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My Latest Experience Selling N95 Masks

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I finally decided I would share my recent experience selling N95 particulate masks online. I really debated about this as I thought some would regard me of being greedy or taking advantage of people.

And yet some of these same people don't mind finding a product on Alibaba and selling it for 10 times what they paid for it.

Go figure.

This post isn't really about the money I've made, though I've done extremely well.

It is more about the mindset.
About recognizing an opportunity, and after recognizing it, stepping out and pulling the trigger.

On January 24th one of my manufacturer reps emailed me letting me know that they were already out of 3M N95 masks but had several other brands still available. It was on a Friday. He told me if I was interested in some, that I should buy soon.
That is when I really took notice. Normally they carry 10's of thousands.

Over the weekend I began to read as much about what was occurring in China as I could. From news agencies to reddit to various online forums. By Sunday, I had decided that I would pull the trigger on purchasing at least 200 to 400 boxes (20 per box) of N95 masks.

Monday morning I placed an order, (they would only sell me 200 boxes) and had them arrive two days later. As soon as I was emailed the tracking number and knew they were on their way, I added them to my websites online and Amazon. I only added 10 boxes at a time and within half an hour they would sell out.

Every time.

I repeated this for several days and kept the price in-line with other vendors, as they were raising the prices sometimes within hours.
The prices got so high I began to reconsider everything and decided to keep half the inventory I had left as I believed that they would become completely unavailable.

That is, unless I found another source.

By January 30th, All my suppliers were completely sold out, though I was lucky enough to order another 44 boxes from one vendor.

I even had one N95 manufacturer finally tell me that they had several large shipments scheduled to leave China, but were confiscated by the Chinese government to supply their own people. All N95 shipments were 'rerouted'.
That is when I decided to scout around the local stores and began purchasing boxes off of retail shelves. I usually bought half the inventory and left half for others.

No one locally was really taking this seriously yet.

I really got lucky at a local discount freight store that had 50 cases of N95 masks on the shelf for $2.49/box! These boxes usually sell for $20-$24 in many stores. No one was buying these masks! I went back 3 times that day as I didn't want to bring attention too much on my purchases hoping they would maybe restock if they had more.
Sure enough, the shelves were restocked two days later and I proceeded to buy like I had before.
The third time I went back on day 2, the shelves had been cleared out. I had pick up about 80 boxes total for an amazing price.

I missed picking up about 25 boxes, which I am glad to see that maybe someone else recognized the opportunity that was available to anyone.

It is hard for me to understand why others don't jump on these opportunities when they are presented to them.

I had mentioned this opportunity to 4 or 5 other friends so that they at least could go there and stock up on masks for themselves if not for profit.
I also told 9 employees the same thing, and had thought that perhaps one of them would want to make some extra coin with very little effort.
No one grabbed the opportunity, even when they saw the insane profits I was making selling them online! They were literally shipping these masks out for me and they were still available to go and purchase themselves.
They could have made their wages that day by going down there at lunch and buying 2 boxes of masks for $5!
Do I feel bad about making a great profit on N95 masks?
No.
Why would I feel bad about selling a product that anyone who made a little effort to obtain when they first heard about the virus, could have most likely found them at the local hardware/home improvement store. Now are selling for double and triple online?
Finding the product is just a barrier of entry.

Even if it is for your own needs.

Is it morally wrong to sell this product 2,3,4 times the normal price?
How about 10 times?? 100 times?
The pharmaceutical companies are doing that every day.
It is just part of capitalism.

It basically is about supply and demand.

You demand it, Someone will try to supply it.

Focus on being the supplier rather than the consumer.
 

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All business owners seek for opportunities and make a profit. The fine line for me will be when one attempts to profit off human's worry and panic, to hike up prices, I no longer can agree on that way doing business.

My belief about making money - there are opportunities everywhere. But some opportunities I will give a miss.
 
