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Darrell Sheets of 'Storage Wars' Gives Advice on Hunting for Hidden Treasure

by Kelly Woo, posted Jan 4th 2011 4:00PM
Darrell Sheets, Storage WarsAmerica has become obsessed with turning trash into treasure. Witness the burgeoning treasure hunting genre that started with 'Antiques Roadshow' and now includes 'American Pickers,' 'Pawn Stars,' 'Auction Kings,' 'Auction Hunters' and A&E's latest hit, 'Storage Wars.'

While each show takes a different angle, they all essentially feature real-life people looking to uncover the jewels hidden among junk (theirs or someone else's) and make money off of it.

'Storage Wars,' which focuses on four men who bid on defaulted storage lockers, premiered last month to 2 million viewers, making it the cable network's best unscripted debut in 2010. The show's gotten so much buzz that it has spurred such interest in the world of storage auctions that the number of bidders has sometimes quadrupled, according to show star Darrell Sheets.

I spoke to Sheets recently about the newbies in his field, how to determine whether a locker contains valuable items and why he keeps making big bets.

The show has gotten a lot of buzz. What's the reaction been like from people you know?
Seriously, it's been out of control. This whole thing has developed this underground culture and all of these people are coming out of the woodwork. I can't believe it.

Now, you've been doing this since you were a kid, right?
Well, [since] about 20 years old.

How did you get into it?
Well, what happened was, I had a landscaping business, taking care of shopping centers and I wasn't doing it the right way, I guess, because they let me go. Two days later, I went back to him and said, "I want my job back, I'll do a better job." He said, "No, I want to show you something different that I really think you're going to enjoy."

So on the show, you're labeled The Gambler. Do you think you take bigger risks than other bidders?
I know I do. A lot of these people buy a storage locker and go one locker at a time if they win or lose. What I do, I do it by the month. In other words, if I start the month off with $25,000 and end up with $20,000, I've had a losing month. If I start out with $25,000 and end up with $40,000, I had a great month. So I'll gamble on a lot of lockers based on something I see in there, but if I don't like it I'll just give the locker away.

Storage WarsWhen you first see a locker, and you don't know everything that's in it, how do you figure out whether you're going to bid on it and how much you're going to bid? How would you describe your process?
My philosophy is if I want it, I get it. There are circumstances sometimes that don't allow you be that way, but when they first cut the lock off and open the door, there are a lot of things I look for.

Are there cobwebs along the doorjambs? Are the boxes covered with dust? Are there footprints going into the locker -- which would tell you someone had been and out of there recently. Is the lock on the door rusty? Or is it a new lock? If it's rusty, it's been in there a long time. Did they pay a mover good money to move that in there? That usually means they have good stuff. If you pay to move your stuff, it's good stuff.

So the older the stuff looks to be, the more it might be worth?
That tells me more or less what I term "virgin stuff." If there are a lot of footprints and the dust is all moved and everything, that tells me that someone had been going in and out of there and maybe they were using it as sub-storage. If it's all boxed up and dusty and all the furniture is wrapped up, you can tell no one has been there in a long time.

You've been doing this for a long time now. What keeps you at it?
All it takes a good hit and you're addicted. When you buy something for $3,000 and turn it into $100,000 that's like an addict chasing the high. I've tasted about 20 really, really good lockers in my life and I love that feeling. And the only way I can describe it to you -- and it's good that it's this time of year where you'll understand this -- remember when you were 12 years old and mom and dad had all the presents ready and it was Christmas Eve and you're laying down to go to sleep and you're all warm and fuzzy and you couldn't wait to wake up and have at it? It's the exact same feeling every time I buy a locker. I have all these boxes to dig through.

Have you ever had a string of bad lockers where you say, 'I can't do this anymore'?
I never say I can't do this anymore, but I've gone six months without getting a good locker. But this thing goes in tides, you go up and down like the tide in the ocean. It's a numbers game. If you buy 100 of them, one of a 100 is going to stick. You really have to remember that and know that it's going to happen.

Storage WarsThe show focuses on four bidders but I assume there are more out there. How big is this field?
This industry is a lot bigger than people think it is, I'll tell you that. Since the show started, we've gone from 40 to 50 people at an auction to 300 people at an auction. It's now, every guy or woman that's been out of work, sitting on the couch going, "What am I going to do now?" They watch this show and they can literally get up tomorrow morning and go do this.

