Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Client side of things...part 1

While the New Year is a time to look ahead, I also always take a few moments at the start of each year to remember some of the highlights from my life that got me where I am today. The element of selling that I enjoy the most is the people and their stories. I have met the most fascinating individuals over the years and they have been kind enough to give me a rare glimpse into their lives.

In 1998, I attended auctions every two weeks. There is a fabulous auction house in the San Francisco Bay Area that handles estates from all over Northern California. I used this auction house to fill my shop with things that I cherry picked. With estates that I handle, I have to sell what I'm given. Using an auction house to procure a few items here and there also allows me to add items to my shop that will attract the customers eye and hopefully lead them to other items.  It's all about balance.

Typical estate auction preview

Anyway, the auctions I used to go to were held on Saturday mornings at 10am. I would stumble out of bed, bleary eyed, around 7 to be there at 8. I am a staunch night owl, so anything before 10am is a wee bit of a challenge for me. Being there early allowed me to preview the auction before it became filled up with all the regulars.

View of Estate Auction smalls lot

One such morning, as I was staring into a low glass case filled with small items, I felt a presence at my shoulder. It's rather well known etiquette that looking over one's shoulder is a BIG no no at previews. I turned to find a man I'd seen at dozens of auctions, a small older gentleman with a baseball cap. He commented on the fountain pens I was examining, "do you collect pens?" I told him I was a dealer but that my husband loved pens.

Estate auctions just usually throw stuff together

We ended up wandering around the preview together. He was very interested in what I was looking at. Oddly, I felt no threat or sense of competition from him. I normally keep my selections very close to the vest, revealing nothing. But I could tell that this guy was a collector, with a collector's eye. He was no dealer and hence no competitor. His name was Ron. In turns out he loved antiques and had storage containers on his property filled with them. He asked me to come visit his home and see his collection. (not really all that odd a request. Collectors love to show off their finds)

Typical shipping container

Two days later I headed over to a very posh neighborhood. The homes started at 2 million and went rapidly up from there. I found Ron's property without too much effort and drove in to his ranch. Beautiful home, built around 1968. The first thing that struck me was the dozens of teak patio pieces all over the wrap around deck. Thousands of dollars worth. This guy definitely had a great eye for architecture and furniture. But that's not why this memory sticks in my mind.

To contrast this beautiful setting were 6 old metal semi truck containers, each 40 foot long, scattered around the house. How completely odd in such a nice neighborhood. It made me laugh. Ron came out to meet me and gave me the tour.

So much emphera to go through!
Signs, signs everywhere, the real deal
Gas staions, advertising, diners, you name it

Each storage container had a long skinny isle down the middle. Each one was filled with thousands of boxes of smalls, lamps, furniture, Victorian architectural salvage, old gas station pumps, general store exterior signs, mid century sculpture, and antique toys. The containers were jam packed. I was gobsmacked. (I think the British term for astonished is much more appropriate here)

The office before covered with vintage stuff

Ron wanted me to quit being a dealer and sell just for him. He had it all planned out-an office would be set up in one of the containers with DSL. He'd cut windows into the container and put in sheetrock, lighting and hardwood flooring. We would work through all of his items and he would continue to bring truckloads in. Turns out Ron had founded a very popular restaurant chain years ago, had retired and was just enjoying spending his money. The thrill of the 'sold!' and auction hammer was the most fun part of collecting for him. Some of the stuff he bought and packed away I am sure he never looked at again.

A typical attic that I go through. I love attics.

The problem-he wanted to pay me by the hour! (and very little, I might add) This would take all the fun out of it. This was one of those 'make the right decision' points in my life. I took a few days to really mull it over. I realized quickly that meeting with a variety of clients, each with a fantastic personal history was what I wanted to do. I loved the adventure of sorting through different attics, discovering that the plain wood box holding my pencils was worth $400, and driving to estates with the top down and the wind in my hair. (this was the days when I had a convertible and no kids) I said no. I'm so glad I made the choice I did. I love what I do. I love the rich variety. And, I am my own boss. I take these lessons with me into this new year!


  1. great post, Nacho! we do come across some interesting folks...I think you made the right decision...

  2. Great story!!! Funny how folks respect our talents, but don't necessarily realize all of the interaction that makes what we do interesting and challenging. (not even touching on the monetary aspect, lol)