Friday, January 5, 2018


My first experience with flippers came in the mid- to late 90s when I worked at Toys R Us. We didn't call them flippers -- the words we used were much less kind, though there may have been some flipping (of the finger) involved -- and, actually, that may not be the correct term at all for what they are. I'm using it because these are the same kind of people as house flippers, which is the correct term for those particular people, so I'm applying it here, too.

It all had to do with Star Wars.

The few years prior to the release of The Phantom Menace saw a huge resurgence in Star Wars action figures and collectibles, and there was, evidently, a lot of money to be made from it on eBay. Every morning by the time the store was ready to open, there would be a group of about a dozen men waiting to get in and race -- and I do mean race, as they were each trying to get to some section of the store first, mostly to the Star Wars action figures but also to the Hot Wheels -- to the action figures to get first grabs at the rare figures that they could resell on eBay. And it wasn't just Toys R Us. They ran a circuit every morning to each store as they opened. Toys R Us, with the latest opening time (9:30), was last on the list after Wal-Mart and Target and wherever else these guys would stop to raid shelves.

Their behavior -- and none of these men were what you could call "nice;" in fact, they were often nasty and vile and were constantly angry at employees when they couldn't find the pieces they were looking for -- served only to deprive actual collectors or kids from being able to find the action figures they wanted. It wasn't uncommon to have a customer come in later in the day, someone who just wanted to finish a set of figures or, god forbid, open it and play with it, and ask about a particular figure that we were out of only to have one of these guys pop up and say, "Oh, I have one of those. It's in my car right now, in fact. I'll sell it to you. Just $20." Something said dude had paid $6 for just that morning, that being why it was still in his car.

Then there was the issue of them bringing back bags and bags of unsold figures every few weeks, once the craze for a particular figure had died down, and wanting their money back, something we were obliged to do since these guys kept every receipt ever for just this purpose. It was kind of a nightmare, and everyone dreaded the opening of the store each morning and having to deal with the orc horde.

At least with house flippers there are some positive things that can be said. Generally speaking, they do do work on the houses they buy so that they can jack up the price for the resell. It made it hell when we were trying to buy a house several years ago, though, as we were constantly losing out to cash bids, often lower than our bid, from flippers. Of course, one of the big problems with house flippers is that many of them make only cosmetic changes to a house, cheap fixes, and leave any underlying issues for the new owner to deal with, issues that are frequently more difficult to spot because they've been "painted over."

Which brings me to my recent experience on eBay in selling off my comics and stuff. As I mentioned in the linked post, one of the guys I dealt with is a flipper. Actually, it was several guys. I know because they all told me that the reason they were interested in my auction was because they thought they were going to be able to take advantage of me to get some cheap comics they could resell. No, they didn't state it precisely like that, but I'm sure that since I mentioned in my auction text that I'm trying to clean out my garage they all thought I didn't really know what I had. That tends to be how that goes. People who at one time or another when they were young collected something and stored it for some length of time until they've come across it again and decided to get rid of it without doing any research about its current value. [And having worked in several comic shops when I was younger, I've witnessed comic shop owners steal from people frequently by offering them the equivalent of nothing for very valuable books because the people bringing them in didn't know the value. But that's a different kind of story.]

Just to be clear, I don't have a problem with people trying to make a buck. What I do have a problem with is people taking advantage of other people to do it. And I find it extremely annoying when people do it within the same venue as the seller and the buyer, as with the kid who wanted the Star Wars action figure who had to pay $20 for it from some unwashed guy's trunk. These guys basically want money just for standing there.

Here, let me give you an example:

Some years ago (like 20), I wanted to get rid of a few comic books that were pretty hot at the time. Probably, I wanted to buy Magic cards with the money; I don't remember. I took the few issues in to the shop I frequented to see if he was interested. I already knew he didn't have any of the issues available. They were hot books, and I only wanted a fair price. They guy wouldn't have had a problem moving any of them. He looked through them and handed them back to me, saying he wasn't interested. Which was fine.

However, a customer had come in while were were talking and after the owner had handed the issues back to me, the customer said, "I'll take that one," pointing at one of the issues.

Talk about being trapped. What I wanted to do was walk out into the parking lot and sell the guy the issue, BUT I was standing in this dude's store, and I didn't feel right about that. I allowed the owner to play middle man and give me $10 only to turn around and sell it to the other guy for $20. (Or some approximation like that.) The store was, after all, the owner's venue.

The problem with these eBay dudes is that eBay is not a venue which belongs to them. They're just people milling through the crowd getting in between sellers and actual buyers, people who want to own the pieces, not resell them at a higher buck. They damage both sides, and they feel entitled to do it, as demonstrated by the anger aimed at me when they were denied something which didn't belong to them. Each of these guys, these assholes, felt as if I had cheated them from something they deserved. It's that attitude that is the problem. A white dude entitlement problem. These are, essentially, the same guys who would hang out outside of Toys R Us waiting for the doors to open every morning. Only those guys, the Toys R Us guys, were actually a step above these guys on eBay.


  1. Do you suppose there's enough money to make a living in that sort of flipping? With houses, sure. With hedgefunds, one can get very rich indeed. But with toys and comics, it's hard to imagine the margins are truly worth it. Having genuinely gratifying interactions with other humans seems preferable.

    1. TAS: I don't know. I suppose some people must do it and, maybe, some of them even do it while retaining some aspect of their humanity...
      But I've never met any of them.

  2. All right, my internet ate my last comment but what the gist of it was is that the internet just turns regular people into assholes and assholes into monsters.

  3. I remember those guys. We were at TRU at roughly the same time. It wasn't just action figures. Barbies were popular as well--the collectable Barbies.

    1. (I worked there from 1989-2000.)

    2. Oh, yeah, the Harley Barbies and things like that. But we kept those thing controlled and limited quantities because there were so few.

      I did two stints at Tru: one in LA around 1990, and on in CA from 1997-2000.