Why I Do This
It never fails. Multiple times during the preparation phase and actual estate sale, the client, customers, or both, will say, “I don’t know how/why you do this.” The comment is usually in response to seeing the amount of physical labor involved and the sheer volume of “stuff” that we usually end up uncovering as we stage the sale. Or, maybe it is in response to how chaotic the sales can be during busy times. I don’t know what prompts them to say it, but the comment is usually accompanied by a facial expression that lies somewhere between pity and concern for my sanity. My response? “I love it!” And, I really do. Granted, I do get physically and mentally exhausted during a sale, but I have so much fun most of the time it is well worth it.
So, why is something that seems like punishment to some people a passion to me? I will try my best to articulate it. For starters, taking an overwhelming situation from a family and giving them peace of mind while we handle what they can’t handle or don’t know how to do is a great feeling. I have worked for 27 years in sales and felt so many times that I was making no real difference to anyone with the work I do. When an estate sale client looks at me after a sale and is truly grateful for the service we have provided them, that is one of those gratifying and motivational moments that makes the hard work worth it. I do what I do to make clients so happy they tell us and others about it.
Now that we have been in business about a year and have ten sales completed and six pending, we are starting to develop a customer base. I know we have disappointed a few people along the way for one reason or the other, but as far as I know it has been rare. I promise it will never be on purpose and we don’t take it lightly when it does happen. It is just next to impossible to please everyone in any business; especially one where we are the agent and obligated to balance the needs of the client and the needs of the customer to achieve a favorable outcome for both. We will fall short when it comes to pleasing 100% of the people 100% of the time, but we give it our best shot.
Back to that customer base I mentioned. We now have what I would like to think are going to be our “regulars”. Those familiar faces and new friends that we now call by name. Recently, a fun couple that comes to our sales and two ladies from Trussville that have a vintage booth were shopping our sale at the same time. They met and started talking and when they all left they traded cards so they could follow each other on social media. One of the ladies from Trussville said she had more fun that day than she could remember having in a long time. Mission accomplished. Another lady recently commented on one of our Facebook listings, “I love your sales!”. Such a simple statement and gesture, but she made my day….maybe even my 2021! Those are two examples of moments that just make my heart full. I do what I do to earn customers, make them so happy they tell us and others about it, and come back again.
As far back as I can remember, I have loved vintage and antique items. It doesn’t matter how simple the item may be. Whether tiny bits of cheap ephemera (which I still mispronounce) or a gorgeous antique piece of furniture or china; I find value in almost any old item. When I was a kid, my Nana let me “plunder” in her house because she knew I loved going through her jewelry, photographs, magazines, clothes, anything really. Nothing has changed. When she passed away, my family made fun of me for taking pretty much anything in her home that was to be thrown away other than perishable food. In fact, I am looking at my Nana’s Piggly Wiggly Jackpot Day Card from the 1970’s now hanging on my bulletin board. I dug it out of an old purse when we cleaned out her house.
You may ask yourself why I would keep something virtually worthless? I do have a quirky imagination for sure. Sometimes I envision items repurposed or upcycled Pinterest-style into a cute item: like button flowers or dress patterns framed in a shadow box. I am not suggesting everyone needs to keep grandma’s Wrigley’s gum wrappers. You do you. What I do suggest is to imagine the person that owned the item using it or making it….the story it tells and the effort it represents. Because when you look at something this way, it becomes instantly more valuable. If you love estate sales, you likely know what I mean. For example, with vintage linens featuring handiwork like quilting, crochet, embroidery, needlepoint, tatting, etc., you can’t help but imagine someone working for hours on end creating the item. It harkens back to a simpler era when people took so much pride in hard work and valued making a nice home.
To me, finding the right home for these belongings is a gesture of respect toward that person. It is a matter of preserving a little piece of history; saving something that may now be a lost art. The owner and perhaps that person’s parents or grandparents worked hard to have these things and valued them enough to hold on to them and pass them down over the years. An effort should be made to find the right person to keep loving those items.
To the family, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not keeping everything belonging to mom and dad. It isn’t feasible or logical. That’s one reason liquidating an estate is so difficult. Guilt. Undeserved guilt over what to do with “all of that stuff” that relatives lovingly accumulated. The good news is there is immense peace when you know someone has that quilt, china, or crystal and will use and love it. I do what I do out of respect for the family and the story behind the items we sell.
Maybe you notice a painting, piece of pottery, or other evidence that the owner enjoyed the arts or travel and bought beautiful items along the way. Or, you peruse a sale listing and see that the owner obviously had exquisite taste and was blessed enough financially to afford fine home furnishings. Now, you are shopping in that home as the beneficiary of that person’s investment. When we prepare a sale, research and pricing of unique items is the part of the process that takes the most time. One reason is because we strive to accurately price all items. If you look at an item and wonder how we arrived at the price, I can assure you it was done with painstaking effort.
Most, if not all, estate sale companies work on straight commission. Meaning, we don’t get paid until the end of the sale and get paid upon results. The seller (client) and agent (us), want to make as much as possible while also accomplishing the end goal of clearing the estate contents. It is a tough balancing act. Price too high and you don’t sell enough; making both the client and the customers unhappy. Not exactly a formula for success. Price too low and you will definitely clear the estate and make customers extremely happy. However, the client would be very disappointed and not very likely to refer us to anyone else…and we will have worked really hard for a percentage of proceeds that amounts to nothing more than a glorified yard sale. Also not a formula for success and one that makes me a little nauseated to consider.
Sure, customers expect nice things and a great deal. Absolutely! In many cases, resellers attend and need to be able to make a profit on what they buy. I also have an Etsy store. I get it. For that reason, we make every effort to set the first day price at fair market value PLUS an additional discount to set a profit margin, then discount more the second and third days. Will we always get it right? No. Do we occasionally goof up pricing an item and learn from mistakes? Yup. We have learned a lot from knowledgeable customers and have some that we consult with on certain items. I covet feedback when it is constructive.
My point here is that the work behind the scenes at an estate sale is both a science and an art. It is a virtual juggling act to make hundreds of people happy while trying to clear out what took a lifetime to amass in a 2-3 day timeframe. It is why the first day of an estate sale gives me what I would imagine “opening night jitters” would feel like if I were an actor. I want desperately to please everyone involved. That is my nature as a people pleaser. I want the client to be ecstatic and the customers to leave smiling and return for more. I will accept nothing less if I can help it. That is the goal. Period. That is my control freak nature developed over a rough and tumble sales career. Pair my God-given nature and my AT&T-given nature and I will succeed or die trying! I do what I do because I love the challenge of taking what others look at as a hot mess and turning it into a success with a big red bow on it. That’s what makes my heart beat faster. That’s why I do what I do!