^ That is the big question, and to be honest we don’t have more than ideas. At least one may be a pretty good idea. This we do know: If we make the right choices, living in an RV is less expensive than living in a house (which is why we initially decided to do it). Potentially cheaper living expenses, though, are only part of the equation.
Note: This post is really “Outside the Box – Part Three,” because coming up with ideas for making a living on the road requires the same kind of willingness to think creatively as the decision to go nomad in the first place. If you haven’t read parts One and Two, they’ll provide context.
We are of working age. Even when we’re not we will probably need to make money (my retirement account is chump change and B’s disappeared after the housing bubble burst). So we’re looking at how other full-time RVers are earning a living. We’ve opened our minds to ways we can not only sustain ourselves, but build up more of a financial safety net than we currently have.
All that and we’d like to actually live some. Go amazing places. Take beautiful pictures. Do awesome things like surf sand dunes. Well, I want to surf sand dunes. The Michigander isn’t so sure it’d be as awesome as the Cali Girl believes it will be. Might be a little PTSD from his NTC days.
In case you’re wondering why we are considering all these adventures without the benefit of a fat bank account, the short answer is that we each made the “starter marriage” mistake at a young age, doubled down on it with kids (we’re nothing if not loyal), then (as overly-responsible eldest children will do), raised those kids largely alone (physically and financially) before meeting one another.
Five minutes after we began to savor dual-income life, everything crashed and we could only dream of luxuries like savings accounts, 401k contributions, health insurance, dental care and family vacations. We’re not bitter. We’re just not going to let our overly-responsible tendencies define our lives any longer.
Do What You Love (Unless You Don’t Love It Anymore)
I’m almost always a little sad when I see an independent local business close its doors. Used to be I’d wonder what went wrong enough to cause the closure. But over the last several years as I watched Brian found and then grow Ott Gun Works I came to understand this: It is hard to run a business, especially when it’s one with a physical location and regular operating hours and you’re the lone employee.
Business owners too often find themselves dealing with people who don’t appreciate the quality of the product or service as much as the $5 bill in their wallet. Less often but more frustrating is being required to do the bidding of state and federal agencies – without compensation – if you want to keep your doors open and/or not go to jail. Looking at you, sales tax bullies and ATF bureaucrats.
I can understand why Brian is ready to give it up. Still, he’s amassed an incredible amount of quirky, specialized firearms knowledge that isn’t easy to come by.
He solves problems that others can’t. Customers can count on him for a no-bullshit assessment. He probably will not take a person’s money if he thinks the upgrade or repair they’re asking for doesn’t make economic sense (or in the rare case he agrees to do the work he’ll make sure you know he thinks it’s not smart, and you’ll pay up front for it). When something does stump him he knows enough to sort it out – usually pretty quickly.
After Brian told me he was done with the shop (and after I got over the shock), I cared less about what he’d accomplished with Ott Gun Works than I did that he was happy and doing what he wanted to do.
I often joke that Brian is the Rainman of firearms knowledge (“yeah, that’s a Jiminez…Jiminez sucks…you overpaid about a hundred dollars”). He still likes working on guns. So even though I understood his reasons for deciding to close the shop, I felt sad that there seemed to be no way for him to take his business on the road.
Hey, I’ve Got An Idea
In the South especially, most people live near where they were born. Brian and I separately moved to Georgia for better economic opportunity, and planned to move to New Hampshire for greater economic and personal freedom. That two people willing to go to those lengths should then decide to try living in an RV full time shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The only reason we arrived at this wonderful place of possibility in our lives is because we put aside all-or-nothing thinking. Not “move to New Hampshire now or never,” or “live free in New Hampshire or die frustrated in Georgia,” or “if we don’t buy a house we’ll be homeless.” But “we don’t have to move all at once,” “we don’t have to buy a big house” or “we don’t have to buy a house at all.”
Seems like the less I press myself to come up with “the” solution to a problem, the more solutions I come up with that chip away at the problem or even redefine it entirely. So it happened one day when I walked into our home office and saw Brian’s Flayderman’s Guide to Antique Firearms in a stack of books on his desk.
“Won’t be needing that anymore,” I thought.
And then it hit me.
Our New Venture
Brian has performed appraisals for the last several years, alongside his other firearm-related work. We’ve done appraisals for a couple of estates needing valuations of collections so they can fairly divide property. Brian routinely provides opinions of value at the shop for people considering buying, selling or upgrading a firearm so they don’t waste money doing the wrong thing.
Breaking out this piece of Ott Gun Works as a standalone business made sense to us, and will let him continue to use his firearms expertise and hopefully earn a living. Plus, I can dust off my expensive photo-school experience and finally make it pay by photographically documenting firearm collections. Whee!
