OUTLOOK Doug Barnes kept walking into the same problem over and over, and he decided it was up to him to invent a solution.
It is a high tech solution that solves an old problem at a traditional activity: Shopping the Swap Meet.
“An old friend and I went to a swap meet last April. We each had a list of obsolete car parts that we hoped to find at the swap meet” Barnes said. “We walked all day, looking at each vendor booth, hoping to spot something on our lists. We did pretty well, but he has a bad back, and we were both pretty beat up by the end of the day.”
Barnes has invented the concept of a swap meet search engine he hopes will solve the same problem for other swap meet fans. He calls it JowDow and it can be found at jowdow.com.
In essence, you surf the swap meet using your smartphone and type keywords into the search engine to see where your treasures are hiding. The answers come to your phone with a description, price, condition and even a photograph.
Most important, it tells you what booth number has it, and you walk directly to it and wrangle your deal, just as before.
Barnes, 64, who lives in a rural pocket north of Outlook, is a classic car retrofitter. He removes the engines and transmissions that made the old cars go and replaces them with modern, more efficient and powerful versions.
“Most restorations are for show,” he said. “Most of the updated retrofitted cars are for driving. I help bring them up to speed.”
To make the cars interesting and functional, Barnes often needs to find suitable used parts, and that’s not always easy. When he does a retrofit, he ends up with parts someone else might need, so he doesn’t dare throw them away.
“I’m retrofitting a ‘50s Chevy coupe right now,” Barnes said. “I’ve taken out a lot of parts that the owner doesn’t want put back in. Someone else who is restoring an old Chevy coupe may need those authentic parts.”
There are millions of people in this country, and around the world, who do restorations and retrofits. They make up a large part of the crowds that attend automotive swap meets, all looking for interesting or authentic parts that are no longer manufactured.
“But the search can be exhausting. For example, the Portland swap meet at the convention center in April is huge,” Barnes said.
The 53-acre campus boasts five spacious exhibit halls totaling more than 333,000 square feet with 3,500 vendor stalls. The meet gets around 50,000 walk-ins during the three day weekend.
Somewhere in the U.S. there is a swap meet taking place almost every weekend from February through November.
It took a large sum of money, which Barnes won’ disclose, to build the website. It will cost even more to develop the mobile app. It took an additional investment to complete the patent, which is now pending.
The software also works at Craft Fairs, Gun Shows and any venue where the inventory is unpredictable.
The question now is whether JowDow.com will pay back Barnes’ investment of time and money. He said it would be nice if it returned a little profit as he nears his golden years.
The work is not yet done. Barnes’s task now is to promote JowDow.com.
The Portland International Raceway, which holds two swap meets a year, has signed on, so has the Seattle swap meet, held in Monroe. Others are in the works.
Vendors that plan to attend the swap meets can upload their inventory to the JowDow database in the weeks and months prior to the event, even if it’s just the junk from their garage.
As Attendees arrive at the event, they’ll see Barnes there. He’ll have signs inviting them to logon to JowDow.com with their smartphones to locate the hard-to-find items on their lists.
Barnes sees himself traveling the countryside all summer for the next few years as, hopefully, JowDow slowly becomes a commonly used word.
Barnes realizes there will be changes to make it smooth and more efficient, and he’s got the help of a professional web developer to do that. In addition, his son in law, Michael Ferdinand, who is also a software professional, lives close by and has been a valuable consultant.
Undoubtedly, there will always be a number of crusty swap meet hold-outs who don’t trust computers. It’s change.
But for those who do, this change is for the better. It’s like Barnes’ logo says:
“Why walk, when you can surf?”