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Kybalion

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All business owners seek for opportunities and make a profit. The fine line for me will be when one attempts to profit off human's worry and panic or to hike up prices, I no longer can agree on that way doing business.

My belief about making money - there are opportunities everywhere. But some opportunities I will give a miss.
There is nothing wrong with hiking up the prices when the demand increases, whatever the reason.

The author of this post uses geo-arbitrage, he buys the product for low where it's cheaper and sells for more where the demand is higher. Nothing inherently wrong with that.

It's not like he's buying out all the masks locally and then waiting for the panic (or even death) to set in to resell these masks at the same place at a higher price. In fact, he's going out of his way to help people, who need these masks more than locals do.

He's providing value.

It's a bit like selling water to Africa... Except he's selling masks to Asia.
 

ivan i

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Forgive me for being dumb, but doesn't stuff take a really long time to come from places like China? Was this just a really big risk you took? How did you get it delivered to you so quickly to get selling?
 

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I had mentioned this opportunity to 4 or 5 other friends so that they at least could go there and stock up on masks for themselves if not for profit.
I also told 9 employees the same thing, and had thought that perhaps one of them would want to make some extra coin with very little effort.
No one grabbed the opportunity, even when they saw the insane profits I was making selling them online! They were literally shipping these masks out for me and they were still available to go and purchase themselves.
I think the reason why you execute and others don't is that you have all the knowledge and confidence that you need to execute. These other people may not.

For example, this is the list of "silent objections" that occur to me when someone approaches me with something like this:
  • How can I get them on Amazon? On eBay?
  • How do I track these prices?
  • Who handles shipping logistics?
  • Other people must be doing this too, so why would they buy my masks over theirs?
  • This seems really time-sensitive – masks will probably be available for a short time. But I don't know how long all of this takes (e.g. setting up an amazon account, FBA, warehousing, etc.) – and it sounds like it takes a long time.
  • If I act on this, and it goes badly, that'd be stupid because I have to act really fast and know nothing about this niche.
For me, these "excuses" come because I am already focusing on other high-value tasks within my own area of expertise; so it quickly appears to be a distraction for me.

For someone like your employees, it's probably more fear-based.

IMO, you're sitting at a sweet-spot of know-how and confidence to act quickly on something like this.
 

Ocean Man

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It is hard for me to understand why others don't jump on these opportunities when they are presented to them.
I understand it’s capitalism, but there’s somethings I’ll do and somethings I wont. This is one of them that I won’t. I’m currently in South Korea and I made a thread about this being an issue. A lot of people from China came over here and started buying out stores of their masks, holding and reselling them at a much, much, higher price. Currently, many stores are sold out of any good masks and if there are any masks, they’re WAY more expensive than what they used to be.

I definitely caught onto this idea earlier on, I just chose not to execute on it for my own beliefs.

But not derailing your own success, you saw ahead that masks will be needed and acted on it. Good business.
 
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The fine line for me will be when one attempts to profit off human's worry and panic or to hike up prices, I no longer can agree on that way doing business.
Uhhh Ok.
Profiting off of human's worry and panic or hiking up prices happens every day.

It is used every day in selling everything from insurance to guns to health care. If there is a limited supply or perceived limited supply of anything prices usually go up. Sometime exorbitantly.

This thread was not started with the premise of how 'moral' it is.

It is about finding opportunities right in front of us and doing something about it. Who is to judge if someone searches out and finds a deal for pennies on the dollar and then makes the decision to sell the item for the going rate?

It seems to me the customer is the final judge if something is too high. I am not forcing anyone to buy.
And I have only sold my stock in the USA, though perhaps they are being shipped overseas, I don't know. And if they are, perhaps they are selling them for quite a bit more.

For the most part everything sold is based on perceived value.

And most things that are bought is based on some form of emotion, ie, greed, worry, love, hate, fear, happiness, anger, etc.

