Imagine if you could invest $1 and make $62,000.
Welcome to Glendon Cameron’s world. Cameron is a self-proclaimed self storage auction addict who turned his addiction into an extremely profitable business.
Cameron, who lives in Atlanta, started attending storage auctions in 2002, and as he puts it, he “got the bug” right away. He started part-time and then made buying abandoned storage units his full-time job, buying as many as 50 units a week.
Cameron quit the auction game last year and turned his attention to educating others on what it takes to make money buying and selling other people’s stuff. He blogs and has YouTube videos about his odd (and often ridiculously funny) experiences. He also teaches webinars, and wrote a book, Making Money A-Z With Self Storage Auctions.
In our Q&A with Cameron, he shares some of his more interesting experiences (that could be the premise of a good sitcom) and what it takes to make it in the storage auction biz.
Q: What made you start going to self storage auctions?A: It’s kind of funny. I used to own a contract furniture business, and I had a lot of customers who wanted residential furniture. So I went out to a few estate sales for one of my customers to really round out her reception area the way she wanted it. At the end of the project, I had a lot of stuff left over.
So I had this huge garage sale and it was amazing, we made $1,300 in like four hours. So I kind of got hooked and started looking for a way to buy used merchandise because people were crazy about it, and I started going to storage auctions.
Q: What made you decide that you could turn storage auctions into your own business?A: Initially, it was really part time. It was fun, and it was more about treasure hunting than actually the profit margin. The money was nice. The money was great. It’s the best part-time job I’ve ever had in my life, but you never know what you’re going to find. You open up a box, and there’s a pocket watch. You open up a box, and there’s a diamond ring. You open up a box, and there’s a bag of broken gold. It was always something pretty much every unit, unless the unit was total garbage.
Q: How many auctions a year would you go to?A: I’m a nerd, so I sat down from the beginning and mapped out where all the auctions were. I probably went to anywhere from nine to 15 auctions a week, probably 300 to 400 auctions a year.
Q: How many did you actually purchase?A: In the beginning, probably buying anywhere from three to five per week, and when we had the merger operation, 25 to 50 a month, depending on what our needs were and what we had or didn’t need. I know one month, it was crazy, I bought 63. That’s the most I’ve ever bought in one month.
Q: How many people did you have working for you?A: Initially, the first year I had a partner and we did everything together the first year. After that, it just became really overwhelming and I had to hire people. I pretty much outsourced loading and outsourced a lot of stuff, but actual on the payroll employees, two, and everything else was outsourced.
Q: How do you know when you want to win a unit?A: We have an operation and we have a lot of different clients, so there are certain things we are looking for. It just depends on what you see when the door goes up. I’ll give you an example: let’s say it’s a tool unit. We didn’t have a lot of people in the beginning that were really crazy about tools. So even though it was a really good unit, I wouldn’t buy it, because that wasn’t my customer base.
It just depends what was in there, and you can see the clues, but until you get in there and you start pulling it out, you really don’t know if you have a great unit or not.
Q: What are the keys to winning a storage auction?A: Oh man. There’s several. Be there. It depends on how much money you have. There’s not one key. The best unit I ever got cost me $1, and I made $62,000, and there was a crowd there. It’s wild.
I have people who come to my webinar, and they’re like, ‘Well, I need a lot of money.’ I say at some point, you will, but if you’re willing to do the groundwork, you can make decent money until you get your operating capital to a certain level. Because I’ve bought units ridiculously cheap – $10 or $20 – and I’ve made anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000. I think one of the reasons I was so successful with it was I bought a lot of rooms. A lot every month. The numbers were in my favor.
Q: What was in that $1 unit?A: He was a developer, an old-time Atlanta developer. And I don’t think he put the stuff in there, I think his kids put it in there, because it was from his estate. And it was a safe, an old safe, and the safe you could tell was probably 1940s or 1950, and there was a brass bed, a roll-top desk and a few boxes with papers and stuff. The safe had a proof Krugerrand, a diamond necklace, several really distinct type pieces of jewelry, three guns (a Beretta, Colt 45 and a Dillinger), some old coins, Morgan silver dollars, a bunch of Kennedy silver dollars, a Walking Liberty.
I mean the coins got 10 grand – not counting the Krugerrand – the coins got 10 grand by themselves. And I could have made more if I was wiser, because I sold them at a coin store. Three years later, I looked up some of that stuff, and if I knew what I was doing, I probably could have made $20,000 off those coins.
