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How the Revelation of Online Self-Storage Auctions Impacted a One-Time Skeptic

By Lonnie Bickford Comments
Posted in Blogs
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As a self-storage owner with multiple facilities from South Louisiana to Texas, I strive to implement best practices and processes to streamline daily operations and maximize revenue. As a board member for the Louisiana Self Storage Association (LASSA), I’ve lobbied for changes to our state’s lien laws. As a result of my experiences, I founded StorageAuctions.com to provide a solution to the hassle and disruption of live auctions.

For me, hosting live auctions was always the biggest pain of self-storage ownership, but lien sales are how the government allows us to cure past-due rents and abandoned units. I hated waiting until enough units were abandoned or in default to attract a good size crowd. On auction days, there are often issues with chaotic crowds and a lack of parking for tenants. In Louisiana, one of the biggest issues is contending with the weather. You may think you’re having an outdoor auction in a week, but when a rain storm comes with a name like Katrina, she’ll change your mind.

To cut some of the costs associated with auctions and in an effort to maximize my bids, I even went to auctioneer school in Iowa to get certified. I was hopeful that talking fast would get me higher bids, but trust me, trying to get an old Southern boy to talk fast isn’t an easy process.

Becoming personally involved in all aspects of our live auctions—from marketing to bid calling—still didn’t erase all the problems with hosting these events. Eventually, I realized that if I scheduled auctions more frequently, my delinquencies went down and collections went up. Increasing auction frequency meant we had only one or two units up for bid at a time. With just a few units to bid on, it was difficult to draw a sizable crowd and left less revenue to recover abandoned units.

I first learned about online auctions when attending the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Las Vegas, but I didn’t really believe they’d work well. Then, LASSA approached me to join its board and asked if I’d help pursue state lien-law changes. Part of the proposed changes included language permitting online auctions. I was chosen to be the guinea pig to try auctioning my abandoned units online. For my first auction, the unit sold for $830 to a person who lived three hours away. Safe to say, I was no longer a skeptic.

The more I got into online auctions, the more I liked them. I could post an auction whenever a unit was abandoned and expose the sale to more people than I could reach through the local classifieds. Bidders were only limited to the distance they were willing to drive to pick up their winnings. This new process helped me get rid of abandoned units and their debt more quickly and with better monetary results.

Around this time, LASSA increased its efforts to change the state lien law. Since online auctions were still fairly new, many members of the general public were afraid to try them without clear legal language. As a LASSA board member, I was in charge of hiring a team of lobbyists and worked with the association president, industry leaders and attorneys to draft the lien-law updates. In August 2016, the updates were signed into law and have since helped people become more comfortable using the technology for online auctions. More than 30 other states have also included specifics about online storage auctions, and many facilities are beginning to adapt to the new technology now that it’s a proven best practice.

After testing the validity of online auctions and meeting with several owners, I decided to develop a website that would specifically help owners. I knew I needed reports and summaries of event data to help me understand what was going on with each of my auction events, and today I’m proud to say StorageAuctions.com provides that reporting along with other helpful services.

I’ve learned that some storage owners are hesitant to switch to online auctions because they don’t think there have been any events in their immediate area. But as I like to say, “If there’s Facebook and Internet in your area, we have something for you.” I encourage other self-storage owners to give online storage auctions a try to see how they can benefit your business.

Lonnie Bickford has developed and owned five Appletree Storage facilities in Greater Baton Rouge, La., and is the founder of StorageAuctions.com. As a board member of the Louisiana Self Storage Association, Lonnie has worked closely with the national Self Storage Association to usher multiple changes to Louisiana’s lien law. Launched in 2016, StorageAuctions.com assists storage owners and management teams maximize revenue by leveraging online auctions to drive collections.

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