The marketplace is the judge if something is too high or not. Who is to say what a mask is worth?
Or a gallon of gas, or a loaf of bread or a cup of water?
Water is basically free from your faucet.
Why do we choose to pay 10 to 100 times more for it in the form of bottled water?

Is that morally wrong, when others are dying of thirst elsewhere in the world?
 

Katherine

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This thread was not started with the premise of how 'moral' it is.

It is about finding opportunities right in front of us and doing something about it. Who is to judge if someone searches out and finds a deal for pennies on the dollar and then makes the decision to sell the item for the going rate?
Yes I agree with you about finding opportunities and taking action. Just that for this instance, it didn't sit well with me that's all. Hence my comment above. There is nothing personal against you so please don't take offense.
 
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Forgive me for being dumb, but doesn't stuff take a really long time to come from places like China? Was this just a really big risk you took? How did you get it delivered to you so quickly to get selling?
I didn't buy from China.
I do not import directly from China. My Suppliers (wholesalers) have their own brands under various names here in the USA. I buy products that are already here in the USA. In fact,
a large percentage of my many products I sell, are made in the US.

My supplier is only 4 hours away, by auto.

There is a large segment of the population that are willing to pay for US products.

And, BTW, there are N95 masks made in the USA.
 
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I understand it’s capitalism, but there’s somethings I’ll do and somethings I wont.
I can understand that to a point.

BUT, what I think becomes a problem for me is that when one sees that they are being bought up and one just stands there shaking their head saying that isn't right but don't buy them up themselves if they strongly believe it is 'wrong'.
Why not buy them to give them to people that need, or want them even for the same price or for that matter discounted?
It reminds me of the newscast I saw today where this old man pulled up in his pickup on the side of the hiway as his truck was on fire. He couldn't get out, while there are twenty people with their cameras out filming it. Nobody lifted a finger but thought it was sad. Finally two men came to his rescue and pulled him out of his burning truck.

I've given boxes away to older neighbors and those that I felt really could use them. I think this is part of giving back. It is another opportunity to give value

Sometimes we all stand around saying why doesn't somebody do something or why are they allowing that rather than stepping in and making that small difference.
There usually isn't much stopping us from making a difference, just a bit of effort.

Why do we watch something occur that we feel is morally wrong and do not do what we feel is morally right, and then complain about the wrong later?
 

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Ocean Man

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I agree, there's definitely a bystander apathy effect that goes on in times like these. And what's great is I think we both understand where we're coming from. I can see the points you're making and you can see mine.
 

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I finally decided I would share my recent experience selling N95 particulate masks online. I really debated about this as I thought some would regard me of being greedy or taking advantage of people.

And yet some of these same people don't mind finding a product on Alibaba and selling it for 10 times what they paid for it.

Go figure.

This post isn't really about the money I've made, though I've done extremely well.

It is more about the mindset.
About recognizing an opportunity, and after recognizing it, stepping out and pulling the trigger.

On January 24th one of my manufacturer reps emailed me letting me know that they were already out of 3M N95 masks but had several other brands still available. It was on a Friday. He told me if I was interested in some, that I should buy soon.
That is when I really took notice. Normally they carry 10's of thousands.

Over the weekend I began to read as much about what was occurring in China as I could. From news agencies to reddit to various online forums. By Sunday, I had decided that I would pull the trigger on purchasing at least 200 to 400 boxes (20 per box) of N95 masks.

Monday morning I placed an order, (they would only sell me 200 boxes) and had them arrive two days later. As soon as I was emailed the tracking number and knew they were on their way, I added them to my websites online and Amazon. I only added 10 boxes at a time and within half an hour they would sell out.

Every time.

I repeated this for several days and kept the price in-line with other vendors, as they were raising the prices sometimes within hours.
The prices got so high I began to reconsider everything and decided to keep half the inventory I had left as I believed that they would become completely unavailable.

That is, unless I found another source.

