Meet Dennis Kostrzewski: Former Number Cruncher, Foolproof Storage Hunter
As the storage auction hunting market continues to attract newcomers, a lot of the faithful have fallen off due to increasingly large bidding crowds. Maybe they were too stubborn to adjust to the throng of “Lookey Loos,” who usually turn out to be as harmless as a swarm of flies. Maybe they mistakenly saw the new market as a sinking ship, so they walked away with their pride intact, cursing Storage Wars and everything else that made storage auctions go viral like Justin Bieber.
Whatever the case may be, storageunitauctionlist.com wants to prove them all wrong by introducing to you Dennis Kostrzewski, one of the longest standing subscribers to our exclusive storage auction list whose story absolutely proves that the new-look storage hunting game is alive and well as it has ever been, for those willing to do it right.
Although not one to wax forth about his business acumen, Dennis admits that he still makes profits on his units ninety percent of the time, after a year and some change of auction going. He has agreed to give away a few secrets to his foolproof storage hunting model, one honed by careful experience turning many a storage unit up in the Great Lakes region for even longer than he has been with us.
“We have a section of the shop called The Man Cave," explains Dennis. “Since you find tools a lot, lately we’ve been looking for units to restock it with power tools and other manly stuff. We try to price everything from the auctions to sell quickly.”
Currently living in Osakis, Minnesota, he’s inhabited this sometimes serene, sometimes physically harsh Great Lakes region his entire life. His father was a welder in Chicago, where Dennis spent forty-three long years before skipping between North Dakota, Wisconsin, and finally, Osakis, where he has happily landed for good (I asked him jokingly if he had been searching for the warm area).
Working alongside his partner in crime, Jon Backes, a former EBay store connoisseur, Mr. Kostrzewski has come a long way from the hard days of buying units and selling everything off piecemeal, a process that can quickly overwhelm new re-sellers. Nowadays, he and Jon attend about twice a month and only go after monster units.
“We like the jam-packed units,” he admits. “The bigger and more stuffed a unit, your odds improve for making profit. You probably have a fifty-fifty shot on the small ones.”
Like the best unit he ever won, just the third one he ever bought, early in his career. Although hunters know they would be wise to shut their eyes, click their heels, and chant the mantra, “it’s not like on TV, it’s not like on TV,” it could be argued that the whopper Dennis scored that day was movie worthy in its own right. He relates:
"When they opened the door, a monitor fell out, and behind it was a wall of boxes. I think we got it for $1,200 and made four times that on it. It was loaded with stuff: nine hundred comic books that we sold for two to three dollars each, entire bedroom suites of furniture, clothes, games, an entire family’s house worth of stuff.”
Also inside this treasure trove was an entire kitchen’s worth of appliances, including a microwave and a crock pot, as well a flat-screen TV, and Norman Rockwell plate ware. Such are the sorts of units that are still being landed these days, for those willing to exhibit some abstinence on lockers that just look like a gamble.
“I’ve seen stupid things, like people bidding six hundred dollars on a lawn mower,” he says with a wry laugh.
A large part of his assignment as a consignment shop owner is to decide which items, if any, are going to fetch him a better price on EBay or at a favorite source selling source of his, K-Bid.com, a state of the art, online auction website where internet buyers bid on Dennis’s best finds and go pick it up themselves. Through K-Bid, so much of the resale groundwork is done for the seller/auction goer.
However, a storage hunter must be judicious in deciding which singular treasures they should leave up the mercy of the bidding masses, as convenient as a source as K-Bid may be. Dennis heartily recommends that when you find something that is “alien” to your internal catalogue of value, find out what it is and what it is worth before making any hasty sale decisions.
Like a pair of 1970’s chrome chairs he acquired in one unit, which his partner Jon was convinced were just run of the mill. Through some research, Dennis was ultimately was able to ship off the rare, vintage chairs to North Hollywood for two hundred dollars apiece.
He concedes, however, that not every day is the jackpot. Because he is now somewhat of a public figure in Osakis as a store owner, Dennis has to abstain from attending storage unit auctions in his local radius. Why? Because he doesn’t want his customers to stroll into Kornerstone one day and see their grandmother’s kitchen table for sale in his consignment shop.
So, he must migrate to the suburbs of Minneapolis and face a sharper, more professional bidding crowd who know the same secret that he does: suburban storage facilities hold the treasures worth bidding on.
“I see the same people everywhere I go,” he explains coolly. “The guys who are full time are obvious, and they’re all pretty fair minded.”
I ask him if he has noticed the kind of sadistic, competitive bidding behavior that the TV shows hyper-focus on to beef up the drama. He admits:
“There’s a few people I don’t care for that I like to beat when I can. Like one guy we call ‘The Teacher,’ because we’re guessing that’s what he does for a living. He stands right behind you and every time you bid, he yells ‘five’ after you. He wears you down. We don’t often bid on the stuff he does.”
Annoying figures like “The Teacher” aside, Dennis doesn’t make it about the competition. Utilizing a simple formula, Dennis and Jon have only lost money on one single unit across their entire careers.
“I get together with Jon and we first decide if we want to take the unit home, then come up with an appraisal of the unit that we both agree on. If other people are intent on bidding on it until the end, we will only bid up to twenty percent over that number.”
As mentioned, they focus their efforts only on the larger, more jam packed units, preferably full of boxes. Occasionally, he admits, some of the boxes within may be mislabeled because people got them second hand (like one guy he saw drop $1,200 on a unit with promising titles that ended up being all mislabeled) but overall, the more boxes, the better the odds of surprisingly lucrative treasures, mislabeled or not.
Having dropped a couple of his calls from my dead-zone office, Dennis has been more than a trooper already. So, I ask him if there is any other advice he’d like to share with storage auction hunters for whatever stage of it they happen to be in. He responds immediately:
“I think the biggest thing over all is that it is a lot more work than I expected to be. It takes us about two to three hours to load up the truck after the auction, then it takes about two weeks after we get it back to our place to sort it, give stuff to Goodwill, throw away mattresses, and get everything in the place to sell. You won’t get the big wall-unit in every locker. I don’t know how they do it on TV. They leave the hard work out.”
For a retired accountant with three grown up children who has found nothing but storage auction success in a cold, hard region not nearly as robust with auctions as coastal states, these words should be taken to heart. If you win a unit, this is only the beginning. This is an industry that provided a full time career for those who have been laid off, or those who want to get off the conventional employment map for a while. Or in Dennis’s case, something mentally, physically, and occupationally exhilarating to do after reaching retirement.
There is work to be done, but in America, a land speckled with over two billion square feet of storage facilities, always enough units to be won.
Check Out Dennis's Store, "Kornerstone Konsignments" if you live in Minnesota!
201 Central Avenue, Osakis, MN, 56360