By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Before the popular “Storage Wars” television show debuted two years ago, Charlotte Crump would see a handful of people show up at her auctions at the self-storage facility she manages.
The show features professional buyers and their teams who look through repossessed storage units to find hidden treasure.
“Now we’re seeing 30 or more people showing up,” said Crump, manager of the StorageMax on Cliff Gookin Boulevard.
On the show, the highest bidder pays cash for the units, which could be a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
Crump and other storage facility managers said the bidding doesn’t reach four digits very often in Northeast Mississippi. Most units are sold in the tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars.
But there’s no doubt interest has grown for storage unit auctions, not only nationwide but also in Northeast Mississippi.
Crump has monthly auctions for units either abandoned or unpaid by its renters. Other facilities have auctions as needed.
But she and other storage facility managers contacted by the Daily Journal said repossessing the storage units is a last step. They said they work with customers to negotiate their payments or other options to avoid repossessing the units and going to auction.
“Going to auction is not something we like to do,” Crump said. “We want to give them every opportunity to keep their belongings.”
Charles Smith, manager of The Attic, also on Cliff Gookin Boulevard, said he follows a similar procedure.
Like Crump, Smith said “Storage Wars” has prompted more interest in auctions.
“We’ve had more people call wanting to know when we’ll have one,” he said.
At All-Safe Storage in Saltillo, Mandi Helms helps out her father, who also happens to be the owner.
Having opened 41⁄2 years ago, All-Safe hasn’t had many auctions over the years.
“We’ve probably had 12,” Mandi Helms said. “But we have all climate-controlled units, so we charge a little more, so when people put stuff in them, they tend to keep them.”
Still, when there has been an auction, she’s noticed larger crowds. And she’s gotten many calls from people wondering when the next auction is scheduled.
“They call all the time,” she said. “One auction we had before the TV show started, we had four people. The last time we had one, we had at least 40.”
So who are they?
Crump said they’ve become regular customers, many of whom displaced older customers who used to attend.
“A lot of them own thrift stores, so they’re bidding on the units and hoping they make their money back and then some,” she said.
Like the show, potential bidders are allowed to peek into the storage units to be auctioned. But they can’t go beyond the entrance or touch or move anything until they buy it.
Of course, everyone is hoping to make that big find that will result in a huge payoff. On “Storage Wars,” old coins, jewelry, antiques and various collectibles have been discovered by winning bidders.
But bidding is a gamble. An auctioned unit might be a bust.
“Everybody wants to find that hidden Harley,” Crump said with a laugh.
And has one been found?
“Not yet,” she said.
Added Smith, “Everybody’s looking for that pot of gold. … but it’s not gold they’re going to probably find.”