By January 30th, All my suppliers were completely sold out, though I was lucky enough to order another 44 boxes from one vendor.

I even had one N95 manufacturer finally tell me that they had several large shipments scheduled to leave China, but were confiscated by the Chinese government to supply their own people. All N95 shipments were 'rerouted'.
That is when I decided to scout around the local stores and began purchasing boxes off of retail shelves. I usually bought half the inventory and left half for others.

No one locally was really taking this seriously yet.

I really got lucky at a local discount freight store that had 50 cases of N95 masks on the shelf for $2.49/box! These boxes usually sell for $20-$24 in many stores. No one was buying these masks! I went back 3 times that day as I didn't want to bring attention too much on my purchases hoping they would maybe restock if they had more.
Sure enough, the shelves were restocked two days later and I proceeded to buy like I had before.
The third time I went back on day 2, the shelves had been cleared out. I had pick up about 80 boxes total for an amazing price.

I missed picking up about 25 boxes, which I am glad to see that maybe someone else recognized the opportunity that was available to anyone.

It is hard for me to understand why others don't jump on these opportunities when they are presented to them.

I had mentioned this opportunity to 4 or 5 other friends so that they at least could go there and stock up on masks for themselves if not for profit.
I also told 9 employees the same thing, and had thought that perhaps one of them would want to make some extra coin with very little effort.
No one grabbed the opportunity, even when they saw the insane profits I was making selling them online! They were literally shipping these masks out for me and they were still available to go and purchase themselves.
They could have made their wages that day by going down there at lunch and buying 2 boxes of masks for $5!
Do I feel bad about making a great profit on N95 masks?
No.
Why would I feel bad about selling a product that anyone who made a little effort to obtain when they first heard about the virus, could have most likely found them at the local hardware/home improvement store. Now are selling for double and triple online?
Finding the product is just a barrier of entry.

Even if it is for your own needs.

Is it morally wrong to sell this product 2,3,4 times the normal price?
How about 10 times?? 100 times?
The pharmaceutical companies are doing that every day.
It is just part of capitalism.

It basically is about supply and demand.

You demand it, Someone will try to supply it.

Focus on being the supplier rather than the consumer.
where are you selling these? I just ordered 500 masks a couple days ago.

edit: I read “on my website and amazon” but are you paying for traffic?
 

kelvinfernandezm

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Don't feel bad about selling the masks at a mark up price. What most people here are referring to is "price gouging" it becomes a problem when its a natural disaster. People that are in immediate need are taken advantage of. But a virus is not a natural disaster. Nor is it an immediate need. I haven't wore a mask since the virus started appearing on the news. Nor do I know or have seen anyone wearing a mask. But there are people out there that freak out and those are the ones driving the price up.
 

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In my mind there's a huge difference between buying and selling these masks in the states over selling them to people in life and death situations in China.

Your employees missed out!
 
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edit: I read “on my website and amazon” but are you paying for traffic?
No, I didn't pay for traffic.
I was competitive but not the highest seller in each brand. (I had bought an assortment of major brands)

I am set up with Google Shopping, but like anything else, the marketplaces have enough eyeballs, and if you have something wanted with few sellers, they run for it.

I even got a call from one person that kept buying every time I listed. She sought me out and called me a few days later and asked if I could supply her with 20,000 masks, or any quantity in groups of 100
 

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I also told 9 employees the same thing, and had thought that perhaps one of them would want to make some extra coin with very little effort.
I had to single this out as an example of outstanding leadership. Business is not a zero sum game and the mark of a great leader is raising everybody up, not keeping people down. Obviously you led them to water and none of them drank but a great lesson there amongst the larger theme of the post.
 

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All business owners seek for opportunities and make a profit. The fine line for me will be when one attempts to profit off human's worry and panic, to hike up prices, I no longer can agree on that way doing business.

