couple who refinish stuff at home in their basement. Their style is middle-high end and they can sell small dressers, dining room tables in the winter, and some ceiling light fixtures. Cheryl didn’t think she could use most of what I showed her, as it’s too literally Danish, like traditional farmhouse type stuff, as opposed to Danish modern. Good tips, and she recommended me several other places in Victoria as well as Vancouver.
Trig Vintage is also owned by a retired couple who run the place more as a hobby than as a moneymaker. They have more inventory space than some of the other places I looked at, and a big showroom on Fisgard Street. Their style is lower end and more eclectic than Easy Livin’, and more closely matches the style in my photo album. I didn’t get to talk to the owners themselves, but their employee Roshan was enthusiastic about my plan. He thought I’d be more successful in Vancouver though.
The Fabulous Find, further down Fisgard Street, is the most high-end of the lot – the owner, Trena, is younger and almost exclusively interested in brand-name designers and expensive pieces. She had a blue table painted with an extraordinary design that I’d call “unique”, except that the shop in Denmark has one just like it in red. Nothing in my catalog got her attention, but she wrote me a list of designers she’s interested in and told me to send her any other pictures of stuff I come across, and she’d be happy to give me prices.
Charmaine’s, on Fort Street, had the most inventory, most variety, and also the most customers of any of the shops I checked. Unfortunately, the owner was busy the day I went there, and I got two jobs and started working more than full time before I had a chance to talk to her.
I also had a long conversation with the owners of The Old Attic in Saanich. Although most of their stuff is on consignment, not really Danish at all, and they don’t buy much stock, they had plenty to share. The owner there gave me a long list of stuff she could move easily, a list that included “decanters”, “copper lamps”, “weird brass stuff”, “records, as many as you can give us”, and “mailboxes”.
On January 3rd I have an appointment in Vancouver, so I’ll probably stay for a couple of days and give the shops there the same treatment. Then the question is – how much is this all going to cost, how much money can I hope to make, and do they balance each other out? It’s a simple math problem, but there are a lot of variables.
For instance, what’s the tariff? Here’s the schedule of customs tariffs, which is rather detailed. Chairs, for example, are taxed at 9.5%. Lamps and lighting fittings are taxed at 7.5%. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a category for just “used furniture”? But it seems more intricate than that.
What does a shipping container cost? We priced one at $15,000, shipped, back in March, but I’ve written to some other companies for quotes. You can apparently buy your own and reuse it if you do this a lot. When you’re done, I suppose you could live in it, furniture and all…
And how do you get your stock? If my partner in Denmark is still on board, I can get help with that. He gets his stuff from people who bring it to his premises and sell it to him, from estate sales, and from containerpladsen auctions. Containerpladsen is the dump, in Danish. It’s more than just garbage – it’s next-level recycling as well. Plastic, metal, compost and paper are separated out. As well, anything that’s still useful, like books, bikes, clothing and household items are saved and sold through a little shop located in the center of the dump. Anything valuable is put up for auction on the dump-run website. I love containerpladsen so much I could write a book about them, and maybe I will. But the point is, my Danish guy has got a good eye for craftsmanship and excellent negotiating skills, as well as a 700 sq. meter warehouse for inventory. So it could work.
I’m not too worried about sharing this killer business idea with you all, because a) ideas are worthless until you put in the work and b) lots of other people are doing this already, which shows that a market does exist. So if you want to try stealing it out from under me, here’s the website of the containerplads auction, which is brilliant, and deserves another book: http://www.genbrugsauktion.dk.
Last night we built a boat. It's a viking burial-at-sea boat, and we're going to use it in the funeral for 2017 on New Year's Eve.
This is a tradition now. It's traditional because I said so, and my friends agreed, and that's how a tradition starts. I think my peers, friends, and people of my generation, with our divorced parents, stepkids, tenuous living conditions and unstable employment, are longing for some traditions.
A job change, housing change or relationship change, though it may be welcome, wanted and long hoped for, can be a huge disruption to your life. It can shatter routines and leave you spinning in circles with no idea what to do next. I and almost all my close friends have gone through one or more of these big changes this year – and last year – and the year before that as well. We just do it, and get on with life as if it was no big deal, but we're all still working through the fallout of things that happened years ago.
Traditions have rules and procedures. The rules and procedures can change, grow, or shrink as needed, but the point is that everyone should know what's expected of them and have a clear path to follow. They bring us together as a community, strengthen and heal us together. And they don't have to be based on holidays that Hallmark invented in the fifties. All that's required is at least one person to keep the ball rolling each year, and a couple others to agree to come push.