I just had a girl email me that said, "Darryl, I watched the show and I thought you guys were full of crap. We live in Pennsylvania, my husband and I went out to a locker, an auction, we bought a locker for $25. It was full of all these old wooden boxes. My husband didn't want it, but I had this feeling. We opened it up and it was the entire contents of the General Mills estate from the late 1800s." And she's flabbergasted, she signed it at the end, in big letters, "This really is the wow factor." It made me feel so good that somebody got something like that out of this.

But now you're having to compete against a lot more people.
Here's the deal with that. That's the No. 1 question. They're like, "You opened up your field of business, you're telling them everything about you." I've had 32 years of experience that you can't go buy in school, that you can't get that experience anywhere except through trial and tribulation.

And when I see new people out there and they're going to act like idiots or jerks, trust me when I tell you this -- they're not going to get to buy anything. The veterans are going to run them out of business and help them spend their money so quick, they're going to wonder what they just did. It'll be worse than the penny stocks, believe me when I tell you that.

Do you have advice for somebody who sees the show and think they could do what you do?
I have the best advice you could possibly get. When you go to these auctions, don't stand around and tell everyone that you're new. Have your flashlight and your lock and your cash ready to go, and just act like you've done it a hundred times. Because if you're new, they're going to run you out. If you stand there and act like you know what you're doing, you're going to be right in there with the veterans.

Storage WarsWhat's your relationship with the other bidders? Are you all friends or is there a lot of competition and jealousy?
When we go there, before the auction, we have 20 minutes where we're all standing around calling each other names, making fun of each other. That is actually our entertainment. When the bidding starts, there is no love. It's 'Storage Wars,' not 'Storage Making Love' and it goes off. What you see is really the way it is. The minute the bidding stops, we're all buddies, we'll go get lunch. It's the weirdest thing I've seen in my life.

Me personally, if a guy that's been in the business gets a really good locker and I hear about it, I'm pissed off for about 30, 40 minutes but after that everything is cool ... But that's what makes me want to go out there and get a good locker right along with him.

There are a lot of shows about people taking what seems to be junk and seeing if they can make a treasure out of it. Why do you think there seems to be a rise in popularity with these shows?
I call it the modern day gold rush. Everybody wants to go out and find something that's worth money. That's what makes the whole world run -- money. Once again, somebody could be sitting there watching this and say, "Hey, I might go find the treasure. I might be able to change my whole life by finding that treasure." I think that, and personally, the way our show keeps score, people have somebody to root for ... [there are] a few different elements that really make this work.

What can we expect from the rest of the season? Is there anything we can look forward to?
Yeah, there is. We just finished shooting 12 days in Las Vegas. There were some big hits. Obviously I can't tell you what the big hits were, but it's going to be a lot of fun. Good old Dave the Mogul, he's going to get a little taste of his own medicine here.

I had no idea this world existed!
I'll leave you with this, Kelly, this is something no one's ever asked me or I got to tell them about through all my interviews. This job has also allowed me to take every summer of my life off. I work really hard all winter, I put my money away, and every summer I take off and buy a house on the river, a boat in the harbor, something like that.

If you know how to work it, this can be a great lifestyle. You're in complete control of what's going on. But in the winter it's 7 days a week, 17 hours a day.

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patti_orsack

This guy Darrel is a total idiot. He mixes up his metaphors and combines them until they make no sense. If you don't have any idea what you are talking about....shut up and stop acting like you know everything.

January 29 2013 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
thatoneguy4321

This guy is an absolute moron. Watching an episode now he referenced incorrectly Lao Tsu ("Tao Zoo -- the ancient egyptian warrior" as he said) who is, in fact, Chinese - he wrote "The Art of War". Also, he probably thinks that he is a genius, as most morons somehow do, but he truly was probably dropped on his head as a child and I know I really shouldn't criticize the less mentally-aware.

February 28 2012 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to thatoneguy4321's comment
Coyóte Duran

Sun Tzu wrote "The Art of War," dude.

August 29 2012 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MR. R

Anybody know how I can reach Darrell outside of facebook? I have a question I need to ask him about the brush guard on his Ford Pick up.

