Online Estate Sales - An Interview with Sara Anderson

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sara Anderson to gain insights into how she uses the EstateSales.NET Marketplace to conduct online estate sales.

Sara Anderson owns and operates The Pickin Chicks, an estate sale company in Caledonia, Illinois. Sarah was drawn to the industry eight years ago when she started picking antiques and repurposing furniture. Soon this love turned into her starting her own estate sale company. Sarah loves her clients and customers and strives for excellent customer service and client satisfaction.

We hope that her insights into selling estate sale items online might inspire other estate sale companies. Below is a transcript of that interview between Sara and Tim. It has been edited from the original video for clarity.

Tim: This week I have the pleasure of speaking with Sara Anderson from The Pickin Chicks in Caledonia, Illinois. Sara has been on the site for a while and is utilizing the EstateSales.NET Marketplace. We wanted to get into some of the things she does: setting client expectations and making the transition from traditional sales to online selling. Sara, thanks a lot for being here today. I appreciate it.

Sara: Thank You

Tim: Today making the switch from traditional sales to selling online is something that we're seeing more and more of.

How did you approach that and what do you do differently now that it (online sales) are sort of becoming a new way of life for a lot of the companies out there?

Sara: It took a little bit for me to get used to. I've sold things on other outlets before, eBay and things before in my lifetime, but you guys made it very easy to transition and a lot of instruction was wonderful.

As far as clients go, it was just the way it was. You either don't have a sale or we're going to try this new way and see how it goes. It was definitely a learning curve there. First couple of sales, we just made a sale, put everything online, and people are looking through 1500 pictures. Like I said, we've had to learn along the way as we went, but it's gone very smoothly now.

Tim: Walk me through, if you will, a consultation with someone looking to have a sale, and they may not know that the only option that they may have at the time is selling the items online. Walk me through how you handle that, and sort of let me know what expectations are set upfront.

Sara: Sure! Even when I walk into a house now. You know, school is ramping up and some of them already shut back down. I always tell them there's a really good possibility we may have to alter this, it's altered anyway, but to go online. And when people kind of give me the “Ewww we'd rather have people see things” I say, “okay, well, let me tell you our experience, since April until now we've done very well online”.

The biggest selling point is that it’s nationwide. That's my biggest selling point honestly, is just to say, “Hey, yes, we may have a couple hundred or thousand people walk through the house, but now you're going nationwide, and I do offer shipping, so there's possibility I'm shipping your items all across the country, better selling angles, different collectors, we're reaching different collectors that wouldn't be in our area.” Things like that.

Really, other than maybe taking a little longer than the normal sale because a normal sale is a couple of days and these, we try to stretch out 10 to 12 days, it runs very similarly.

I tell them, “the nice part is it’s still all going to sell or it's not.” “Then it'll be cleaned out afterward and it's really an easy process.”

Tim: I'm glad you touched on that because the original idea behind the marketplace was not only to continue to connect shoppers with the companies and the items. We also wanted to make sure that we could give them a chance to see items that aren't in their area.

Everything's different wherever you're at. Something that may be popular in California, maybe not popular (in your area). It varies so much region to region,so I'm glad you touched on that. You said you do offer shipping, which is we are trying to get more and more companies to take advantage of for the simple fact of, like you said, it's going to get their product in front of more people.

How do you handle the shipping side, and are there any tips that you could maybe give some companies that have chosen to do pickup only? Maybe some things that have made it easier for you?

Sara: Sure! Now I will say that it's a little difficult when you build a sale online. You have to either choose, pick up or shipping, and not quite knowing what something's going to cost to ship it's really hard to put a price in there. So we offer it as pick up, and then anywhere we can in the details of the sale and the comments, (we put) “please contact us if you need shipping.”

I started out just using USPS, and then I was turned on to a couple sites that for business owners and things. It's very easy to do shipping. Print the label off at home. I can use UPS, USPS, and really I can't believe the stuff we've shipped. I'm floored, to be honest with you. We just shipped a 62 pound floor size coffee grinder to Indiana, and he (the customer) didn't think anything of the shipping. I shipped a full length fur coat across the country. I shipped punch bowls and China that don't sell at sales here. Shipping is the way to go, as well.

I do only charge them a small upcharge, especially if I have to really pack something. If my shipping cost is $8.50, I might charge them $10.00. Just so It doesn't sound too out of this world for them to want to buy it. We have many repeat customers and customers now that were buying online, now that we're back with traditional, are looking at our sales, and asking us if they can ship something. So it's very helpful to you. It will also grab the attention of people who can't come and shop your sales.

Tim: We're talking about the shipping side, but pick up, that's changed a lot too over the past several months. Are you doing anything differently now, than you were in the beginning when you first started using the Marketplace?

Sara: We were very, run it out on the porch, and run back in the house. Now we tell people, as long as they have a mask on we're happy to hand it to them, walk it to their car. Being in Illinois, we've been one of the States that masks have not been lifted. It's kind of a general thing.

We've done a few sales up in Wisconsin where it was a little more lenient, and we had a little fight on that, but “Hey, we're leaving it on the porch for you, and you're walking to pick it up.”

People have been very good about it, and we have many people who actually say they really prefer this because they've been kind of scared in light of things that are going on, and they don't want to go out.

We've actually still done kind of a hybrid of online and traditional sales. It's going very well.

Tim: Perfect! We touched on setting the expectation for the client. Now let's transition over into the communication that you have with the buyers. Are you noticing that it's a different clientele? The people that are buying in person rather than the people that are buying online from you?