As Brian suggested in the e-mail exchange above, most appraisers are less than impartial. People may pay for an appraisal but not receive fair values. That might not seem like a big problem until you think about your mom or grandma who needs to sell off her late husband’s gun collection to supplement a too-small income. She could leave thousands on the table by choosing the wrong appraiser.
BTW, even though we don’t put a lot of faith in certifications and licenses, many others do. With that in mind, several months ago Brian went through AGI certification and is now officially a USPAP-compliant firearms appraiser.
Make Money on the Internet! With Guns!
OK not exactly. But we are setting up to handle opinions of value through the OnSite Firearm Appraisal website. The site is mostly built but has been back-burnered for months with everything else we’ve been doing, so I won’t share it yet.
The types of opinions Brian already provides tend to fall into just a few categories (found XYZ gun on Gunbroker, need to know if it is a good deal; need to sell a firearm & want to know a fair asking price; want to trick out a firearm but not sure of feasibility &/or if it’s advisable), making it pretty easy to set up the website to automate intake and payment.
Will They Need It, Want It, Pay for It?
These are the three big questions anyone who wants to start a business should ask themselves. We’ve certainly seen the need. Whether people will want it enough to pay ~$35 before making a mistake remains to be seen.
If I wasn’t worried about sounding like a misandrist I’d say that’s because too many male gun owners/buyers believe they should already know everything there is to know about firearms and are reluctant to admit it when they don’t (the customer base is predominantly male). I don’t think most women have that hangup, at least where guns are concerned. If you disagree feel free to use the comment box below this post to kvetch about my slothful use of stereotypes 🙂
Anyway, stories like the one I’m about to relay occur at Ott Gun Works with predictable regularity.
This Is Why We Get the Appraisal First
So, yesterday evening at dinner, Brian told me about a “kid” (meaning a guy anywhere from 20 – 35 years old) who came into the shop that day after buying a Mossberg 500 with a pistol grip. He wanted to know after the fact if he’d gotten a good deal.
As I understand it, a Mossberg 500 is a good shotgun but putting a pistol grip on it makes it more difficult to handle (which might not be a downside if you care less about shooting than looking gangsta). This shotgun was in “shitty, shitty” condition (Brian’s description), and the young man had bought it from a pawn shop for a grossly inflated price (Pro Tip: N E V E R buy a gun at a pawn shop).
If the guy had requested an opinion of value first, Brian would have told him before he wasted his money a) don’t pay more than $120 for this shotgun in this condition; b) this shotgun will be harder to handle with the pistol grip and c) (expanding on Pro Tip above) pawn shops tend to sell guns that are priced higher and in worse condition than other types of sellers, so you’re better off going elsewhere.
When Brian told the guy if he paid more than $120 he’d made a mistake, the guy’s face fell. Then he said, “Well, no harm done – I can return it.” Not so much, says Brian – pawn shops have no-return policies. Guy insists, and Brian feels sorry for him because he knows the guy assumed or was told incorrectly. Guy goes to his car, gets the receipt, sees it’s clearly marked “All Sales Final. No Returns.” Face falls again.
I suppose it’s good the guy thought of coming to OGW for an opinion. But how do we catch people like him before they buy the wrong thing, for the wrong price?
How Will We Run this Business from the Road?
Well…we’re not completely sure about the logistics for formal appraisals. When we get the RV we’ll be available to travel and appraise collections on site. This is potentially quite valuable to people with rare or very expensive firearms since they won’t need to be removed from the property.
In order to make an appraisal worthwhile we’ll have to charge an amount that covers expenses, makes a profit, and is a fair deal for the collector or his/her estate. It doesn’t seem like that’ll make sense unless there are a lot of guns and/or we’re nearby.
We could try to partner with related businesses in an area where we’ll already be, and do some kind of event where people could bring their stuff in and get it appraised. Opinions of value would be easier to do at an event like this as they wouldn’t require the photography and write-ups we’ll do for formal appraisals.
Obviously if enough people don’t realize the potential rip-off from “appraisers” who have a vested interest in the valuation, we won’t bring in enough business. But we’ll never know until we try, right?
So, again – if people don’t value guidance in this type of decision, or don’t know that guidance is available, none of this matters. But there’s a guy named David Lester doing essentially the same thing with RVs, and he doesn’t even have a website. We have used him twice as we’ve shopped around for RVs, and I’ve really appreciated the insight he’s provided.
Will this work with guns as well as it seems to with RVs? I dunno, but we’re gonna try it.
Bonus Story for Hardcore Wandering Porcupine Readers
Here’s another instance where a man who should have gotten an appraisal before buying firearms didn’t, but did get what he deserved 🙂