The Viking Boat tradition goes like this. Somewhere in the dead week between Christmas and New Year's, we get a pile of cardboard. We meet at someone's house. We make a little boat out of papier-mache. On New Year's Eve, we take it down to the water, put it out to sea, and set it on fire.
This year the cardboard was bike boxes from North Park. The location was my parent's house. The people there were two old friends, three new friends, my parents, one friend of their's who was there for unrelated reasons, and me. I made each person draw me a picture of what they thought a boat looks like. That way even if the boat doesn't come out quite the way anyone expected, we still get to see their vision. The pictures get burned in the boat as well.
We painted it with dollar-store acrylic paint and tacked it together with finishing nails my dad found in the garage. It's honestly kinda front-heavy and might not float super good, so we're probably going to build it a little raft.
The Vikings used to burn warriors with all their weapons and wealth around them to go into the next world. I think we're going to burn 2017 with all the things we're ready to let go of. I've got to find something that represents self-pity, excuses and fear. That or a picture of an Oompa Loompa. Anyway, happy new year. Hope it was a good one.
I was impressed with my coworker the other day.
At Japan Camera, we sell cameras once in a while, but more often we print out pictures of kids with Santa, family snapshots, calendars and festive mugs. Ben, the boss, shows up for a few hours a day, and Sue is my main coworker.
Sue has red hair, the nervous energy of a hamster, and a long DSLR camera that she uses to take amazing pictures of waterfalls and mountains on the weekend.
She and I get along well, I think. I like her. But one thing I’ve noticed is she doesn’t listen to me that much. She tends to cut me off in midsentence. On Mondays it doesn’t bother me, on Thursdays it irritates me a little. On Friday, we had a small disagreement.
I took a photo of a young Brazilian guy who has been on the road for a while. By the smell, I’d say at least 2 months but not more than 6. He needed a photo for his Canadian visa, but had 10 more countries on his itinerary, so he asked for a digital copy. I took down his info order form. “You don’t need to do that,” Sue called from the backroom. “Do what?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I need to write down his email, she must be talking about something else.
“Just write on a scrap of paper, you don’t need a full order form,” she said.
“Ok, but I already did… ” I said.
Another young guy came in, Chinese and needing a Canadian residency card. He wanted the digital copy as well. I took a scrap out of recycling and asked him to write his email down. He said, “Are you sure you’re going to send me that?”
I gave him a pained smile and said, “Yep, I’ll just put it down on an order form so we don’t forget.” I grabbed one.
“Don’t do that!” Sue called again. I ignored her and finished what I was doing.
After the guy left, I asked, “Could you tell me why it’s so important to use a scrap of random paper instead of an order form?”
“You can just tape it to the monitor and do it right away. If you make an order it’ll just get lost.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. I don’t lose orders.
“Look, I’ll show you how we do digital prints… ” She called up the picture of the Brazilian guy and started entering the Chinese one’s email address.
“If only we had some way of keeping all the information about an order in one place,” I said. “Like, some sort of form, for example.” She ignored me. “Something slightly more professional than scraps of recycling, ” I continued.
“You know, you’re told to do something in a certain way – ” She bit off her words and kept working.
I pointed to the Brazilian’s picture. “This guy. This email address.”
We didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. However, on Saturday morning, Sue flagged me down right away. “Come here,” she said, still ringing up a customer. “Just a second… okay, look at this.”
She showed me how you can write a memo next to a line item in the cash register. “Put the email address here. Just get them to write it on a scrap of paper so it’s right, then put it on the receipt. Then they see that we have it, and you can go to the back and email it right away.”
I nodded slowly. That was a good alternative to a full order form, I thought – faster as well.
“Passport photos are done right away, so you drop whatever else you’re doing and finish the whole thing. Same for the digital copies, because people go straight home to work on their forms. If you put it on that stack,” she indicated a pile of 20 or more waiting orders, “It might get done tonight or tomorrow, and that’s too long. That’s why we don’t write up an order.”
I was amazed. Not only that her reasons made sense, but also that she restrained herself from blowing up at me yesterday, even when I saw steam coming out of her ears. She went home, thought about it, came up with the words, and explained it to me calmly. Myself, I was passive aggressive and argumentative. I like to think that self-awareness means that I’m making progress.
But anyway, that’s why I was impressed with Sue last week.