My Dusty Haul From This Week

In the spirit of Dusty Hunting – Part 2, here’s what I snagged this week at the salon. These all came from the same place. I then went to three more salons and struck out because the polishes I found there were all resale colors for me, and they didn’t have any new bottles. The total for these seven I did buy was $43. I paid $4 each for the China Glazes, Black Tie Optional, $5 for What’s Dune, $9 each for Holiday Glow and Merry Midnight, and $8 for Blue Moon Lagoon. $9 is the highest I’ve seen a salon charge for new polish bottles, but for these guys I was ok with it.

Photo Dec 09, 7 15 10 PM Photo Dec 09, 7 16 01 PM

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Dusty Hunting – Part 2

This is probably the part people have the most curiosity about – how does the actual hunt go? What do I say to a nail spa employee? My strategy is simple; while I’m out, I stop at every strip mall. 90% of strip malls have a nail salon. They are on a level of ubiquity with fast food. If you go at off hours (usually but not always during the day during the week) employees will be more tolerant of your weird quest, and may even help. I once knocked at a salon that was closed at 6:15 though the sign said open until 7 pm. They let me in, and then the ladies pulled out literally every color from every box under the counter and just said names to me, while I said “yes!” or “have that one, thanks!” for about 30 minutes.

You’ll be able to tell quickly when you go in whether or not the salon has a section of polish for sale. If they do, it will be in a glass case most likely, often under the desk where you check in. This is not an ideal place to dusty hunt though, so here’s how it goes. I walk in, and when someone asks how they can help me, I ask if they sell polish. Some salons will just tell you they don’t. This is fine; thank them and go on to the next place. Some employees will ask “What color are you looking for?” At this point I explain that I have about 80 colors I’m looking for, so I need to look. I think that their idea is that you just want dark red polish, and they’ll find a dark red bottle and send you on your way. Some will direct you to this small, dark glass cabinet, which is always about 6″ off the floor. I often try to head off being directed to this torture device by, as soon as they say “yes we do sell polish,” asking if I can look at the rack on the wall to find the colors I want because it’s easier than seeing what’s in the cabinet.

I have done the “lie on my back so I can look up under the shelf at labels on polish” move. Usually a few minutes of this leads to the result I want after someone realizes how uncomfortable I am. The best possible scenario is that you are looking at the racks on the wall. There are two reasons – first, you can see everything. You can do a quick visual scan down the rows. You’ll see a holo polish, or a duochrome. If you’ve trained yourself, other colors will pop out as well. I can spot Parlez-vous OPI a mile away. I do one scan this way to quickly pick up things I might want (and might not know I want) or things I recognize by color. The second thing that is nice about this scan though is that you can also often look under the bottles down the row – but this is much easier when they’re 4-5 feet off the ground than 4-5 inches. I try to do two scans, then – one down the row at the colors, and one at the bottoms by the labels. When I found my first bottle of Peel Me a Gobi Grape, I’d never seen it, but I did a label scan and knew already it was rare.

If I can’t scan under the bottles, I will, no lie, pick up 2-3 bottles at a time and look underneath, and go through every bottle on the shelf. I don’t want to miss something I only know of by name because I didn’t recognize the color from the side. I would have never gotten Vampire State Building if I hadn’t seen it lying on it’s side with the label visible. This pick up method is noisy and attracts attention; I like to browse in peace without someone hovering next to me, in part so that if I dont find anything I can slink out unnoticed. I have a weird thing about walking in and asking to look through polish where I feel like once I’ve asked I have to buy something, or have something clever to say as to why I’m not.

Frequently at this point I have several bottles in various stages of fullness that I then get to take to someone who will look for full bottles under the counter. I also take a peek myself; there could be something hiding in there that wasn’t out on the rack. But by doing it this way you’ve minimized the chances that something really cool will slip by you.

If you’re looking at colors that are really old, often there will not be a new bottle. They will either then offer to sell you the partial bottle, or they will apologize that they don’t have it and think you are disappointed. This is where it matters whether you’re buying for yourself, or for resale. As I mentioned earlier, if it’s a resale polish and they offer to sell me the half bottle, I just tell them it’s a present for someone and I needed a full bottle, but that I really appreciate them looking. If it’s something I want for me and they don’t offer to sell the partial bottle, I ask whether they would sell that one. “I know it’s not full, but that’s ok with me if you’re willing to sell it; I really want this color and have been looking for it for a long time.” Some salons will not sell that partial bottle anyway. They have a customer who comes in and uses it, and Susie Regular will be pissed if she comes in on Thursday and her bottle of DS Original has been sold to someone for $5. Again, be respectful and thank them. In at least 80% of cases though, the employee will be kind of amazed that you want a half used bottle, will try to ascertain how full the bottle is, and price accordingly.

It’s up to you whether you want to try to bargain. The only time I’ve protested was when they told me something was new and it was clearly below the “turn” of the bottle (the widest part), and I just said, well, it’s not totally brand new. If someone’s selling me something I really want, it’s probably even worth the full $8 or $9 for me to get even a 3/4 full bottle. 

I’ve found that some salons are super organized and keep their sale polish ordered by the number. This is where a spreadsheet sorted by the numbers helps. If you can tell them “B21, F14, and R70” it will be easy for them to figure out whether or not they have the colors you want.

If they don’t have a new bottle they may offer to get it for you and call when it comes in. I have definitely seen some older colors at nail supply stores, so it’s always possible that it could turn up. But I don’t believe that there’s a box of Sand-erella sitting at Princess Nail Supply, just waiting for someone to love it. 

