Meet James "Griff" Griffith: Storage Warrior, Desert Prowler, California Swap Meet King
StorageUnitAuctionList.com provides storage auction attending information to thousands of subscribers in every state in the country. However, sheer numbers don't tell the whole story. Of those thousands, there are elite veteran storage hunters who subscribe to us on a yearly basis. I've been scouring the country for full-time practitioners who know this business inside and out, who can tell us what it's like out there for an authentic storage flipper. I knew that if I kept digging, I would find a subscriber who makes a great living at this: no holds barred, no cameras involved.
After a long few weeks of emails and phone calls, I think I found that guy.
Meet James “Griff” Griffin, a man who has taken the business of storage auction buying and completely customized it to his strengths. It’s only fitting, considering how he auction hunts in the mecca and birthplace of storage auctions, Los Angeles County. Sometimes pulling 14 hour days, he never tires rummaging, trading, and selling storage unit stock. In fact, he says its fun.
I got the distinct pleasure of interviewing “Griff” and learning how storage unit buying, sorting, and selling goes down in the heartland of storage hunting: Southern California. Along the way, he tells me of a happenstance run in with Barry Weiss and the Storage Wars gang in 2011.
SUAL.com: What part of California did you grow up in, and have you moved around the country at all since reaching adulthood?
I was born and raised in California. I stay out in LA, but my family lives out in the desert in the San Fernando Valley. It’s out there quite a bit, about an hour and half drive from LA. It’s right by Edwards Air Force Base, where they launch the space shuttle once in a while. That’s where I get my mail. My parents have ten acres, so it’s really nice for storage (laughs). I just park my moving truck out there because they have a big property.
SUAL: What did your father do for a living? Did his job have anything to do with why you have pursued storage auction hunting and resale?
He and my mother run a business selling firewood. I grew up doing it and they’ve been doing it for thirty years. We’ve always had our little business ideas. It’s not like I don’t like working for people—but I don’t like working for people (he laughs). Being self-employed is a little bit harder: no health insurance and tax returns are horrible. You can’t get lines of credit unless you’re making a certain amount of money.
I know that you signed up with StorageUnitAuctionList.com a little more than a year ago, but when did you actually start buying storage lockers?
I’ve been doing it for about three years, on and off. I went to a swap meet once, with all of my stuff, and I had a bunch of junk. I made a lot of money that day, for me anyway. I thought, I could do this every weekend, this isn’t bad! This is cool. This is money. That’s how I got into the auctions. I bought a couple really good ones and it got me hooked. I’ve bought a lot of units since then.
What was your last job before storage auction hunting and how did it compare?
I worked for my parent's business off and on. I’ve worked in the stock room. Most recently, I worked nights full-time at the shipping yards. You, know eight hours days or whatever it was. It didn’t work for me. Now, sometimes I work 14 hours a day, but it's hard to compare my former employment with my current occupation because this is what I love to do so I don't even consider it work.
SUAL: Let’s talk about your run in with the “Storage Wars” cast at an auction 2011. Did you even get to place a bid at that super auction?
It was kind of a fluke, actually. You guys list American Auctioneers auctions (Dan and Laura Dotson Auctions) and they were near my neighborhood: Mission Hills, Los Angeles. When I pulled in, I could tell it wasn’t a normal auction. There was a big crowd. I had to sign a release waiver. They were all pretty down to Earth. Everybody got to bid. It was all in good fun.
SUAL: Did you get a chance to chat with any of them? Was there any interesting words exchanged?
I talked to a few of them. I stood in line with Jarrod Passat waiting to look at a locker. He’s a joker, and so am I most of the time, so we had some commonality. I also talked to Brandon Sheets. Before that, I’d hardly even seen the show, honestly. It was all friendly, but I don’t know if I would do it again because the bidding was so high.
SUAL: Did the episode air, and have you gotten good notoriety from the brush with the stars?
(Laughs) Yeah, it did. They actually filmed me bidding on a unit. I haven’t gotten notoriety—more like harassment (laughs again). It was such a little blurb of a shot, but it definitely gave customers an idea of what I do for a living. They say, “you do storage auctions?” I find it best to tell them, “yes, I do that but I do other things, too.” Even now, customers tell me they just saw me on TV, and that was over a year ago!
See Mr. Griffin on "Storage Wars," Season 2, Episode 6: "Enemy of the Enemy," available on Amazon.
SUAL: Because California is sort of the birth place of storage auctions, would you consider it a mainstream trade in your state or is it still more underground than it appears on TV?
I see what you’re saying. A lot of people do it, but it’s still pretty underground. I don’t mind telling people where I got something from, but it can sometimes be taboo so I don’t feel the need to mention it customers. It’s still a trip to find something antique in a locker—you can’t believe people let this stuff go.
So, I also advertise at the facilities and buy storage directly from people who are a few months behind on rent. It’s interesting that, a lot of the time, people just want to get rid of it all.
SUAL: So, in a sense, buying storage units directly from somebody really makes it a lot less taboo because it's just like any other sale?
SUAL: Tell me about the most jam-packed, high quality storage locker that you ever bought. What was inside and how did you go about selling the stuff off?
I hate to say it was my first one—but it was my first one. I’d never bought a unit before. I was in a partnership with my girlfriend at the time. I asked her if she wanted to go 50/50 on one, just to try it out. I ended up buying the most expensive one of the day. I spent $2,400 on it. I called her up and she was like, “What?!”
