Mark Alexander became addicted to storage auctions long before A&E’s hit show “Storage Wars” made them popular.
The 27-year-old has become so good at bidding and turning a profit that he opened Alexander Gold & Trade on Louisville Road – an everything store where he sells his best finds.
“Pretty much everything I have in this store comes from a storage auction,” he says. “It’s a little bit strange, because you’re gaining from someone else’s loss, but in a way you’re helping them pay for something they defaulted on.”
When people keep storage bins but can’t pay for them, lot owners take away their keys and put the bins up for public sale. Auction day, the auctioneer throws open the door to each bin and the crowd gets about 5 minutes to peek at the merchandise without entering the bin. The agreement is to buy the whole bin with one bid – most of which is unseen.
Every box, every bin could hold a treasure or junk.
“I’m a little bit of a gambler, so it’s fun for me,” Alexander said. “If I go more than two weeks without an auction, I don’t feel quite right.”
Whoever wins the bin is responsible for removing everything from that unit or they lose a deposit. In the worst-case scenario, this means shelling out hundreds to haul away a bunch of junk.
“At the beginning, I let the gamble get a hold of me too much,” Alexander admits. “Early on, I paid $200 for a unit and trashed the whole thing. I thought there would be something, but there was nothing.”
Now, he only bids as high as he can see, and anything else he finds after the win is a bonus.
Looks can be deceiving, though. He once bid more than $1,000 for a bin because he saw Remington boxes and assumed there were guns inside.
He outbid an older gentleman, only to be laughed at. The boxes were empty. He lost about $900 on that gamble.
During auctions, there’s often friendly banter, and it can get competitive. One trick Alexander uses is to roll a bunch of $1 bills in $100 bills to intimidate fellow bidders. He’ll turn to them, flash the roll and say, “I can do this all day.”
But Kentucky auctions are nothing like the rivalries shown on “Storage Wars,” where big-personality, rough-mouthed thrift store owners outbid each other at storage units across Southern California.
While Alexander enjoys the show, he says it has made his job more difficult.
“When I first started about 3 years ago, there were anywhere from 5-10 people,” he said. “Unfortunately, since that show has caught on, about 90-120 show up, and the prices go through the roof.”
A bin that went for $250 now goes for $1,000 or more.
However, there’s still profit to be made. He sells furniture – that’s what most bins hold – as well as artwork, electronics, shop supplies, jewelry, DVDs, musical instruments, foreign money, silver coins and old bumper stickers.
He’s nicknamed his shop “The Everything Store.” He never knows what he’ll find in a storage unit, so he never knows what he’ll be selling.
By now, he has 50 bins in different states under his belt, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down.
He once bid $400 on a bin that had a jewelry box with nearly $2,000 in gold. In another, he found a $1,000 Louis Vuitton purse. A storage unit near a military base ended up being worth his while when he found crates full of brand new military gear, including bulletproof vests.
“It was kind of sad,” he said. “I wondered if maybe it belonged to a sergeant who had been killed in battle overseas.”
Alexander often speculates about who owned the bins and feels bad about their losses. Bins often contain family photos and documents that would allow him to hunt the original owners down, but he has decided against that route.
He sells the good stuff at his shop, donates clothing and other items he won’t be able to sell and trashes the rest.
Before opening the shop in April, Alexander, originally from Lawrenceburg, worked at several distilleries and ran his business on the side.
“I have a really understanding wife and family,” he said, explaining that he had items stored in rooms, garages, basements and barns all across central Kentucky.
His wife, Molly, a school nurse, often joins her husband at auctions and enjoys looking through the bins for hidden treasure.
“This is my favorite part!” Molly Alexander said Saturday after they looked through the bins her husband won at Scott County Safe Storage. Their nieces, Kaylin Hatchell, 9, and Natalie Hatchell, 4, joined them, eager to claim any toys. The sisters have a growing stash of Legos and Barbies thanks to their uncle.
Alexander’s shop, which his friend, Jason O’Brien, helps him run, also buys gold and promises to offer more than anyone in town. On items in the store, they welcome haggling.
“If you don’t see a price you like, don’t be afraid to make an offer,” he said. “I’m not here to break anybody’s bank.”
Alexander Gold & Trade
Location: 847 Louisville Road
Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Sunday
Phone: 502-598-1001, 502-598-2002