A picker’s guide to profit

Local business owner and junk enthusiast Matt Smith shares trade secrets in new book

Inside a shed on Megan Sova’s Paris property hung an antique “Phillips 66” gas sign, part of a collection of things her father had left her when he moved away from Michigan. She wasn’t sentimental about the sign, she said, but knew it was enough of a treasure that someone should have it and appreciate it before her brood of young kids destroyed it.

Matt Smith, owner of Everything Under The Sun, was her first call. After browsing the store a few weeks earlier, she picked up his card and saved it until making the call to offer him the sign.

A few days later, Smith showed up in his red truck, $150 in his pocket and a set of wire cutters to free the sign from the ceiling of the shed.

As Smith and Sova loaded the sign into the truck’s bed, they chatted about some other things she might have to bring to the store — mostly children’s clothing her kids had outgrown or never worn — and how she might want to keep a stack of his business cards at her salon.

“I talk enough that I could talk you up,” she says, laughing.

That, Smith says, is the business of picking: making business connections with people while getting to know them on a more personal level.

A game of trading up

Even as a child, business was in the forefront of Smith’s mind.

“I was the kid sitting on corner setting up a shoe shine stand, or trading bubblegum and marbles in elementary school,” he recalls. “I’ve always looked at it as a game. You trade up and get better stuff. It’s a game to see how much you can get and what you can do with it.”

When he went to college, Smith pursued a degree in education. Now in his ninth year as a teacher, Smith spends his days teaching English for Big Rapids Public Schools, but his career in education hasn’t always been smooth.

“A few years ago, things got bad in schools and I got let go over the summer, and I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’” Smith said. “When you invest that much in school — teachers are usually in school for about five years — you think that’s what you’ll do the rest of your life. That was a reality check for me to diversify and not just do one thing.”

INSIDE THE STORE: Matt Smith and Jill Ososki are co-owners of Everything Under The Sun, located at the corner of North State and Waterloo streets. The shop is stocked with resale and consignment items brought in by customers and things Smith “picks” from around Mecosta County. (Pioneer photo/ Whitney Gronski-Buffa)

Opening Everything Under The Sun was a gamble, Smith said, but he was confident he could turn his picking hobby into a sustainable business. Not only did Everything Under The Sun carry Smith through a time of uncertainty in his teaching career, it taught him about working with people and finding treasure amidst the junk. He jokes that he’s gone through school twice, once to be a teacher and once more “through the school of life,” by running a business that relies so much on getting to know people.

The idea to write down what he’s learned about the art and business of picking came after a conversation Smith had with a friend who was talking about getting into the business of buying storage lockers and selling the contents.

In a shaky economy and with the recent popularity of shows like “Storage Wars” and “American Pickers,” conversations about flipping junk for a profit have become familiar territory for Smith. Having been in the business for years, he said people often come to him to pick his brain for advice on how to get started.

“There’s a lot of people who think they can go out and buy a bunch of stuff and make a bunch of money,” Smith said. “So after an hour or two of talking to him, I thought, ‘I need to put this down and tell people about it.’ It excites me, the fun of going out and doing it, so the book came easy. I bet I got it done in six or seven weeks. It just flowed. I couldn’t stop.”

“The Art Of Picking: How To Pave Your Road To Wealth Selling One Man’s Trash,” now available for sale at Everything Under The Sun and on Amazon.com, is Smith’s guide to turning a junk-picking hobby into a profitable business.

In the book, Smith writes about figuring out the value of any given item, selling things online using eBay or Craigslist, finding the motivation needed to excel in the business and how to do so while maintaining one’s integrity.

“A lot of people do this for fun, going to yard sales and selling stuff they find. Maybe they’ll fill up a jar with their profits and go on vacation. I wrote the book for people who want to take it to the next level,” Smith said. “If I wanted someone to follow in my footsteps, this is the handbook of how to do that.”

Making a future by picking the past

“The Art Of Picking” has been more successful than Smith could have imagined. Although he declined to say how many copies he’s sold, he said selling on Amazon and running a blog at theartofpicking.com are strategies that have helped drive sales.

Smith and his girlfriend, Jill Ososki, recently were interviewed as finalists for a new History Channel picking competition show set in Mississippi. He describes the show as a combination of “American Pickers” and “The Amazing Race.”

Smith and Ososki haven’t been notified about whether or not they’ve been cast on the show, but he thinks they’d be fierce contenders.

“They really only interviewed people in Mississippi, and we were the only people from Michigan who got an interview,” he said. “They kind of played that up as, ‘What would you northerners do down here?’ And we fed into it because we think we could win.”

Even if they aren’t cast on the show, Smith still has visions for reaching audiences who want to know more about picking. He’s currently working on a second book, which will cover the need-to-knows of owning a resale shop like Everything Under The Sun, and has dreams of speaking to crowds about how to do what he does.

“My big picture would be to go around and give presentations, converting the book into almost a classroom set,” he said. “People could bring things in and I’d tell them what it’s worth and what the profit would be.”

Even further down the road, Smith hopes to continue running his store, but might change its mission as time passes. After all, his interest in picking and flipping has always been more about the people than their possessions.

“Eventually, maybe 10 or 20 years down the road, I’d like to change it into more of a old general store, with candy and taffy behind the counter, so I can just hang out and talk to people,” he said. “It’s really not just about stuff. It’s about experiences and people.”

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Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

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