But the thing is, I rationale that it cost me $1. So it’s not like I lost. That’s one of the things that I speak about, because a lot of people have what I call holditis. They’ll wait to get that right price, but sometimes that can be kind of short-sighted, because if you paid only $300, and you can make a $1,000 on a unit in a week, why not? Each day that you hold onto it, you’re losing money, because you have to store it, you’ve got to move it – depending on what your operation is.
Q: What’s the most you’ve ever spent to win an auction?A: I bought two units from a nice estate for $6,200 for the both of them. Now I wasn’t at this auction, but I know a guy – we used to be friends – he paid $13,000.
Q: How much of a profit would you make per year?A: My profit margin was 72 to 78 percent. The expenses were running 20 to 25 percent. It was huge compared to traditional businesses; most traditional businesses, they’ll do single-digit profit margin – maybe 12 percent. Thirty percent is considered outrageous – say a Fortune 500 company – so the market was pretty good. It was great. It allowed me to not have to work for a year when I got the book written. I was just living on savings, and I don’t know too many jobs where I could save that type of money.
Q: What’s the most expensive item you’ve ever come across in a unit?A: The unit with Herman Miller chairs. They’re 800 bucks. Back then they were going for $1,200, and I bought a unit that had 50 of them in there.
Q: Most interesting unit you ever purchased?A: I’d say that was probably the Madam. I had no idea. If these guys knew what kind of information she had on them, I think they would reconsider. If she wanted to nail them to the wall, she could have. She had that much information, just stuff that you would not think would happen in that type of transaction.
I have never done that type of stuff, but I was just amazed. And she was a little bit of a nutcase. I think she had psychological issues and there was some other stuff. She didn’t have a really good relationship with her mother. She was a beautiful girl. That was the strange thing about it. Her thing was she liked a lot of attention and she liked a lot of money, and I think it was borderline psychotic. I don’t think one man could have given her as much attention as she craved.
If she’s not the most interesting one, she’s top 10. It’s hard. There are so many, but a lot them are really, really interesting. I found a lot of units where you get in there and there’s six boxes, a few pieces of furniture and that’s it – not too much interest there. But I’ve gotten a lot where their whole life story was in there. But I’m going to say the Madam.
Q: Have these auctions become more popular in recent years?A: Every year more and more people come out and last year was probably the biggest increase. It was economy-driven. People were looking for other sources of income, so people started digging, and going forward, I think this is pretty much going to explode. There’s three reality shows coming on this fall or at some point this year. I fully expect my book sells to skyrocket, once that first show hits. People will go around and start looking and they’ll find me.
Q: What made you decide to go into the teaching/advising business and get out of the auction business?A: I’ve always had this ambition to be a writer, and I did a little research and fiction is really hard right now. Publishing companies are not giving out the advances they used to give out. Several friends are writers, well-known writers, and they used to get the nice advances. They’re not getting that anymore. Between Amazon and WalMart, they’re really, really making it hard for a writer to make a full-time living.
I looked at business books, and those guys are getting great advances, and they were still doing pretty well. Because someone that buys a business book or a motivation book, they’re looking to make money or get motivated to make money. It doesn’t matter how bad the economy is, people are going to buy those books. So I decided to go with the nonfiction business stuff first and write the fiction stuff later. I was a little bit taken aback by some of the emails I get and all the attention. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of starting that project. I did my first YouTube video Aug. 3 last year, and it’s picking up. Every week I’m selling more and more eBooks. I’m selling more books, so the word is getting out.
I think in the next two to three years, this is going to skyrocket, because I have a lot of students across the country. There are people in markets where they have no competition. I have one guy – I can’t tell you where he is – but he is the only game in town and he went from no money to pretty much $8,000 to $10,000 a month net profit within six months. He bought the book and then once he started making the money, he took the webinar.
It’s not for everyone. It’s not easy and it’s a lot of hard work, but if you put in your time and money into it, you can make money. How much? It depends on a lot. It depends on what city you are in. It depends on your access to auctions. I’ve met guys from California who are just going crazy. There’s like an auction somewhere in California nearly every day – six days a week and sometimes they have them on Sunday.
I think it’s going to be a growth industry. There’s about 56,000 storage facilities across the United States. If each one of those facilities had two or three rooms a month every month, that’s like 180,000 auctions across the country. Some places are going to have more; some places are going to have none, but we’re talking millions of rooms that go up for auction every year. And no one really knows about it. It’s such a niche, cottage industry. That’s a lot of stuff being sold every year.