Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why are Self Storage Auctions Entertaining for People to Watch?

All the way back in 2010 when I first heard there was going to be a show about self storage auctions, I laughed out loud. I followed up with the statement “who would watch a show about self storage auctions?” I think most people working in the self storage industry thought the same thing.

What the TV shows don’t show the world is the crazy amount of stress that goes along with processing a unit for auction. All self storage employees find out in their first week of employment how important auctions are. The paperwork must be processed exactly right. Not even one step can be missed. On top of that, the employee must morph into some kind of legal expert who decides how to handle questionable situations regarding an auction. Do I need to send a letter to that additional address? Is a change of address made on the internet by the tenant a legally binding change of address? Someone said they filed bankruptcy, but I have not received any paperwork. Can I sell the unit at auction? It is unreasonable to pay $300+ per hour to call an attorney every time one of these questions comes up. Plus, the few attorneys specializing in self storage do not operate on demand. The manager at the facility has to make these decisions themselves. All the while knowing they will be out of a job if they misstep. Not only will they be unemployed, but their owner might be sued for everything they have and lose their business and home. Yeah, that sounds entertaining!

Once the staff at the property gets through the legal minefield, they then have to suffer through the debacle that is auction day. There are cars parked everywhere; killing your grass (aka curb appeal, which you will be dinged for on your next audit). There are cigarette butts everywhere and cleaning the bathroom after the auction requires a hazmat suit. Again I ask, what could possibly be entertaining about that?

A popular question about self storage auctions is “how do I know the manager has not gone through the unit and taken all the valuables out?” I am not saying is never happens, but it is certainly the exception. Self storage managers fill many different roles. They are the legal department, the accounting department, the marketing department, the sales department, the customer service department, and the maintenance department. They do not have time to rummage through units and if they did, most of them do not care what is in the unit. They just want to empty the unit, so they can free up rentable space.

The other side of self storage auctions is the auction buyers. The people who have been making their living buying storage units for a long time are not treasure hunters. Sure a good find is awesome, but these folks are looking for quantity over quality. They know there is not a hidden gem in every unit. These folks also work long, hard hours. They spend the weekdays buying, loading, and unloading storage units and their weekends manning their second hand store or a booth at the flea market. The business of buying and reselling storage units is not glamorous. Most of the buyers are not wealthy and they certainly don’t drive Jaguars. Again I thought, why would watching people do back-breaking, grueling work to survive be entertaining to anyone?

I was wrong! I don’t say that very often (just ask my husband). Storage Wars debuted to be one the most popular TV shows in cable history. Why? First, Storage Wars producers have done a great job of inserting just the right amount of drama and reality. They have perfected the kind of drama and conflict that makes for good TV. That is entertaining. Then there is the reality factor. I would like to think most reasonable human beings know there cannot be buried treasure in every unit. It simply doesn’t make sense. A lot of tenants know they are going to stop paying their storage bill and take all of the good stuff out before they disappear. Storage Wars does not show the many, many units full of regular old household items. Why would they? That is not entertaining.

I don’t begrudge Storage Wars success. I think if someone has the talent and ability to make a successful TV show, they absolutely should. I certainly would if I could. I also don’t think the producers of Storage Wars could have foreseen some of the effects the show would have. This show debuted at a time when the economy was awful. I had so many people at my auctions with their last unemployment check trying to find a way to dig out of the hole they found themselves in. Why not? It happened every week on Storage Wars. That part was very sad for me to watch and I pleaded with more than one person not to do what they were about to do.

Storage Wars, and all the shows like it, have had a polarizing effect on the self storage industry. At first, it was fun and exciting for our jobs to be featured on TV. It is not fun and exciting anymore. The emergence of self storage auctions in popular culture has led to rise in class action lawsuits, insurance claims, and con artists preying on the system.

I think people are entertained by Storage Wars because it is an entertaining TV show. However, people need to keep in mind that it is just a TV show. It might be called reality TV, but it does not depict real, daily life. I am not saying the show is fake or staged. I am saying, just like any other TV show, they show you only the good parts. They only show the parts you will like. That is what makes good TV. It does not bother me when people say they like self storage auction shows. I get it. I also urge them to realize that the TV shows do not show the reality of the self storage business or self storage auctions.

About the Author - Cheli Rosa - Director of Marketing, Auctioneer, Company Administrator, Social Media Manager, Mom, Kite Flyer, Pinterest Addict and Amateur Scrapbooker.


  1. It's not just self storage units Omaha auctions that are entertaining - it's basically any show that has that sort of "treasure hunting" element like American Pickers or even Antiques Road Show. It's fun to live vicariously through people who are "finding treasure"

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