Lucky for her, I probably tripled my money on it. I found 4 gold Russian Rubles dating from 1898. I got more than standard gold value for them because they were collectable. I also found two pool tables and some antique furniture. I didn’t have a system or anything at the time. I just rented a U-Haul, loaded it all up, and took it home.
SUAL: When we first spoke, you told me that your bread and butter is the local swap meet, “The Saugus Swap ” in Santa Clarita, California. Can you tell me about ways you have success there?
I do all of my legwork during the week and sell every Sunday. It’s not a big swap meet, probably around 4,000 people in foot traffic. They have a huge swap meet at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and lots of bigger flea markets. I’m sure I could make good money there, but I’m just not interested. I have repeat customers here and that’s worth a lot. Time is money, so I just want to turn this stuff as quickly as I found it. I park my big old green moving truck in the same spot every weekend, right behind my table. I’ll send you a picture of it. You’re going to think it’s cool.
SUAL: Do you ever come up with package deals to keep things fresh for customers? And as a follow up, even when you give into haggling, do you still make profits?
I definitely do deals. When I have a storage unit of my own full of inventory, I sometimes have to ask myself, “do I pay another month’s rent on my storage unit or just turn it all cheaply?” One day, I filled my truck up with hundreds of milk crates and had a "Customer Appreciation Day." I put up a sign that said, “Fill up your Milk Crate for Two Dollars.” It was a huge success. I sat there and watched over a hundred people walking around with bags I gave them to put their stuff in afterwards.
And yes, people haggle all of the time. I think some of them don't even need this stuff, but come just to haggle with sellers. Once I’ve done good for the day, I don’t care about the rest. Sometimes I tell them, “just take it.”
SUAL: Do you work with a team at all and how do you go about splitting profits?
I bring in friends to help me move stuff, and sometimes I use my little nephew, but I pretty much do this by myself. I find auctions on your website and drive my motorcycle to it. If I win something, I come back with my big, green moving truck. It saves on gas. I have a big truck and a big old trailer. I put the good stuff in the truck and the junk in the trailer. It’s the best way to do it.
SUAL: A lot of storage pros stand by eBay for selling classier merchandise. Do you have success selling upscale stuff for what it is actually worth at the Saugus Swap Meet, or do you have to turn to eBay to get fair market value?
I have decent success with the large stuff at the swap. But yeah, the smalls go much more quickly. I once bought a unit with over 1,000 Rock CDs. I sold a bunch of them right off of the bat. I still sell about 15 of them on a weekend, which is good because it’s all profit.
With eBay, getting down to it is the hard part. One time I found boxes of concert T-shirts in a locker and started posting them on eBay. I sold a Jimi Hendrix one for $200 and a Black Sabbath one for $100. I’ve already made profit on that unit and there’s still plenty of money to be made there. I should probably hire somebody to do my eBay postings, but it’s hard to find someone who can convey why the item is special, someone who enjoys this as much as I do.
"If you’re in the storage auction business, you have to know something about a lot of different businesses, so it’s always a creative challenge. It’s about how smart you are and how much of a hustler you are."
SUAL: What was your biggest locker “bust”? What went wrong and what did you learn from it?
There’s only been a few times that I found no value in a unit. My biggest bust was luckily not an expensive one. It didn't look bad from the outside, but inside there was not one single thing that was resellable. Its less about losing money than the fact that you have to haul away all this junk. It's just one of those things around here that you are more likely to find a locker owned bye a dancer from a local dive than grandma's antique collection. But, you can usually always find value in a storage locker. It’s only every once in a while you’ll think, “let’s just take this to the dump.”
SUAL: What is it about StorageUnitAuctionList.com that appeals to you? What would you tell somebody who would rather gather auctions piecemeal or use other free websites?
Anybody who doesn’t do it this way is wasting their time. Time is money and the site is cost efficient. It is great that I don’t have to deal with searching anymore. Your site has lot of the auctions I wouldn’t even have caught. I also do it for the public storage auctions you guys have. Public facilities used to hide their auctions. I'd have to buy a newspaper from chamber of commerce or schmooze with the owners, but that takes a lot of time. You guys have every single one of them.
SUAL: Thanks for all of your stories and insight. One final question. What is it about storage unit auctions that makes you keep coming back? Do you see any end in sight for you as far as this trade goes?
I’d say I like punishment, but that’s not all there is to it (he laughs). I have fun doing this stuff. It’s what I’ve been doing for three years now. You get to know a lot of people. You build relationships. If you’re in the storage auction business, you have to know something about a lot of different businesses. I collect and sell scrap metal. I buy construction units and return the copper fittings and hardwood to Home Depot. They all have their tags so I return these for full price. I made over $700 doing that once. It’s always a creative challenge. It’s like a game called, “how do I make my money back, plus more?” It’s about how smart you are and how much of a hustler you are.
I don’t think you’ll see me ending this anytime soon. I grew up rummaging, yard selling, and attending swap meets, so it’s in my blood. I don’t see an end for me at all.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can catch James "Griff" Griffin every Sunday at "The Saugus Swap Meet," held at the Saugus Speedway in Santa Clarita, California: 22500 Soledad Canyon Road Saugus, CA 91350
Look for the green trim moving truck, pictured above, and "Griff" will not be far.
If you have any high-quality, used goods to sell, or are interested in knowing what treasures Mr. Griffin is currently selling, visit his contact website at: