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Opening (or Closing) An Estate Sale Store?

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

I came across a headline about a popular estate sale business that is closing their liquidation store. "The Buzz: BumblePuppy store to close because of increased costs, decreased sales.”

Sometimes when I am coaching, big questions come up for people starting out: What to do with leftovers? Should I open a new store? Should I take items to consignment shops? Should I take things to other sales?

It really depends on how many qualified people can help you run your store, how much you like managing a larger team, what your store operating costs will be, plus how much the store can keep fresh inventory coming in, and how fast it turns over at price points that are worthwhile.

There are a lot of ways to operate a store too. For example, maybe rather than a boutique store, would it be better for you have a storage warehouse that cheaper to operate and is only open for sales once a month or four times a year? Rather than bringing sale leftovers, you opt to stock just inventory that was from multiple estates that did not have enough for a full sale.

In the store closing article, the owner discusses the high cost of running a store and she also says,“Another thing is that people are into collecting experiences and posting on Instagram rather than collecting trinkets and vintage tchotchkes. Marie Kondo is really big right now. Plus the market is flooded with used merchandise, so prices are down.” (Read the full story here)

I found that when I operated my store, the biggest shock I had was that I saw a drop in interest in coming to my in estate sales run in private homes. I overheard shoppers saying things like, “I’m not going to come back Sunday. I’ll wait and see what she takes back to the store.”

My repeat shoppers coming on several sale days was how I emptied estates and made the most money I could for my clients. Shoppers like that were hoping for a bigger discount the longer I was offering the items they wanted.

The time pressure to buy before the sale closed on the last day at the house was over.

Another downside was that the shoppers did not seem to understand business realities: moving the inventory involved a lot of labor and expenses. They seemed to think the price should drop after I packed it up, moved it, unpacked it, catalogued it, and displayed it in a retail environment paying utilities, insurance, rent, and other costs.

I’ve seen folks who do both successfully but for me, I found that it was both hard to keep staff and it was harder to sell out my estates in private homes. I worried that my clients would think I was not trying to sell their things so that I could move them to the store.

When I offered consignment instead of buyouts, that created a huge accounting issue for me because then I sent out so many checks each month to the consignors. Some of the consignors had relocated again and didn’t notify me, or maybe they even passed away, so sometimes the checks came back undeliverable and I had to track down where the clients went spending lots of time that I did not have to spare. I hated all of these unexpected nuisances. One client called me over 2 years after I had sold a $2,000+ stemware set and then questioned if I could prove that they had cashed the check. Of course I could, but it was not convenient to drop everything, get back to my bank, and prove to them that they had. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I find it hard to believe that they did not really remember cashing a check for a set of stemware for over $2,000.

I was stretched too thin and I wound up hating the store. When I closed it, my husband said it was like I had been a different person, I had been so stressed out.

If you are opening an estate sale store, my coaching advice would be to think hard about it, then to really work out a strong business plan, address issues that will come up about your staffing needs, accounting, and all of the full costs that are involved if you are planning to open an estate sale store.

I closed the store after three years, and I went back to doing appraisals and estate sales full time. I had so much more time and energy for those, and I relied on great buyout teams to help me get the homes emptied out. It was a trifecta: Win for them, win for me, win for my clients whose homes were emptied on time and with profits.

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