Online Estate Sales - An Interview with Susan Willis

Tim: Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining me today. Here at Estatesales.NET, we absolutely love to celebrate our companies' success, and that's what we're going to do today. With me today is Susan Willis from Bethesda Potomac Estate Sales in Bethesda, Maryland. Susan has been in the estate sale business for over 30 years, and like much of you, she has figured out how to use online selling and the Marketplace to not only grow her business over these past several months but sustain it as well. Susan, thank you so much for being here today.

Susan Thank you for having me.

Tim: Again, congratulations on the success over these past several months. We really want to get into, if you could tell us, how has using the Marketplace helped grow your business over the past several months?

Susan It's enabled me to keep in business, to begin with. When COVID first came, and sales were illegal, you couldn't have such a thing for a while. I had committed to clients to sell their stuff by a certain date. I couldn't leave them in the lurch. I found by appointment only sales don't really sell enough, and I don't know if that would have been allowed anyway. So I knew there was a marketplace model through EstateSales.NET, so we gave it a try, and it was very successful from the very first one. So we continued with it. I can honestly say to my potential clients that we're killing it. We're selling as much as we would with a traditional sale. Onward and upward. It's been very satisfactory.

Tim: One of the things that I've had a question about is how are the companies that are successful with the Marketplace and online selling handling a customer who may not want their items sold online?

Susan I've had a little resistance, but not that much. As I just said, I tell them honestly that it is going so well that there are no downsides to them doing it. So far, I don't think I've lost any clients taking or potential clients taking that position because I believe in it wholeheartedly.

Some of them are relieved because they don't want people in their homes. Even without COVID, there's still the advantage of people not being in there. The public doesn't come into their homes, and that will continue post virus.

Homes are very expensive, and frequently they're going into settlement, etc. In an in-person sale, of course, we did take great care to make sure that the client's home is not harmed in any way, but you're taking a little bit of a risk. This keeps the public out of their homes entirely, and they like that.

Tim: Right. We've touched on getting the customer comfortable with the idea. There are many companies that have missed out on potential business because they're still on the fence about selling online or using the Marketplace. If you could speak to them for a second and maybe give them some advice if they're unsure if they want to start doing it. It's obvious that you have a success story. If you could speak to them and let them know what to look for and maybe some things, you've run into that you've overcome.

Susan Sure. The first thing I'd say is to go for it. You don't have anything to lose. Even without COVID, it opens up additional business in that you can now do sales in areas where you couldn't before.

In my area, there are some gated communities, tower condos, apartment buildings where an in-person sale strictly isn't allowed. You can do an online sale, followed by a one day pick up because certainly tenants are allowed to empty their apartment. I say, just go for it. It changes the work somewhat. You're going to be spending more time on your computer than you were previously, but you're, not spending a lot of time putting price tags on all those dollar potato peelers like you were in the past. So it's, just a shift in the work. I wouldn't say it's more work or an unreasonable amount of work.

Tim: One of the things that we run into again is you get used to doing something a certain way for so many years, and then this new option comes along and, it can seem kind of daunting, but, for those of you out there, like Susan said, give it a shot and let it work for you. Obviously, if you have any questions, you can call our support staff here at EstateSales.NET, and we'll be more than happy to walk you through any questions you may have about that.

So, Susan, one of the questions that I have been getting from some companies I've talked to is in regards to staffing. Have you run into any issues with your staffing, or have their roles and responsibilities changed?

Susan Sure. The responsibilities have changed because the work is somewhat different, but in my particular position, because of COVID, I've lost a lot of workers. They became immediately unwilling to work until there's a vaccine or until COVID is behind us. The Marketplace saved me because I didn't need as many workers. It's similar to setting up an in-person sale but not exactly the same.

What we do is we have a camera and a notebook. We go methodically, object by object, room to room. We take a picture of the sofa, for example, and we measure it, we note the condition, the maker, perhaps price it on the spot, etc.

At least the way we do an online sale, you're unable to list that potato peeler. Maybe you could, but I'm not going to list that for a dollar like I would in an in-person sale. We still want to sell as much for the client as we can. They don't want us just to price the expensive stuff. So what we do is we group things. For example, we'll look in the miscellaneous utensil drawer in the kitchen. We'll pull out anything that we can sell separately, and we take a picture of the contents of the drawer, and we sell the whole contents of the drawer for one (price). We sell the linen closet for one price after we remove anything special.