My belief about making money - there are opportunities everywhere. But some opportunities I will give a miss.
Here is the deal. When that transaction is all said and done... The customers liked the masks more than they liked the money they spent on them. They realize there is a shortage so they will HAPPILY pay a premium in order to obtain the item. I am someone like that. Thankful that there are still options on the market.

In Texas, during a hurricane and all the gas stations run out of gas... I am thankful for the one enterprising spirit that still has some even if it is $4 per gallon vs $2.50.

Capitalist transactions are rooted in win-win value exchange. They were free to buy from someone else the entire time. They begged @million$$$smile to provide masks. They wish he had more! That is providing value.

Notice the research he did and his decisiveness to buy these right away. He didn’t sleep at the wheel. He pulled the trigger, made happy customers and made money.

There is zero wrong with this.
 
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JasonR

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I thought it was nice you left some for others. :)

I'm actually looking for masks right now (N95 and surgical) as my factories desperately need them. They're sold out where I currently am (Bali), but I'd be hunting down retail stores in the states if I was there.
 
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I thought it was nice you left some for others. :)
I personally think that is important. I remember filling up a grocery cart and this lady comes down the aisle with her cart. I showed her what I was buying and she just gave me a smile like I had lost my mind.

I forget who said "Great people stand out by their visions and very little by their intelligence"
I guess she thought that was me ;)

Sounds like figuring out how to make a reusable mask in Bali would be a nice little cottage industry for an young aspiring agile entrepreneur. I believe this isn't going to go away overnight.
 

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I see nothing wrong with what you're doing, I just don't understand how this line is a necessary justification:
Is it morally wrong to sell this product 2,3,4 times the normal price?
How about 10 times?? 100 times?
The pharmaceutical companies are doing that every day.
It is just part of capitalism.
Makes me think of Martin Shkreli and the AIDS drug he jacked the price up on. I don't think he acted morally. Am I wrong?
 

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I'd like to point out for everyone, @million$$$smile didn't say he DID sell for 100x, he said he probably COULD.

I know this guy has a hell of a big heart and think about it this way: here's a man who went out of his way to secure a product people believe will protect them and sell it at a reasonable price.

He's not price gouging, he's not taking advantage of people. He's providing something real here. I think this is capitalism at it's truest form.
 

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I see nothing wrong with what you're doing, I just don't understand how this line is a necessary justification:

Makes me think of Martin Shkreli and the AIDS drug he jacked the price up on. I don't think he acted morally. Am I wrong?
That opens an additional discussion entirely. Should governments issue patents?

The theory behind patent protection early on is that it gave people more motivation to develop game changing inventions, tech and medicines. The government ensured a first mover advantage to the patent holder for a while. The government would uphold your monopoly by force.

That comes with a risk. What is that risk? Guys like Martin Skhreili? Sure. He is an a**hole. But would argue the even bigger risk is people filing patents and being crappy leaders. There are so many great things out there. Patented, game changing inventions, and nothing gets done with them. That guy, the poor leader that blocks progress, is a bigger a**hole than MS IMO.

I am not a fan of patents. Although I can see both sides of that argument.
 
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Makes me think of Martin Shkreli and the AIDS drug he jacked the price up on. I don't think he acted morally. Am I wrong?
No. You are absolutely right. I think all of us would agree what Shkreli did was absolutely wrong. What he did was so far beyond even the norm that most Pharma companies do that it doesn't even belong in the same league.
My thoughts were actually regarding the markups in the medical and Pharma industry as a whole.
"Fifty-three percent of hospitals mark up medicines by an average of 200 to 400 percent. Seventeen percent of hospitals charged seven times the price of medications, so that a medication costing $150 would have a charge of $1,050; 8 percent had an average markup of more than 1,000 percent."

I apologize for sounding like I was justifying. I was basically just trying to state how often we accept outrageous markups because we want/need the product..
It is sad that the US Government ends up buying a toilet seat for $900, but it happens over and over.

