As an owner of multiple self-storage facilities, I’ve held numerous live auctions over the past 20-plus years. It’s just part of the job. It allows us to get rid of delinquent tenants and rent the units again.
But I admit I haven’t always had much regard for my bidders. With their trailers crowding my parking lot, I often viewed them as an annoying disruption to my business. However, after getting to know many of them, I’ve changed my perspective. Auction buyers are doing me a huge service by purchasing and cleaning out my space so I can rent it again and, hopefully, recover some of the past-due rent.
There are things we facility operators can do to provide people with a better experience at our live auctions and keep them coming back to our stores. If you get a following of loyal bidders who consistently come to your events, your auction performance will be better overall. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
More Units Is Better
Bidders are more likely to come to your auction when you have four or more units to sell. They don’t want to drive all the way to your facility if they think they’ll walk away empty-handed. Remember, many of them are reselling items from storage as a source of income. For some, it’s their only source. We need to draw them to our sites with multiple units; their chances of finding one with good resale objects are higher that way.
Many auctioneers like caravan auctions, but over the years, I’ve discovered that most bidders don’t. Sometimes, if the sites are very close, they’ll be OK with it; but generally, bidders don’t want to buy a unit at location one and then drive on to several others. They also don’t want to go back to multiple locations to load their trailers.
Ten to 12 units is a great number for a live auction, but if yours is a smaller facility, three or four may be the best you can do. You just don’t want to have more than 20. It would be better to have smaller auctions more regularly than wait until you have that many at once. An auctioneer or storage facility may have a devout following of bidders, but even the loyal ones can only buy so much in a day.
Consider how much stuff could fill a 10-by-20 unit. It’ll take quite a long time for a buyer to unload the space, bring it back to his place, sort it out and start selling. When I think about all the work bidders do to make a few bucks, I’m even more grateful they show up to our sales. It makes me appreciate all they do for our facilities.
Once you have enough units for a live auction, it’s time to prepare. If you’re not
“calling” it yourself, you’ll want to hire an auctioneer. The best way to find a reputable, local professional is to ask associates for a referral. Who do other local owners use, and do they have a good relationship with this person? Before you hire him, see this auctioneer call an auction to make sure he’ll be a good fit for your facility.
Next, establish policies around your auctions. Print them and make reading and signing them part of the bidder sign-in process. Decide how you’ll assign bidder numbers. I also recommend charging a cleaning deposit, typically $100 in cash. This ensures the winner will completely clean out the space, which saves you from headaches later.
When bidders sign in, collect their e-mails and phone numbers so you can market your future auctions to them. Send an e-mail or call loyal bidders individually to let them know when your next sale is scheduled. Posting signs to announce your next auction and announcing it in the newspaper will draw some people, but having loyal bidders you can contact is a great way to get the word out about upcoming events.
Once auction day has arrived, there may be last-minute details to address. For example, you may want to arrange for alternate parking. Bidders will come with trailers to haul away all their winnings, and you don’t want these vehicles blocking in regular customers or facility staff. If you don’t have extra parking available, you’ll need an assistant to help park cars and trailers while you’re checking in bidders.
Here’s another quick tip: If it’s a hot day, have cold water available for bidders. If it’s cold, offer coffee or hot chocolate.
During the auction, someone from your team should follow the auctioneer and make note of each winning bidder’s number and amount of sale. At the end of the auction, collect payment from each winner. (By the way, a good way to ensure bidders stay until the end is to save the best unit for last.) I recommend taking cash payments, but of course, it’s up to you to determine the terms that work best for you. Finally, keep an eye on the clean-out process and help direct traffic out of your parking lot.
Managed well, live auctions can be an entertaining part of a self-storage operator’s job. They can also be a lot of work and hassle. However, putting in the effort to make the auction a good experience for bidders will help ensure successful events. Auctions can be our industry’s unsung revenue stream if we create a positive environment for buyers.
Lonnie Bickford has developed and owned five Appletree Storage facilities in Greater Baton Rouge, La., and is a board member of the Louisiana Self Storage Association, where he’s worked closely with the national Self Storage Association to make changes to the state’s lien law. He’s also the founder of StorageAuctions.com, a provider of online self-storage auction services. For more information, phone 866.944.8530; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.storageauctions.com.