Tim: So you're selling more lots versus individual items?

Susan People do buy these groups all the time. Maybe not every group in every single sale, but yes, we sell a lot of linen closet contents, a lot of utensil drawer contents, a lot of miscellaneous glass contents. For example, we'll sell ten things for $50 rather than ten items for $5. It's all going away that way. So that's another advantage. We're not just selling three of those items, we're selling them all.

Tim: Perfect. You've given us some insight on how you go about setting up an online sale, but one thing I'm curious about is what is selling versus what's not right now? Are you having better luck selling the lots of items since they do not have to dig through a drawer full of items?

Susan I don't think the types of things that sell really differ. You can sell anything and everything in my view, there's very few things that are hot right now. Price always sells. You do have the option on the marketplace sale, just as you would in an in-person sale, to discount as the sale goes on. So, of course, our marketplace sales discount, and you can set this all up ahead of time on the computer to discount as the sale goes on.

Price is always a big factor in selling. There are some items that we can't list no matter how hard we try, so what I like to do is have what I call a "mini yard sale" on pick up day.

We have all of the stuff out in an open area, so you can pick up the items that weren't able to be listed. And that's a very popular feature. People are always excited to come to that when they pick up their items.

Tim: So, we're curious to find out some of the processes that you've put in place during COVID that you're going to continue using in the future. You've mentioned that online selling is the model you're going with right now, but are there any other processes you're going to use moving forward?

Susan We've settled on a model that seems to work for us where we run a sale for two weeks, starting on a Friday morning, ending on a Friday evening, sometimes, followed by a day off. And then, by appointment only pickup day on Sunday. During that day off of no selling, we go, and we line things up because we've made appointments.

For example, we know that the purchaser of the sofa is coming at 10:00, and the person who bought the contents of the utensil drawer is coming at 10:15, and the person who bought the bed is coming at 10:30. So we have this all arranged in order, usually in the garage if we can, so when people come for their appointments, my guys are there. They load their cars, they hand it off to them, boom, boom, boom. So it's very contactless and very efficient in that way.

Tim: Are you only doing pickup at this time? Do you have any plans on branching out to offer shipping at any point?

Susan We don't offer shipping at this time. I happen to live in a major metropolitan area where sales are extremely popular, so we don't really feel the need to ship. Probably every sale, a few people will ask me to ship. If it's something that I feel comfortable shipping and I feel I can get a better price from them versus someone local, I'll ship it to them.

Tim: So you don't use it as a rule, but you're not against it. You and I have been talking for the past few weeks, and I've been keeping an eye on the types of sales you're listing. We've seen nothing but success on your end, so again, I want to congratulate you on that.

Susan I'd like to mention one other thing. I'm sure there are people out there who just like in-person sales. I don't see all my old customers on pickup day, but I do see a lot of them. They have found the online model, and they may still be going to in-person sales, but they also are shopping online.

We've acquired many, many, many new customers, who didn't know what an estate sale was, but they understand their computers, and they were maybe searching for something, and it appeared in an estate sale, my estate sale, for example.

Then they get the whole idea of an estate sale, and now they're regular customers. As you know, EstateSales.NET keeps track of how many views sales get, and marketplace sales get a tremendous amount of views.

Tim: People are starting to get a lot more comfortable with looking at things online. It's unfortunate that it's taken something like this to get people more comfortable with that. But, many folks out there, including yourself, have adapted to a new way of doing things, and it's obviously paying off big for you.

Susan It was a little scary for me, honestly, for people not to see things in person because I want people to be happy with what they purchased. So we're careful in the descriptions, and we really haven't had any problems of people being dissatisfied with their purchases. But I can understand why it can be scary for both parties; the buyer and seller.

Tim: So, in a nutshell, you're saying that the Marketplace works?

Susan Yes, I am.

Tim: Well, you heard it. Susan is a good testimony on trying new things and how well it can pay off for you. As always, if you have any questions about our services or need help, maybe listing your first marketplace item, please feel free to reach out to our customer support team.

We do have people here seven days a week that is more than happy to answer your questions about that. And, once again, I want to thank Susan Willis from Bethesda, Potomac Estate Sales, for joining me today. Susan, it's always great talking to you. Thank you so much.

Susan You too.