First off, I would like to introduce Mike and his companies to you. Mike started Weekend Treasure.com in 2006 to map out garage sales for him and his wife. He has since grown the business to include several services both on the web and mobile.
How did you first get interested in shopping garage sales? In reading the “About” page on your site, I noticed that you quickly found searching for and mapping out sales was a pain point. What led you to address that?
It started when a friend of mine came over for dinner one night and was telling me all about how he was going to garage sales and then selling what he bought for many times the amount or more on eBay. I got the idea that it would be a fun thing to do – to try and find things that were underpriced at garage sales and then sell them for a profit.
After my first weekend of going to garage sales I was hooked on the thrill of finding the unexpected and just checking out other peoples stuff as a slightly different form of people watching. It was a bonus if I found things that I could resell for profit, which often happened. I soon devised a way of prioritizing which sales I thought would have better things. I would create a list on pen and paper and would star the sales that were more promising. I would then get directions to each sale by entering addresses by hand into my Blackberry, which was one step up from a fold out map, but archaic by todays standards.
At the time, Google Maps had just come out, and I thought a great way to prioritize which sales to go to would be based on proximity, and the easiest way to do that was to put each of the sale addresses I found on a Google Map. Since I work in the internet industry, I wrote a computer program which essentially took a feed of garage sale addresses from online classifieds sites and put them onto a Google Map so I could see where exactly they were in relation to each other. Then I designed a website around the program which was called WeekendTreasure.com.
At the time you started, were estate sales even on your radar, or just garage and yard sales? What led you to expand into estate sales as well?
I wasn’t really familiar with what an estate sale was at first. After building WeekendTreasure.com, I installed some analytics software and I noticed that a lot of my traffic was coming from people on Google looking for “estate sales”. So that’s when I started looking more into what they were.
How were you able to transition from mapping out garage and yard sales for weekend shoppers to working with professional estate sale companies, realtors, and senior move assistance companies?
I got the idea to create a separate website that was focused on estate sales and was fortunate enough to buy a good exact match domain name which was EstateSales.org. The domain broker wanted 10k for it and I offered them 2k for it, which was a huge amount of money for me at the time. I got lucky and they ended up accepting my lowball offer and then I had to explain to my wife that I was buying a domain name for $2,000.
At the time, I had one other competitor for the garage sale site called gsalr.com which also ranked well on Google for “estate sales”, and so I called the owners of that site up and offered them 50% equity in EstateSales.org if they would help me build the site and direct their audience to the new site. They said yes and we spent the next 6 months working nights to launch a really basic directory of estate sale companies and estate sales. At first we just got all the data from online yellow pages. We sent out emails to all the estate sale companies we had information on, made it free to list estate sales or your estate sale company, and it started catching on from there.
Was this an organic transition or was it planned?
A little bit of both. I had not thought about doing anything related to estate sales until I had noticed the shared audience between garage sales and estate sales.
How does dealing with estate sales and estate liquidators differ from someone who just wants to hold a garage or yard sale?
The biggest difference is that there is a professional industry dedicated to the estate sale market where as yard and garage sales are almost purely a DIY sort of thing. Garage and yard sales are very casual and are often conducted several times throughout ones lifetime with very little forethought. Estate sales are usually only conducted as a result of a major life change such as death, divorce or large downsizing and they often require a large amount of work in order to prepare, appraise, organize and market vs a yard sale.
You are now handling online estate auctions as well. What new challenges did that incur?
The biggest challenge has probably been in developing the software because it’s very unique to the estate sale industry. We developed our own software to allow estate sale companies to not only hold an online auction but to hold a combination in-person and online auction, where some items might only be for sale in-person and others can be purchased online. The other challenge has been in getting traditional estate sale companies to recognize the value of the online model. This has been made easier by companies such as Everything But The House (EBTH) and Caring Transitions, both of whom have proven the online estate sale model to be viable.
Are you seeing more companies transition to online estate auctions or more new companies with the rise of mobile and social media?
There are definitely more companies that are experimenting with online estate sales now as well as more new estate sale companies overall. The estate sale industry has been growing steadily over the last decade in the U.S as the baby boomer generation finds a need to help their aging parents downsize. It can be a tough industry to crack at first but usually those who are tenacious, are prepared to work hard and can stick out the first few years building up word of mouth prevail.
And how has that affected your business?
The growth of the estate sale industry has been great for business. We went from a 3 person skeleton crew working nights to now employing 10 full time people in 5 states.
How does working with online estate auctions such as EBTH change the game?
Companies like EBTH have helped bring the idea of online estate sales to the mainstream. A lot of smaller companies feel the need to compete with that but most of them don’t have the technological capability to host an online auction, and they can sometimes lose out on clients because of it. With our online auction platform, we set out to offer these estate sale companies a tool that allows them to easily compete with the larger corporate brands in the online estate sale space.
What are the unique opportunities working with online sellers as opposed to location-based sales?
Working with online sellers allows us to differentiate ourselves from our competition, as well as create a whole new experience for our users because it merges e-commerce with the in-person estate sale experience. With online sales, people can browse our online auctions section at estatesales.org/online-auctions and it’s like they are at an estate sale.
What advice can you offer for a buyer who is looking to shop garage, yard or estate sales?
Bring a big enough car for your haul! Bring cash and small bills too since most estate sale companies will accept credit cards only if your purchase is over a certain amount, and almost all yard sales are cash only. Many estate sale companies have steep discounts on the final day, so if you are looking for great deals go on the last day which is typically a Sunday. If you want to get first pick, show up early on the first day. Also, you can download our free mobile app, Garage Sales By Map, which is available on iTunes or the Google Play Store. You will see all the new garage and estate sales near you on a map every week.
Do you have any advice for sellers that would help them to have a more profitable sale, or make it easier for them as sellers?
If you are conducting an estate sale, don’t try to do it yourself. I recommend hooking up with a good estate sale company by submitting a service request on our website at EstateSales.org If you are holding a yard or garage sale, I published a good article containing 101 tips for sellers.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of growing your business? What do you see for the future?
I’d say one of the biggest challenges has been in getting people to think of us first when they think of where to list their garage sales instead of going straight to craigslist without thinking. For the future I see this industry growing even larger and moving more online.
Do you still have time to shop garage sales? Last question, what was your best garage or estate sale find?
I’ve had three kids since I first started garage sale-ing back in 2006, so I have slowed down a little bit but still go every once in awhile. There have been several good finds and flips I’ve made over the years. One guy just gave me a box full of these obscure European DJ records that I ended up selling on eBay for $400. Another time, I bought a box full of costume jewelry for $10 that had a $300 antique cameo ring in it at a garage sale. My favorite estate sale find is probably an old album full of vintage postcards from the 1950s and 60s. Anything that gives me a window into someone else’s life experience is fascinating to me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I can’t think of anything else, thank you!
What a great view into a wonderful company. Thank you so much for offering to be interviewed for our blog, Mike. We really appreciate it.
Stop by or download one of Mike’s sites and see what treasures you can find at Treasure Listings.com.