You’ve been watching the storage unit auction and antique picker shows and have fallen in love with the idea of discovering and selling treasures from the past. It is a romantic notion. They make buying storage units at auction look easy; but that is just for the cameras.
What is this storage auction craze?
Why do people buy and sell storage units? Storage units or lockers are exactly what they sound like. It’s like an extra warehouse or attic. Businesses and individuals rent them for any number of reasons and the range of items that may be inside is just as wide. The storage units that are sold at the auctions are usually for sale because the renter did not pay their storage rent. Once you fall behind on your rent, the storage facility will lock you out until you pay up. Don’t get your rent caught up in a timely fashion and it’s to the auction with your stuff.
The bidders at a storage auction are there to speculate on what the contents are worth versus what the other bidders are willing to pay for the locker. The bidding is exciting, so we have all seen that part of the operation on TV. So, these guys are buying storage units, sorting through them and reselling the valuable items for quick cash.
The Guys on the Storage Auction Shows are Pros
They have been buying at auctions for years and have learned the ins and outs of reselling their finds. Your success in buying and selling merchandise from storage unit auctions is directly related to your network of buyers.
There is no way that one person can know what everything is worth. Build your own network of experts that can help you figure out what your finds are worth. Be cautious when looking for appraisals on or are selling items that are outside of your area of experience. Bear in mind, most appraisals cost money. They don’t mention that on the reality auction shows. I suspect that most of the appraisers on the shows are doing it in exchange for the publicity that they get from being on TV as an “expert.”
You bought it, it survived the filtering process, and now you have to sell it. I always feel better about buying items when I have a buyer lined up, but that’s not how buying sturage units works. Turn it over quickly. Flip it as soon after you buy it as you can. Get your money back into something else; like paying the bills. Watch your inventory and keep it fresh.
If you are trying to sell it, and aren’t getting any interest, you are either putting it in front of the wrong audience or are asking too much for it. I like to double my money on anything I buy. It doesn’t always work out that way, but if I keep that as my goal, I’ll make enough off of the good items to offset the items I have to dump for less than I wanted.
Regardless of what you find in your storage unit, the best way of maximizing profit is to sell it to a collector or the end user rather than to a dealer that also wants to make a profit on selling it. It can be difficult to get in front of the right buyers, and it often makes sense to sell your finds to a dealer at a lower price with less time and effort invested in to selling it than if you seek out the end user. Some collectors will only deal with experienced knowledgeable dealers who they trust to guide them to the quality pieces rather than taking their chances buying from a seller that dabbles in this and that.
Many of the auction buyers are there looking for inventory for their own stores. Antique shops, thrift stores, Kitschy boutiques with repurposed relics. You can open your own shop, and have the competition and overhead to worry about on top of sourcing your inventory.
- Resale shops can be a great place to unload your auction finds. They are also in the business of making money selling goods. Don’t ask too much for your scores, or you’ll turn off the buyers. Resale shops have overhead to cover and have to see a profit in it, or they aren’t going to want to buy it. It’s more about building relationships than making a sale today. Settle for a little less than you may like to; buyers will come to realize that you respect them, and will be interested to see what you have in the future. You know the old saying about Birds and Bushes. If you can quick flip it the day you bought it, it may be worth it to take a little less today than to have to store it in your warehouse for weeks while you look for the right buyer.
- Yard and Garage Sales – This is about as simple as it gets. Set it out in your yard and wait for someone to come along and buy it. It works much better if you live on a main road or state route where you can get some exposure. I’ve seen plenty of “yard sales” that were open four days a week six months out of the year. Put it in your garage and you don’t have to tear it down and set it back up every day or worry about weather. Be aware of your local ordinances about yard sales. Some require you to purchase a permit, or have limits about how many times a year you can have a sale.
- Flea Markets – I love a good flea market. Dealers come together from all directions to set up their tents and pedal their wares. You can find just about anything at a flea market. Do your homework. Check a few out before you decide where to set up your finds. Take a friend and make a day of it.
- Community Auctions – There are regular weekly auctions every day of the week. For many small towns, the auction house is the community hub. It ranks right up there with the post office and church when it comes to community networking. The same faces come out week after week to visit and shop the eclectic. I might not send my best pieces to a small auction house, but they can be a great means of generating a few dollars from older inventory or assorted box lots. Auctioneers are in the business of selling things, and can be a valuable resource in determining an item’s value. Build working relationships with them, and they will probably be happy to tell you what something is worth from time to time.
A community auction can be a great networking opportunity. As I have mentioned before, auctioneers are in the business of selling things, and they don’t appreciate if you try to cut them out of the loop. Don’t go to an auction hoping to sell your finds to other bidders. Pay attention to who is there and learn who is who. The tall guy with the cane always buys furniture; or the older lady in the front row buys every doll that crosses the block; either they are hardcore collectors, or they are dealers. Find out where there shops are and approach them on their turf with your finds.
- Online Marketplaces – Put the gravy of your storage treasures online to get them in front of the most potential buyers. The internet has changed the game of collecting over the last two decades. Collectors have come to find a greater variety of items available and can afford to hold out for the best condition pieces. This applies to collecting in general. Condition is king. If it’s not pristine, set your expectations much lower.
I like selling on eBay. I have an eBay store. I suggest finding specialty marketplaces to offer your finds to discerning collectors. Whether it’s Vintage Motorcycles, Firearms, or a box of old records, there are specialty marketplaces out there for just about every niche that collectors can fall into.
- Classified Ads – Everyone knows about craigslist. It’s a good choice. Be careful about what personal information you share in the ads (cell phone numbers or email addresses) to reduce the junk mail attacks. Be prepared for an ongoing stream of scammers and spammers that are after your personal info. Be sure to reply from an email address that you don’t mind a high volume of junk emails coming to.
- Many small non-profit groups hold silent auctions or rummage sales to generate capital. Consider them when you are looking for options in your community. Find a cause that is near to your heart and offer to donate. Donate to charity auctions because you want to help, but respect the marketing opportunity and use it to get your name in front of others in your community. If they like what you have sent to the event, they may check you out in the future when they want to buy.
- Friends and Coworkers – Wouldn’t it be great if your friends and coworkers would buy the things you find or at least network you to their friends that would be interested in them? Yes. It would. Don’t count on it. Be casual about it. Let them come to the idea they can help you sell something. They will be much more likely to help. I know a few guys that work factory jobs and supplement their incomes from selling this or that to their coworkers. For some, it works.
Don’t put all your efforts into one approach. Try this and that. See what works for you and stick with it. If you find that going to flea markets isn’t your thing, try another method. There is more than one right way to do it. Find what works for you.