Sara: Yes, people buying online are definitely looking for specific (items), like collectors. Resellers, right at the beginning, We had a lot of resellers who were freaking out because they couldn't go out to sales, and couldn't go to the places they would normally pick up their things.

We are definitely reaching a whole other clientele, and like I said, it will actually build your customer base. If they liked how you treated them, how you shipped to them, they will look at your traditional sales. Some of our regulars that are here, that come to our traditional sales, we're buying online, and people we've never met who had just found us because they were sitting at home online shopping.

It really opened a big network for us.

Tim: Perfect! As far as the types of items that you sell, is there anything that you kind of balk at as far as selling online because you know, that you may have a hard time selling it, or it's going to be a bear to ship? I mean, you said you've shipped pretty much everything, but how are you picking and choosing the kind of the sales that you're taking on versus the ones you're kind of letting go to someone else?

Sara: We don't tend to turn down a whole lot of sales, small or large or whatever, but I do tell people when I go through, especially when it was strictly online, it's very hard to sell clothes.

Especially older clothes, things like that. If it was very vintage and we knew there was a cliente for it we would sell that. Big winter coats and things.

Anything like towels, linens, things like that, we didn't put online because a lot of people want to see touch and feel those things in person.

If there was a very nice comforter or something, we might put that on there, but other than that, we stayed away. We kind of went away from linens and things.

All the little kitchen utensils and things to put every single one online we would maybe bunch them together if they were nice. Other than that, we kind of shoved that (stuff) aside.

Furniture we would sell, all sorts of collectibles. Pretty much anything we were putting online with the exception of linens pretty much. Sheets and towels and things. Other than that, we've had great success with all of it.

Tim: Give me a little bit of insight on making the transition to online selling, especially over the past several months. Have you been forced as far as maybe your staff goes to find different ways to keep them busy with a lot of things moving online? Have you delegated things differently that way?

Sara: I am, and it's kind of nice because like I said, at the beginning it was a very big learning curve. We would just pop one sale online and sell everything on that sale. Now we've kind of found a little more creative way, especially to get people's attention. If we have a larger home and lots of things, we break it down into three and four and five sales.

We might have furniture and household, kitchen items and holiday, so we'll have three sales for one house. People are buying it all from the same sale. We have all the same dates. So what I'll do is it's much easier to have two and three staff members then. Someone's taking all of these pictures. Someone is taking the next set of picture. Someone for each sale, and three people can be working at once and we can get just as much done. If I have to go to the house myself and take all those photos, it's gonna take me a week.

Then I do have someone who does the shipping. We ship out two days a week, and I tell people that when they buy we ship out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, hoping that it will get to you, Tuesday, by the end of the week, or Thursday, by the following Monday.

We collect the things from the home, and get it all boxed up nicely. She (person doing the shipping) sits online and types out all the labels and gets them where they have to go. I kind of alternate staff members coming in and out of the house and taking photos. The nice part about doing online as well is you can do two or three houses at a time.

Right now, I like to have exclusively one house at a time when we do traditional sales just cause I like to be there and staffing, but (online) when you have to go in and take pictures and you can have people sign in and take the photos for you and do all that, you can have two at this house and two at that house and get more bang for your buck and help more people.

Tim: As far as payment goes, obviously, you do have your Stripe account set up through your account and we are actually bringing Square into the mix, shortly, so that will be another option. Are you finding everything to be pretty seamless as far as the payment goes and getting your money and things like that?

Sara: Very much so. I use Square on my traditional sales, but I've been using... Is it Stripe? I'm sorry... through you guys, and it's been absolutely phenomenal. I have people call all the time too and say, “Oh, I want to buy this,” “I want to buy that,” and “so, you know, you really have to go online and do that.” The clients have actually liked it as well because they can see, and I can tell them, “Oh, that, sold on such and such date for so much” because it's all collected in there. Yeah, the payment system has been wonderful.

There's no waiting time for anything. It goes right into my account and it's just as seamless as anything else I use.

Tim: Good deal. So I guess this is the last thing we'll touch on. Say I'm a company and I’m just about to use it (Marketplace) for the first time, but I'm still hesitant, give me some encouraging words that's going to push me over the edge and make me take that step to start using it.

Sara: Sure. honestly it's doubled and tripled our clientele, our client base and even people who... I've had two examples of people who bought so much from other States and maybe have relatives close by or something who called and said, “Oh, I bought things from you online. My mother passed away. Her home is in Rockford,” or somewhere close to us. It's actually gotten us more business.

Also in these times when maybe companies don't want to have as many sales. Even now I'm only allowing 10 people in a house at a time.

Online, you could have thousands of people looking at your stuff at the same time. Really we kind of got used to doing it and as soon as we opened up again and we were like “Oh, I can go back and do it in the house.”

Other than it's been a little more time consuming cause you really have to photo things, and people want to see everything from different angles, I think it's run very well. We've really enjoyed using it.

Tim: So, you're saying it works.

Sara: I'm saying it works.

Tim: Good deal. Alright Sara, I really appreciate you joining me today, and you've given us a lot of good information. I know a lot of our companies are going to want to hear this stuff. We could tell them all day long that it works, but they want to hear it from their peers and they want to see other companies that are succeeding with it.

Once again, this is Sara Anderson from The Pickin Chicks in Caledonia, Illinois.

Sara, thanks again for joining us.

Sara: Thank you