As all “non-essential” businesses closed around the country mid-March 2020, there were many unanticipated knock-on effects. The effects that hit most close to home was: 1. the jiu-jitsu gyms I train at closing, and one closing a location permanently, and 2. the mainstream weight lifting gyms closed as well. This left many out in the cold without a place to exercise or equipment to train with. I was fortunate enough to already have a small home gym already started with dumbbells, kettlebells, and a pull up bar. As I started having to rely on my home gym as my sole source of exercise, I looked into purchasing more equipment for it. I was looking for some mid-weight dumbbells, 55 - 70 lbs. What I found was a volatile retail marketplace and secondary market not unlike the stock market at the time.

All of the major retailers were sold out of weights of all varieties: dumbbells, kettlebells, barbell plates, etc. Then, something interesting happened. On various secondary market sites like Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp, the prices of weights went through the roof. Generally with selling used consumer-grade weights, they tend to hold their value anywhere from $0.50 per pound of weight on the very low end for some rusty-ass weights to $2 per pound of weight for nice rubberized weights, with $1 per pound being a very fair price.

What I saw befuddled me, but made sense the more I thought about it. Rusty-ass weights were now being listed for $2 per pound, and newer, nicer rubberized weights were listed up to $3 per pound. This shows markets in action. With demand very suddenly outstripping supply, sellers were able to ask for higher-than-retail prices since retail was suddenly a non-factor. From this starting point, there are a couple of lines of reasoning that flow from it for why the price of weights went up so dramatically right around end of March, beginning of April.

Rent due on April 1st.

Unfortunately, with the shutdown of “non-essential” businesses mid-March, those shutdown businesses couldn’t pay their employees, so those people who suddenly didn’t have a job still had to make rent. Weights aren’t necessary for survival, and normally have a very active secondary market, so they are naturally a good candidate for selling to make ends meet. What I think drove prices higher in this instance is that the people who were selling weights were looking to meet an elevated total sales target to match or at least put a sizable dent in their total expenses that their job would normally cover. That high of a sales target is something generally individuals wouldn’t be able to do unless they’re buying and selling a large volume of weights as a part-time to full-time business. So in order to try to hit that fairly lofty sales target for the limited inventory that they have, they had to price their weights accordingly.

Sellers marking items as “sold”, and then re-listing them.

Another phenomenon I noticed when following the weight market was that sellers, after posting an entirely too high of a price their weights and they don’t sell after a few days, mark their listing as “SOLD”, and then repost those same weights with either the same or different picture for a little bit lower price. This definitely had an influence on other sellers when determining the market value of weights that they themselves would want to sell. Other sellers would see some rusty-ass weights being marked as “SOLD” for $2 per pound, then they feel like they could get the same or even more for what they wanted to sell. This also contributed to the confidence in sellers holding their prices firmly higher than retail value.

Price tolerant buyers.

Everyone who wished to continue to train with significant weight while gyms were shut down were suddenly in the market for weights that they can lift at home. This sudden uptick in the demand for weights drove buyers first to retail sites, which were quickly sold out, and then to secondary markets. The type of people who were health-conscious and dedicated to consistently training at a gym were willing to pay more than retail price for a home weight set to continue to at least maintain their hard-earned gains that they made pre-quarantine. The health-conscious type of person who was willing to pay above retail price for a home set of weights probably also had more disposable income to spare and were probably relatively unaffected by the sudden shutdown of “non-essential” businesses.

Any other interesting effects?

Overall, I just thought this was an interesting example of ECON101 at play in a space that I cared about, since I was in the market for weights at the time. Let me know of any other interesting examples (besides toilet-paper-as-currency memes) where the quarantine made something interesting happen in a space that you care about.