PI GEAR:  To Buy or Not to Buy,
That Is The Question


By Cody Woods -
Email: cwnaisbiz@aol.com

Buying equipment is part of the job of private investigators.  Knowing when and what to buy is one of the secrets of successful investigators. 

How many times have you had to turn down a case because you didn’t have the right equipment to do the job? 

How many times have you messed up a case because your equipment failed, or user error (I know you do not want to admit it, but it happens).

I bet most of you have come across one of these problems.  Even the most successful investigators have these problems, but they have them a lot less frequently than most.  And the reason for this is that they are prepared. 

Let’s start with knowing when to buy equipment.  Some of you will say “I only buy something if a case comes up that I need it”.  Others buy when there is a sale, or when they have extra money.  And still others just buy whatever is the latest and greatest. 

The way I look at it is that anything you buy is an investment in your business. Anything you buy to work your cases, you can pass the cost onto your clients.  A lot of times, the first case you use the equipment will pay for it, and after that, you still charge the clients for the equipment, and that part is all profit.  Pretty much anything you buy can help you make more money in the long run.  I know some of you will say that the 29.95 bug detector you bought to do a $3000.00 countermeasures sweep didn’t help me make any money when it didn’t work correctly and you lost the case.  But I beg to differ.  I say it probably helped you to make money in the future.  You probably learned a lesson that will help you not to make the same mistake in the future, thereby making you money in the long run if you learned the lesson and where more prepared and informed in the future.

Every day, I talk to someone who needs a piece of equipment yesterday.  If you know sometime in the future, you will work a case where you will need a video camera, or a digital camera, why not buy in advance.  Doing so can save you a lot of time and aggravation. 

A lot of the equipment that you might need in the future takes some time to learn.  I talk to investigators everyday that get some new piece of equipment the day before they need to use it, and when they go out on a case, they do not know how to use it, and end up loosing the case.  If they had bought the equipment ahead of time, and taken the time to learn how to use it, they probably wouldn’t have lost the case.

Another good reason to buy equipment ahead of time is to save money.  Whether you are buying something on sale, or buying things for your company for tax purposes.  A friend of mine from Alabama, who runs a successful investigative agency, has a room full of equipment that he has bought when his accountant told him he needed to spend some money on his business. Some of the equipment might sit around for a year before he uses it, but the key is he has it, and has had time to learn it when he needs it.  Every few years, he comes to visit me and restocks with new and updated equipment. 

Now a lot of you will say I do not want to have a lot of inventory sitting around wasting space.  Well, there are a couple of solutions for you. 

  1. Sell your old equipment to your clients.  You can make money above what you paid for the items.  You can also charge a fee to train them in the use of the equipment.  I know a lot of investigators who make a lot of extra income selling equipment on the side. 
  2. Sell your unused equipment to another investigator.  With all the investigative e-groups on Yahoo, there are plenty of forums to hawk some of your old or unwanted equipment. 
  3. Rent out equipment to your clients, or to other investigators. 

Now to move on to my second part of this article:   Knowing what to buy.  Countless times I have had investigators tell me that they bought a piece of equipment to do a job and it didn’t work.  After talking with them a bit, I figured out that it wasn’t that the equipment didn’t work, but that it was the wrong piece of equipment for the job.  There are many ways to find out what is the right piece of equipment for the job.

  1. Talking to other investigators.  Find out what they use.  E-groups are a great place to post a question about equipment.  Take advantage of the free resources out there.
  2. Going to Investigative seminars and conventions.  A lot of the time, they will have people speaking on equipment.  Also, you can talk to a lot of vendors, and manufacturers there. 
  3. Find a knowledgeable and honest sales person.  (I know many of you think we do not exist, but there are some of us.)


In every profession, generally the most successful are also the ones who are prepared.  If you have the equipment, and know how to use it, you can honestly tell the client whether you are capable and equipped to handle the job.  If you get the case and you keep the case and get referrals from the client you will make more money.  That is why most are in the business, to make a living.  If you are not prepared, and do not have the equipment you most likely will not get the job, or if you take a case and mess up because you do not have the equipment or the knowledge to use it correctly, you will not keep the client or get any positive referrals from them.  So doesn’t it make sense to be prepared?

Cody Woods is a licensed private investigator in the state of Texas. He's general manager of Thomas Investigative Publications, Inc. and The Spy Exchange And Security Center. He has been around and used investigative equipment since a teenager and is one of the nation's leading authorities on investigative and security equipment. Mr. Woods is now one of the nation's leading developers and importers of investigative and security gear. Many leading professional security and investigative equipment shops use his wholesale service which is called SpyTek Wholesale. You can email him at: cwnaisbiz@aol.com