The story appears on

Page B2-B3

May 17, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Scalpers look for different niches to earn a buck

A self-proclaimed problem solver and former scalper

Wearing a Polo T-shirt and carrying a Louis Vuitton purse, Hu, 66, looks like any of the thousands of rich entrepreneurs in the city and hands over his gold-rimmed name card in which it says he is the CEO and founder of a trading company.

"I'm probably one of the oldest scalpers in the city. My peers are either billionaires or in prison now," he says.

"Many famous entrepreneurs in the city started as scalpers a long time ago. They just don't talk about it now."

Now known as "CEO Hu," he was known as "Lao Jianghu" 20 years ago, just before he retired from the scalper business and used his earnings to start his trading company.

The term, "Lao Jianghu," literally meaning old rivers and lakes, is usually used to refer to people who are well-connected to all corners of society, be it gangsters or authorities.

"Personally, I don't think there's a difference between a trader and a scalper. I'm just doing the same old tricks, buy cheap and sell high," he says.

"Basically, I'm a problem solver. If you have a problem, you find me, and I solve your problem through buying or selling something. The only difference is that I don't stand on the streets anymore and I'm legal now."

Unlike Zhang, who was forced out of a job, Hu chose to be a scalper. As a salesman, he had frequent business trips and traded goods between different cities on the side. Unlike nowadays, it was a time when local specialties couldn't be found elsewhere.

After a few years, Hu made some money and established a rather strong network, which encouraged him to quit his job in 1986, a decision that shocked his colleagues, relatives and friends.

"Quitting a job at that time was almost like committing suicide," he says. "My wife even went back to her parents' home for a month because of my decision. Of course, now they all praised me for my wise decision."

He put the money into the just opened stock market and soon made his first 10,000 yuan (now US$1,537), a large sum at the time. Over the past 20 years, Hu's company has been involved in all kinds of trading - commodities, stocks, real estate, dairy products and clothing.

"It seems to be much more difficult and competitive to be a scalper nowadays compared to when I did it. They have got more opportunities but also more competitors," Hu says.

"After all, what I did and what they do is still the same, just filling the gap between supply and demand. As long as these gaps exist, you will see scalpers."

Zhang had more than 20 phone calls from his four cell phones, one of them an iPhone, during the two-hour interview. Swift and clever, the 55-year-old had all the prices memorized without using any calculators or notes.

"Sorry about the calls, it's getting busy now," he tells Shanghai Daily, sitting in a cheap café near People's Square, one of his "headquarters."

"In exchange for this interview, can you kindly talk to my son once and try to convince him to find a good job like yours? I think he will listen to educated people like you."

Before the age of 40, Zhang never imagined he would become a scalper, like his father, who was arrested for "speculation and profiteering" in the 1980s and was sentenced to two years in prison.

His father was an ordinary factory worker in a plastics company and traded rice coupons (for ration) at leisure time to make extra money for the family with six children. As time went by, his father had saved 2,000 yuan even though his monthly salary was only 24 yuan. He joined a larger and more risky venture without telling his family. It led to his arrest and imprisonment.

"During that time, with the planned economy, what we call business today was 'speculation and profiteering.' The only thing you were supposed to do as a worker was work in the factory and feed your family," Zhang says.

"Because of my father, we were all alerted to stay away from this risky and illegal business until I was laid off in 1996."

His wife was laid off a year earlier and their son was 13 years old, which made Zhang's sudden job loss even tougher for the family.

"We were desperate. So when an old friend of my father's offered to introduce me into the scalper's industry, naturally, I thanked him and followed," he recalls.

"At first, I only considered doing it for a few months until I found a new job."

He has been doing it since then as a so-called "seasonal scalper," who take advantage of their networks to sell concert tickets and seasonal coupons, such as mooncake coupons during the Mid Autumn Festival, as well as train tickets during the Spring Festival.

His son, now 30 years old, quit his job as a factory worker two years ago and helped Zhang set up an online store, which greatly increased his earnings.

"I'm glad that this new technology helped with the business, but it's still not a career with a bright future. I never wanted him to be a scalper. But it seems that he is not planning to find a new job, which requires more effort than running the online store," says Zhang.

A woman scalper

Chen, 42, is one of few women scalpers since they have to be tough enough on occasion to handle violent competitors.

She used to work for a large domestic cosmetics company and often sold samples to her friends. Soon, she was attracted by the potential of the market and quit the job, which had paid about 1,200 yuan a month. She made about the same amount just by selling the samples. She expected to make many more doing it as a full-time job.

Due to her former job, Chen says she was well connected with many salespeople at other cosmetics companies and shop assistants at cosmetics counters in department stores. She soon extended her business - buying samples from insiders of cosmetics companies and factories and selling to customers. She also has VIP cards from most cosmetics brands and offers customers who don't have one to "borrow it" in exchange for splitting the VIP discount.

"It actually feels like a full-time job. I go to work at 10am, when the department stores open and go home around 10pm, when they close," Chen says.

She has established good relations with the shop assistants and even security guards at the stores, who often refer customers to her.

"I'm old, uneducated and unskilled, what else can I do for a living?" she says.

(All the scalpers interviewed for this article are afraid of getting caught by the police and declined to reveal their full names.)


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend