Storage Wars is the most watched non-fiction series A&E has ever created, and a couple of local companies in Kamloops have been paying attention and taking notes.
The televised version of Storage Wars follows a team of bidders as they look to “score it big in the high-stakes world of storage auctions.” The local versions have much the same premise, but a little less behind-the-scenes drama.
SelfStorAll Kamloops was the first company to notice the interest in storage auctions and host a version of its own. The first such auction was held in February, and despite freezing temperatures and snow, 25 bidders showed up and brought friends.
“We had three storage units up for sale,” says SelfStorAll manager Christie Nicolas, who has been with the company for six years and led the way through the auction process.
It was new for the business, but so popular that the auction was repeated, this time in April, where there were 60 bidders and their friends.
Jamie Rose of 4 Corners Storage caught onto the Storage Wars buzz, and hosted a storage auction in July, complete with signage that looked similar to that found on movie sets.
Thanks to the signage, word of mouth and plenty of marketing via Facebook and Twitter, there was a huge turnout, with more than 200 people filing through the storage compound on the day of the event, and of those, 100 people registering to bid on five units up for grabs, as well as a vehicle and a utility trailer.
“Some of the local second-hand stores were there, but there were also just people who wanted to see what was in the units. They didn’t even want to bid, they just wanted to check it out.”
The locks were cut off the units the morning of the auction, allowing bidders to peek inside from the doorway to see if they could scope out any valuables, says Rose. Until then, nobody — save the defaulted owners — knew what was in the lockers.
“Some were filled with boxes and mattresses jammed right to the front, and other units were only half-full so you could see everything that was in there.”
At first glance, one unit looked promising with a nearly new barbecue sitting right up front.
The biggest prize of the day, however, came to the person who bid on a locker that looked like it was full of mattresses. When the mattresses came out, they found a new leather living room suite, complete with tables and a stereo system.
“He got that for pretty cheap,” recalls Rose, laughing. He adds that there were some duds, “but that’s the chance you take.”
Locks were cut off at SelfStorAll five minutes before the auction began, says Nicolas. The professional auctioneer hired for the event helped out by pointing out key items up for grabs, but even he couldn’t see all the treasures the lockers held.
The biggest find so far, says Nicolas, was a cache of antique war medals and uniforms, as well as RCMP memorabilia. Someone took home a washer and drier, while another bidder picked up a mountain bike and some furniture. One lucky bidder even found an artificial leg among the items.
“I haven’t had anyone come back and tell me they were unhappy with what they got,” says Nicolas, who expects there will be more Storage Wars in SelfStorAll’s future.
While hosting storage auctions is new to Kamloops, dealing with items left in storage by owners who have defaulted on payments is not. While it doesn’t happen often, Nicolas says it’s always a lose-lose situation.
Thankfully, Canadians have a pretty good track record for keeping up their payments on self-storage units, with Nicolas estimating that less than two per cent of people default.
When someone defaults on a storage container, “we go through a whole process,” says Nicolas. “Once you’ve exhausted all possible avenues of collecting the debt you sell the locker to a buyer.”
While Rose says they’ll often have clients get behind on their rent, in most cases, an agreement can be reached well before items are sold off. It’s the clients who move, who Rose can no longer make contact with, whose items end up on the auction floor.
Before hosting Storage Wars, when Rose was left with a locker full of items and no owner, he’d call up various second hand stores and offer the contents to them.
Selling the contents of a locker is always a last resort. The owners lose — all their belongings get packed up and taken away by a stranger — and the storage company loses, in that they never recoup the money lost.
“We usually collect maybe a quarter to half of what we’re owed,” says Nicolas.
Rose agrees, but says the benefit of hosting a storage auction is in the exposure more than any immediate financial boost.
“We didn’t break even when you factor in the auctioneer and the legal costs, but we had 200 people walking through the front gate,” he says, and that publicity is worth plenty.