Remember the bewares. If you’re buying a polish for resale, know that if it’s missing it’s label or isn’t brand new, it loses a lot of value. I personally haven’t found people to have a problem buying a polish missing the “top” barcoded label, but there is a lot of misinformation about fake polishes. Some people think a bottle missing the barcoded label is fake, or that anything without a certain number of icons on the back is bogus. OPI bottles have changed a lot over the years, and I have yet to find anything at a salon that I thought was a fake OPI polish.  But I have bought things that were not what the label claimed it was, because the salon reused the bottle, or stuck a label that had fallen off one bottle onto another bottle missing its label, without caring what polish it was.

If they have a credit card minimum, be respectful of it and don’t argue. If I’m spending under $20 I always ask if it’s ok to use a card. I get a business card from the salon, and ask for a bag; you’d hate to drop and break one of your new beauties on the way to the car. Before I leave, I jot down some quick notes about what I found there on the card. More about that in Part 3. For a bit I wondered if I should feel guilty about buying a polish for $10 and selling it for $30. Then I realized what I was doing was liberating a polish from someone who didn’t appreciate it, and sending it to someone who did. That MPJ isn’t worth $30 to the owner of the salon. She’s not going to go on Facebook or eBay and sell it. It’s just another color. But there is someone in America who is almost literally dying to have that shade and you are bringing that person and that bottle together. And sometimes that person is you.

Dusty Hunting Guide – Part 1

One of my favorite pastimes is “dusty hunting,” or going to nail salons hunting for old polishes that I can’t get at the store anymore. Usually when I return triumphant from an expedition, I get a lot of questions about how I found them, so I wanted to put together a guide to the hunt. Today’s installment is what you need to assess before you go. Take some time to chew on these things before you jump in your car and ride off to the salon.

First, ask yourself what your goals are. Are you trying to make some money (probably to support an insane buying problem – I mean, this is what I’ve heard) or just round out your collection? A combination of the two? Think about these things. My main goal is to make enough on reselling some polishes to pay for the ones I buy to keep for myself. I’m not trying to get rich. I am also trying to not default on my student loans because I bought too many polishes.

Next, you need to know what you’re looking for. If you are just looking for things you think are pretty, you can wing it. Sometimes though I have done this only to realize I paid a salon $9 for a bottle I could have gotten on eBay for $5 with shipping. If you’re trying to buy for resale, you’ll want an organized list. I’ve learned that there are colors that do not appeal to me that appeal to the rest of the world, and I’d never have picked them up if I hadn’t painstakingly done my homework. I created an Excel sheet with all the OPI colors. I then spent weeks doing price research on eBay so I knew what I could definitely resell for good money, what was a coin toss, and what to leave unless I wanted it for myself. Know as well what you already have at home, unless you want duplicates. I upload these files to Dropbox so they’re accessible on the road via iPhone. I have a shortened list of “highlights” (there are almost 1000 OPI colors in total and about 75 I want). On that list, polishes I can sell are in bold, and polishes I want for myself are underlined. Some are both bold and underlined.

Think as well about what you’re OK with in terms of newness and quantity. When I buy for myself, I don’t care if a bottle is half full. I’ve bought partial bottles of rare color for my personal use and married them, like ketchups. My personal My Private Jet is 1/3 full and I don’t care. If you get on average 40 manicures from a bottle of OPI, I’ve got a good 10 paintings in there before things go bad. If you are buying to resell, though, it’s a different story. You can probably sell or swap a partial or opened bottle of My Private Jet for $15-20 but nothing near the value of a new unopened one. In general that same polish that might sell for $20 brand new is worth $6 if it’s “full but opened” or “full but swatched.” It’s just the way it is. People are picky like that. If I find a bottle of Sanderella that is half full, I am thrilled because the fact that I can’t sell it means that I am “stuck” keeping it for myself.

Know your colors. Salons have a dirty habit of reusing polish bottles. This would make me angry as a customer (Oh, this is OPI Ink on my toes, let me go buy a bottle at Ulta to do touchups – then getting to Ulta and finding out it looks NOTHING like what’s on my toes and I now have no idea). I bought a bottle of Affair in Times Square. I had never seen it in person. I sent it to a buyer who realized it was wrong – it was a shimmer but AITS is a crème. No idea why the salon would have done this, but it was my fault for not knowing what in the world the polish should look like when I bought it. I’ve come across a lot of mislabels on colors I knew well, though those are usually partial bottles, and I don’t doubt that salons pour partial bottles together to mix color.

Plan your area. I have had very good success with smaller towns. I tend to like holos and purples and things that small towns apparently don’t look kindly on for manicures, and logic says the less traffic you get through a salon, the more likely you are to find something obscure. Every time I go to an area I haven’t it, I plan to make a few stops along the way. When I got out locally and I’m on a road I haven’t been down in some time, I look along the way. If I were just going to spend a day purely dusty hunting, I’d pick a direction I hadn’t been, and just drive to the nearest town. Wear comfortable clothes. You may well be squatting, or lying on your back on the floor looking up through a glass shelf to read bottle labels.

Take some cash. I am guilty of not doing this, because I never carry cash. I’ll get to a salon and find one polish I want that they only want $4 for. I then feel guilty if I try to charge it, or I have to buy things I don’t want until I hit a reasonable amount in my head. When I found my bottle of My Private Jet holo, it was $8. The store had a $10 minimum for charges. I really didn’t want anything else, so I just asked them to charge me $8 for it. Better if I’d just had cash though.

Network with your friends. Ask them if there’s anything they’re looking for. I had a friend who wanted the Shrek colors and didn’t mind if they were half full. In one afternoon I found all the ones she was missing for her.

Next up – the actual hunt.

Dusty Hunting Post to Come!

I am working on an in-depth dusty-hunting post, hopefully for today or tomorrow. Towards that end, I’d love some help. If you have specific questions you want to see addressed, please post them below and I’ll make an effort (I would say make sure but it’s possible I won’t be able to answer one) to include an answer.

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