When and why did you start Pennsylvania Trading Co.? How many estate sales will you conduct this year, and how many employees does it take to pull them off? When we married in 2009, we were looking for a business to run together. John had been a buyer and a collector for most of his life, and an estate sale shopper, and we felt like it was something we would enjoy and be good at. Emily had years of experience in retail sales, and we each had a solid understanding of customer service that ended up making for a pretty easy transition into the estate sale business. We held our first sale in Otter Creek in July 2009. It’s hard to speculate exactly how many sales we will do this year, but by the end of June we will have completed at least 24 sales so far this year. We completed more than 40 sales each year in 2013 and ’14, and in total we have done right at 200 sales. Every house is different as far as labor is concerned. We work with a staff of 10-12 people. Some work every day and some only work weekends. We have completed sale prep in as little as a day and a half, and some big jobs have taken more than a month.
It seems like there are more and more estate sale operators. What’s behind the growth of the industry? We stepped into the industry when the state of the economy was encouraging people to consider options they never had before. It seemed as though the prospect of buying used items at a fraction of retail prices was more attractive than it had been in the past. There was also a large population of people needing estate sales–the parents of baby boomers were moving into assisted living and retirement communities, and the boomers themselves were downsizing from their five-bedroom homes.
Estate sales seem very labor intensive. Will it ever be possible to computerize the business as has happened with consignment sales? The estate sale process is very labor intensive! We literally touch every single item two to five times in every house we work in. We have the supplies, the systems and the know-how that make it easier for us to do the job than it would be for our clients. While it would be fantastic to be able to slap bar codes onto each item and simply scan them at checkout, it’s hard to imagine a way that that could become a reality. We’re not opening a case of 20 of the same items and grabbing a predetermined price out of a price scanner. In the used market, even something as common as an Oreck upright vacuum cleaner needs to be assessed according to its condition. There are no “canned” prices in the estate sale business.
Is your industry completely unregulated? Are there any associations for estate sale operators with codes of ethics and best practices? Our industry is strongly driven by reputation and word-of-mouth. Anyone hiring a company should lean on recommendations from someone who either shops sales or has hired a company before. It’s even better to go out on the weekends and assess the companies as a shopper.
Bios: John and Emily Gaiser
Background: John and Emily McCaskill Gaiser are both Little Rock natives. Emily graduated from Pulaski Academy and John Brown University. She has experience in many fields, including restaurants, retail, administrative work and photography. She handles the administrative side of Pennsylvania Trading Co., including the website and advertising, while John conducts sales. He graduated from Catholic High and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He worked in the food service industry for years, but he is a lifelong collector who says he was raised on estate sales conducted by Bette Bogart.