Trash Removal Business Add-On Niche – Storage Unit Auctions

If you’ve had a trash removal business for a while, you know there are occasional days when your schedule is light and you wish someone would call with a new hauling project or two. There is a perfect sideline business for junk haulers that can fill those vacant spots in the schedule and bring in some extra income. Best of all, you don’t need any new equipment to do the work. The sideline is attending storage unit auctions, and there are three ways to profit from them.

According to the self-storage industry, one in ten American households now has a storage unit. Most use a storage unit to store what won’t fit in their homes. But with the down economy, more and more folks are using storage units because they have lost their home, but don’t want to give up their possessions. Others are in the middle of other life transitions, like a move or divorce, and hope to retrieve their stuff when they have a place for it again. All these storage units have created an opportunity for haulers to profit by helping move the property in and out.

The first profit opportunity is to attend storage unit auctions with your truck or van to help the winning bidders haul away what they’ve just bought at auction. It is quite common for bidders to win more bids than they planned, and need help hauling it all away. In most states, the law, and the owners of storage facilities, require that the winning bidders empty and clean out the storage unit within 24-48 hours, so they often need some help. Also, many bidders are not aware that storage facilities will not allow them to use their trash bins for the unwanted junk. Someone has to haul it away – why not you?

It’s best to arrive at least a half-hour before a storage unit auction so you can park your truck in a visible location for the arriving bidders. This will also give you time to pass out business cards to those who may need your hauling services.

The second profit opportunity is to introduce yourself to the owner or manager of the storage facility. Let them know you’re interested in any hauling they may need, as some abandoned units are full of junk, and attract no bids at all! The manager still has to clean out the unit before it can be rented again, and that’s where you come in. Often the storage facility managers you meet at auctions become a regular source of new jobs, as there is a steady turnover of units.

The third, and most exciting, profit opportunity is to actually participate in the auction as a bidder. As anyone who has watched the popular TV series, Storage Wars, can tell you, participating in an auction can be an adrenalin-filled adventure. A winning bid can be a lot like a lottery ticket – either a dud or a bonanza. Here are a few tips to get you started right so you increase the odds of a bonanza and reduce the chances of a dud.

1. Your local yellow pages will have contact information for all the storage facilities, so you can call to find out when they schedule their auctions. Post all the information on your calendar or in a day-planner. You can also go online to find auctions in your area. Do a basic Google search for “storage unit auctions – your state.” Another online resource,, allows you to search for auctions by zip code, with an interactive calendar of all auctions for the current month in your area.

2. Essential tools. Bring a powerful flashlight to check out larger units, a bottle of water for hot days, padlocks for each unit you bid and win, a notepad and pen to record information about opening and selling bids for units and cleanup supplies, such as a broom and garbage bags to finish cleaning storage units you’ve won bids for.

Finally, bring enough cash to pay for your winning bids. It’s amazon how many winners don’t realize until they arrive that checks and credit cards are not normally accepted for payment. Include enough to cover the security deposit required in case you fail to clean out the unit after emptying it.

3. Be sure to get on the registered bidder list, if that’s required, and sign a bidder’s agreement.

4. You will not be allowed to go inside the storage unit, so use your high-powered flashlight to look for treasures from a distance. If you spot high-end brands, designer labels or high-quality furniture, that’s a tip-off to the overall quality of the items in the unit. Remember that most self-storage customers put their most valuable items at the back, so shine that flashlight deep for any visible clues!

Think like a detective when inspecting a unit. Usually, a tidy, well-organized unit has more potential than a junk-strewn, disorganized unit. A unit that is used regularly, with trails of dust and footprints on the floor has less potential, as the tenant has likely been back to remove any valuables. If the contents are commercial rather than household items, chances are good you’ll be able to make money when you sell the items, with fewer “dogs.”

5. Set a limit, so you don’t get caught up in the bidding fever and spend more than you intended. It’s hard to make money when you’re in a bidding war with other bidders. Keep in mind when you’re bidding, that about half of the items in an average unit will be junk and need to be hauled away to the dump or recycled.

After you’ve attended a few auctions, your notes will give you average opening and selling bids for various size units. This is valuable information. For example, if you know most 10×15 units start at $60 and end at $200, you may want to pass on an auction with an opening bid of $150 for a 10×15, unless you’ve spotted something truly valuable during your flashlight inspection.

6. Don’t limit yourself to just one venue to sell the items you’ve won. In addition to the always popular garage or tag sale, try eBay, flea markets and a free ad on The more exposure you get, the faster you can turn your treasures into cash.

7. If the items you’ve listed on eBay fail to get bids, pull the listing and donate the item to your favorite charity or put it out at the next garage sale. Don’t waste your energy trying to get a price that is unrealistic. Often a high minimum bid price is the problem, so dropping it to a bare minimum will often bring in plenty of bids. Your time is worth money, so price items realistically so they will sell quickly and you’ll have cash in hand for the next auction.

Be careful not to get so addicted to storage unit auctions that you forget this is a sideline, not your primary business! Yes, it’s exciting to participate in auctions, but unless you are very lucky, your hourly wages will be less than you can make doing trash removal. Another warning – occasionally, you’ll run into a “blind” auction. In a blind auction, the storage unit door is closed and padlocked, and bidders are asked to bid “blind.” Just like a casino, the odds favor the house, so be extra careful if you run into this type of auction.