I'm getting off subject of the Thread though. This really was about showing young entrepreneurs how often there are side hustles right under our nose.
 

Walter Hay

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"Fifty-three percent of hospitals mark up medicines by an average of 200 to 400 percent. Seventeen percent of hospitals charged seven times the price of medications, so that a medication costing $150 would have a charge of $1,050; 8 percent had an average markup of more than 1,000 percent."

I apologize for sounding like I was justifying. I was basically just trying to state how often we accept outrageous markups because we want/need the product..
There is absolutely no need to apologize. You were making a legitimate point that showed that those who stand aghast at making big margins should think about the fact that the public are hit every day by businesses making massive margins - and where are all the protests?

In my AMA article: GOLD! Sharing my lifetime experience in export/import. Product sourcing specialist.

I wrote about Parallel Importing and there I wrote:"According to the World Health Organization, Bayer sell ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic) in India for $15 per 100 units (500 mg) but in Mozambique they charge $740."

How's that for a margin on a life-saving drug that is one of the few that will deal with certain antibiotic resistant bacteria? If infected, those people in Mozambique don't get much choice, they buy or die. Morality?????

Walter
 

shahabshahabian

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All business owners seek for opportunities and make a profit. The fine line for me will be when one attempts to profit off human's worry and panic, to hike up prices, I no longer can agree on that way doing business.

My belief about making money - there are opportunities everywhere. But some opportunities I will give a miss.
That a real life winner's mindset congrats dude
 

shahabshahabian

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Here is the deal. When that transaction is all said and done... The customers liked the masks more than they liked the money they spent on them. They realize there is a shortage so they will HAPPILY pay a premium in order to obtain the item. I am someone like that. Thankful that there are still options on the market.

In Texas, during a hurricane and all the gas stations run out of gas... I am thankful for the one enterprising spirit that still has some even if it is $4 per gallon vs $2.50.

Capitalist transactions are rooted in win-win value exchange. They were free to buy from someone else the entire time. They begged @million$$$smile to provide masks. They wish he had more! That is providing value.

Notice the research he did and his decisiveness to buy these right away. He didn’t sleep at the wheel. He pulled the trigger, made happy customers and made money.

There is zero wrong with this.
Man I'm also agree with this but not in some situations .I live in china now so I'm feeling the fear and shortage so I would do this business here if I can add some value for example by trying to import masks from Vietnam but not by buying a lot and just Not selling them till i can sell them so high I don't like to make this kind of money but if I was in us I would do the same you did
 

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2,966
12,997
2,804
United States
One of my biggest regrets is not buying all of Wal-Mart's Twinkies before that 6-month period a few years back when Hostess went bankrupt.

Would've been easy money, but I didn't pull the trigger!
 

fastlanedoll

Bronze Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Aug 21, 2019
119
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"Fifty-three percent of hospitals mark up medicines by an average of 200 to 400 percent. Seventeen percent of hospitals charged seven times the price of medications, so that a medication costing $150 would have a charge of $1,050; 8 percent had an average markup of more than 1,000 percent."

I apologize for sounding like I was justifying. I was basically just trying to state how often we accept outrageous markups because we want/need the product..
It is sad that the US Government ends up buying a toilet seat for $900, but it happens over and over.

I'm getting off subject of the Thread though. This really was about showing young entrepreneurs how often there are side hustles right under our nose.
Yea, I know. I work in a hospital (currently).
The doctors here get a percentage of the consultation fee as a bonus once we saturate our basic salary.

Every year, there is a adjustment of 'hidden' fees like medications, prcedures, etc. etc., but suprise, suprise, NOT the doctor fee (so the hospital wouldn't have to share more with us).

I will most likely eventually blaze out on my own as well as starting a business.

@million$$$smile - how much profit did you make? ;)
Geez, I with I could get my hands on some masks to resell. Over here, everyone is struggling with stock.
 
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