Friday, January 29, 2016

Storage Auction Action: The Glory, The Glamour, and The Groupies

The participants in the “reality” Storage Wars shows are modern-day treasure hunters. As Forrest Gump would say, “When you buy a storage locker, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

I recently went to a few auctions and ran into an old comedy friend who stocks his thrift store with material he gets at the events. I was surprised to learn that there are people who go to auctions who never buy a storage unit or even place a bid on one.

These are the storage auction groupies, people who have gotten caught up in the glitz and the glamour of the lifestyle. People who find it energizing to just be around the auction tycoons. I’m more of a doer. I actually placed the winning bid on a locker. 

It only takes a few moments for the auctioneer to cut through a lock, but the odor from the grinding, which is distinctive, lingers. For people at storage auctions, that’s the aroma of possibility. When the auctioneer opened the door to the locker I bid on, it was just like Storage Wars except that nobody said, “Ooh, aah.”

I spotted something of value that nobody else seemed to notice. There appeared to be some pest control supplies! When you live in Florida, like I do, you’re going to have to deal with pests. This locker looked like a winner to me.

“Can I get twenty-five dollars?” the auctioneer asked. A guy next to me piped up, “How about ten?”

“We have ten. Can I get fifteen?” asked the auctioneer.

I waited a few moments and then said, “Fifteen.”

Silence. There was no competition.

“Fifteen going once, twice, and sold,” the auctioneer said.

I put a lock on the door and went to “pay the lady.” Then I went back to see what treasures were inside. That’s when I experienced the reality of the storage auction business. There was no red carpet. Just a gritty concrete floor. The storage auction business is not all champagne and supermodels partying in the back of a limousine.

Organizing my own junk is hard enough. Sifting through someone else’s abandoned stuff was not fun at all. I wondered what happened to the lady who had rented the unit. Renting the space and storing every item in there must have made perfect sense to her at some point.

However, I saw lots of stuff that didn’t make sense to me at all. There were bags filled with bills and receipts. Bags full of bags. Old newspapers that were not collectible. A little M&M container, empty. A small bag of potting soil, full.

One of the rules at storage auctions is that buyers have to empty their units in a short period of time. Dumping unwanted items in the facility’s dumpsters is not allowed.  When management catches someone doing that, the person is banned from future auctions. I loaded junk on a cart, rolled it down a long hallway, onto an elevator, out to my SUV, and loaded it up – about fifty times.

I began to understand why there had been no competition for the unit I had placed a winning bid on. People who understood the business don’t just look at the potential treasures. They calculate how much work it will take to get to whatever might be in a unit and to get rid of everything else. I took the stuff I didn’t want that was still useful to a nearby Salvation Army. I also hauled many loads of trash to my house. After a while, the possibility of being banned from future auctions didn’t matter to me anymore, and I put trash in the facility dumpster.

Lots of books, including a few on recovering from cancer, were among the items I had purchased. It made me wonder if the renter had gotten really sick and had fallen on hard times. There was also a treasury of books and audiobooks on how to be successful by people like Wayne Dyer, Kenneth Blanchard, Deepak Chopra, and other popular authors.  

The books and the audiobooks at least made my little adventure interesting. I’m going to listen to some of the tapes and read some of the books before I sell them. Maybe I’ll find some of the buried treasure I was hoping to uncover in one of them.
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