The popularity of shows like “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters” intrigued us, and we wanted to know if storage unit auctions were as profitable as they appear on these shows, and if we could learn something from the experience to pass along to our Auctiva Blog and Auctiva EDU readers should they decide to try this sourcing avenue.
“We,” in this case, includes me, Product Analyst Rebecca Miller, Director of Communications Robert Green, and our cameraman Sam Johnson.
While each of us has bought and sold our share of items on eBay, this was the first storage unit auction for all of us. However, it was obvious that several of the 25 or so other attendees had been to one or two of these before. They came armed with at least one lock a piece. One man wore two locks on his belt. “Wow, now that’s hardcore,” I thought.
Auctions unveil a mix of gems and duds
The auctioneer explained the terms of the auctions: First, the storage facility would only accept payment in cash; second, vehicles and firearms found in lockers were not part of the sale and would have to be returned—and so would “Grandma’s ashes.”
“Good to know,” I thought.
One of the first lockers auctioned off contained several boxes and bags, a few vinyl records, a pair of baseball cleats, a colorful pile of clothing hangers and a box labeled “free.” We didn’t bid. We were looking for units that contained items we could resell for a profit and nothing in this unit struck us as high value. Others seemed to agree, and the unit sold for just $45.
The third locker was more intriguing. It was filled with big items like a stroller, a baby walker, a wrought iron baker’s rack, a water cooler, several remote control race cars and loads of items we couldn’t see. The goods were in need of a little bit of cleaning, but they were in great condition.
The big items would be hard to ship, but we decided we could unload these on Craigslist or at a yard sale and still come out ahead. We gave ourselves a limit of $250 to bid on this unit. (Before the auction started, we decided to set a cap on what we’d spend on each unit depending on its contents to make sure we wouldn’t get caught up the bidding excitement).
Unfortunately, the auction veterans also saw resale value in this locker. The opening bid for the previous unit had been $10. For this locker it was more than $100. Bidding quickly got up into the $200s, then $300. We lost.
The next unit looked like another dud. It contained several bags of clothing and boxes of worn shoes. Two broken glass vases sat in one corner of the unit and marbles were scattered throughout. A safe was in plain sight, but the look of the unit led us to believe that there wasn’t anything of value there. Items appeared to have been thrown in with little care. We expected this unit to sell for $40, tops. The opening bid was $75.
Bidding was up to $140 before we knew it, and the unit sold for $160. Robert and I were shocked. Rebecca wasn’t.
“There was a safe in there,” she explained, her 11 years of eBay-selling experience showing now. Chances were the safe wouldn’t contain anything valuable, she added, but the possibility was sure to intrigue bidders enough to pay top dollar.
A diamond in the rough
By this time, the auction was nearly over. Only two units remained. We started to think we might leave without buying anything, and we were OK with that.
Though we had come to the auction in hopes of finding a unit full of items to resell, we only wanted to buy if we thought we could make a profit. We had seen some prospects, but the profit potential stopped us from going above the cap we set for each locker. Then we got a look at one very dusty, very full unit that contained mounds of papers, a few metal filing cabinets and a road bike.
When the door opened to reveal this unit, a lot of people quickly looked and walked away. The unit was a mess. It was obvious the contents had sat there for years. Clearing out the unit would require several truckloads to the dumpster—but Rebecca saw dollar signs. She noticed the bike leaning against the wall and quickly had Robert research its value using his cell phone.
The men’s Raleigh road bike turned out to be worth at least a couple hundred. We decided we’d try for this unit. The work it would take to clear out the unit didn’t outweigh the profit we could make. The bike, alone, would make us some money and the filing cabinets also seemed like they would fetch a pretty penny. Rebecca estimated they’d earn us at least $50 a piece. With the three in the unit that was $150.
Robert opened the bidding at $50. “Too much,” I thought. Everyone else seemed to agree. No one else bid, and just like that we had scored a unit.
After the auction, we returned to the locker to look at the bike, which was in great condition. Our cameraman Sam made his way over the piles of paper to get a better view of the unit and Rebecca started digging through items. Soon we uncovered vintage hats with their original tags still on, a collection of Coca-Cola metal trays, several typewriters, a new projector screen still in the box, lots of vintage magazines, a used Casio keyboard in great condition, a vintage personal computer, a vintage alarm radio and much more.
“Thank you dust bunnies for covering all of these,” I thought.
We’d unknowingly hit the jackpot, for a mere $50 investment.
The experience swayed us to try one more auction to see if we could hit the jackpot twice. Want to know if we did? Check back here to find out.
Olga Munoz is assistant editor of The Online Seller, an online publication that covers news and writes feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, eBay policy, online marketing and other topics of interest for online sellers. She also manages The Online Seller’s social media efforts.