07/03/2012 04:03 EDT | Updated 09/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Vancouver's 'The Liquidator' makes living finding treasures in trash heaps

TORONTO - The fast-paced world of haggling and trading is the theme of the new reality TV show "The Liquidator," where it's all about getting the best price for used merchandise.

But it's not as easy as it looks, insists Jeff Schwarz, star of the show and owner of Direct Liquidation, billed as Vancouver's largest liquidator store.

Items for sale can run the gamut from hot sauce to tools to clothing.

"Anything and everything that you can possibly think of we've picked it up," Schwarz said during a visit to Toronto ahead of the show's premiere, Thursday at 9 p.m. on OLN.

Each of the 13 30-minute episodes shows a day in the life of Schwarz's business, from getting a tip and checking out cheap goods to then finding a buyer and making a deal. Characters include Ron, the soft-spoken general manager of Schwarz's warehouse, and Sheldon the bailiff who always has insider scoops about the source of the next haul.

"I can guarantee you that every show can have at least something completely different," Schwarz says. "And I'm not always a winner."

The 43-year-old illustrated this point with a story from his career, in which his profit on one item was a far cry from what it earned for someone else.

"I had a vase once that sat on my freezer for three months. It had no markings and I put it in a sale and I got $400 for it. A week later I saw it portrayed in an antique collectibles magazine at another estate and it sold for like $7,000."

Schwarz has been wheeling and dealing for about 20 years.

He said he was being told as early as high school that he should be in business rather than pursuing his intended career of forestry. He ended up in construction and hurt his back.

While his injury was healing he was at a Christmas party where family members were discussing what to do with the possessions of his wife's late great aunt.

"Somebody said we have this estate here and we don't know what to do with it. I was off work anyway so I asked how much did you get offered and the guy said $450 and I said I'll give you 500 bucks, so I started selling stuff at a flea market," he related.

"Literally for two to three years every Saturdays and Sundays I was going to the flea market. I was also going to school at the time because of my back. I had to get out of construction. When I got out of school I realized I didn't have anything or any money.

"I had one last cheque, which was for $1,200, and I bought a whole household of furniture for $1,300.... I put it all in an auction and actually did OK and from there moving forward I got more and more involved in buying and selling."

It morphed into a lucrative career in which he has tried everything from working at an auction house to opening a discount store to buying and selling storage lockers.

All the deals on the show are real, said Schwarz.

"It's a lot of hard work and people can learn something from some of the stuff that goes on. It's totally real.... It's not what I say I can get for it. It's actually what it was."

His advice to amateurs is to research the value of products. "You have to kind of know a little bit about everything. Prices of electronics and stuff like that go down. If you're going to garage sales looking for items I'd probably try to look at more collectible stuff, eclectic kind of crazy stuff."

When clearing out a deceased relative's home, Schwarz noted that "sometimes there's money hidden in places that you don't know."

Get an appraisal from a reputable auction company. "Even if they charge you for it it's usually not much, and then you can tell roughly what the stuff is worth and then you should go out and get a second one and you kind of know relatively what you're going to get."

Luck doesn't usually enter into dealing, Schwarz has learned.

"Just because you hear of one guy who buys a painting for $50 and sells it for $200,000 I would probably ask that guy how many garage sales he's went to before he hit one. You know, there is always beginner's luck. I've had some of it. Luck is only self-created so you've got to be that person there seven days a week.

"You've got to be there before everybody else and you've got to beat everybody to the punch. There's always somebody behind your shoulder looking for that same spot, so you've got to make the decision then."