Florida - It's been over seven years now since the reality show Storage Wars($) first appeared on television to huge fanfare - quickly becoming a giant network ratings bonanza for the A&E network. Since then, the cast of wacky "everyday" characters from buyers to auctioneers have become ingrained in the North American psyche, as they battle each other for the valuables contained in unpaid storage units. Over time, A&E's production team has managed to effectively showcase the highs and lows of buying site-unseen goods and chattels - giving viewers a real-time glimpse into the reality of trying to make money off of other people's discarded possessions.
However, after seven years, the question for most regular buyers in the decorative arts business has become, "Can anyone hope to really profit from this type of buying anymore?" Sure, we've all seen or heard about the golden finds, like the three lads from England who pitched in $300.00 together on a last ditch storage unit, and ended up with seventeenth-century books, Georgian silver, and sixty year old French wine, but how common is this really?
According to Colorado storage auctioneer Rich Schur, "The chances of finding a treasure are remote. "It's hard work," says Schur. "This is not a get-rich-quick scheme." In addition to this, a number of other auctioneer's in the business also noted the price being paid for storage units and the number of people attending storage auctions has dramatically increased over the years. Said, one buyer, "Before I could grab a unit for about three-hundred bucks, now I'm paying almost twelve-hundred." And, while a scenario like that may be good for the auctioneer's purse, it's not such good news for dealers looking for a way to stock up on their antiques and collectibles inventory.
Even small storage unit sites in rural areas have become inundated with people hoping to make a fast buck with a quick turn-around on Craigslist or e-Bay, but the reality is quite different says
Cleveland auctioneer Neal Grossman. "Buyers have 24 hours to dispose of their items - and failure to move them quickly means some buyers are forced to rent the lockers that they purchased." Grossman also indicated that many buyers often have more trouble than they expect when it comes time to unloading their merchandise on various online sites. "You have to be realistic," Grossman says, adding that many lockers contain household stuff "that no one wants."
For many dealers in the antiques industry, storage units can seem like a tempting way to fill some gaps in inventory, and while that may remain true to some degree, it's still going to be a far less risky proposition to buy at a regular auction sale where the items can be "seen" first, rather than plunking down your inventory budget based on a hope and a prayer. As one buyer noted, "Even if I win the auction, and find some decent stuff, it's now costing me three-times what I used to pay just a couple years ago - but I can't charge three times the price!"
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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