January 25 2012 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fresquld

how can I get your crew to my facility "Billy the Kid Secure Storage" in Roswell, New Mexico

November 03 2011 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
grapost

And I'll bet he has not set ANY money aside for his retirement. So he has no pension, no Social Security, no health insurance and if he gets injured and in capacitated, he has no source of regular income, so what's he gonna live on if he gets injured or when he's 70 years old?

The good old TAXPAYERS will end up supporting him till he dies. People who live like this place are irresponsible and place an unfair burden on the rest of us.

September 22 2011 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elizabeth Headworth

I have a lipstick holder that looks like the one you had in your home on one of your shows
could you tell me what its called and how much its worth were can i send you a photo of it

September 02 2011 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Queen Lorraine

Darrell, love the show. I'm impressed with how everything you do has your granddaughter in the forefront of your mind. Here's why I'm commenting-how can I get ahold of Dave Hester, that ******* rat bastard. I cannot stand that prick. He's enough to make you want to puke in your soup. I hate his "YUUUPPP". God, I'd love to give him a back street trachaeotomy, I **** you not. He'll never "YUUUPPP" again I guarantee you that. The ******* will be using sign language. He doesn't even want the units. He just does it to hurt Brandi and Jarrod. He's the epitomy of an *******. He shouldn't be allowed to jump in late just to hurt and piss off other people. He comes with a bankroll that would choke Donald Trump. He needs to be stopped from stealing from others. He also just bids to jack the price up, then stops bidding. So a 400 dollar unit turns into an 800 dollar unit. He's a prick. Oher people have families to feed too. He thinks he's cool carrying his purse around. I'm female and I don't carry one. As far as the rest of the comments, the people that rent these units have to pay a monthly fee. If you stop paying your monthly fee, and the storage unit owners cannot find you, after a certain amount of time, the property inside becomes theirs and they get rid of it this way or some donate the contents. Just like if you don't make your car payments, they repo it. If you don't pay your mortgage, the bank forecloses. If you don't pay your rent, the landlord evicts you. If you don't pay your electric bill, they shut you off. SO, TIM K, YOU ARE VERY UNEDUCATED AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING DRAMATIC HAPPENING IN THEIR LIVES. THESE UNITS ARE ABANDONED. PERIOD. THEY ARE NOT TAKEN. IF THESE PEOPLE THAT RENT THE UNIT CANNOT AFFORD THE UNIT THEY CAN EMPTY IT. THEY HAVE THE KEY EINSTEIN. UNIT BUYERS ARE NOT BOTTOM FEEDERS. THIS IS LEGIT. THE STUFF IN THE UIT CAN'T STAY THERE FOREVER AND THE OWNERS TRY TO CONTACT THEM AND IF YOU'VE RENTED A UNIT AND CHOOSE NOT TO PAY FOR IT, THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM, NOT THE COMPANY. GET A LIFE TIM K, THEN GET AN EDUCATION. I'M SURE YOUR LOCAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WILL BE GLAD TO HAVE YOU. TRY KINDERGARTEN FIRST. FIRST GRADE SEEMS TOO ADVANCED FOR YOU.

April 21 2011 at 3:32 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
turttlemom

Oh yeah and I forgot the main question does that mean the storage company has looked in it to list the contents this way. I just think its interesting but can't get over the fact of why or why not they wouldn't look in it first.? sorry I had to take up two spaces. turttlemom

April 17 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
turttlemom

Hi everyone I've emailed this question before but maybe no one knew the answer or I asked the wrong question. In my area Homestead Florida the storage units are listed, name of person renting the unit, and unit #. Then most of the time it says "misc. household" is that how they're listed if theres something like more than chairs or clothes or just junk. In other words how are the units you look at listed in regards to the kind of stuff inside? I guess thats how to ask. turttlemom

April 17 2011 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Neil Sue Redmond

I have done this for years and it is sad that the tv show is misleading the public into thinking they are going to buy a locker and hit the jackpot . Reality is, there going to lose there money. People are watching the show and turning up with $500 or less thinking they are going to buy a locker and find something like you show on tv. I have found amazing items and there still out there but new people are uneducated and listening to the tv thinking there telling them how to buy. Just because there is a box saying fragile and laptop it is not forced to be in there. Moving companies also deal with evictions so just because a moving company has moved something does not mean anything. They are looking for the "wow factor" but when they open a door with the so called wow factor it is way beyond the reach of new buyers who have just lost there job and looking to make a go of it. I have paid $1000s to learn what these people think they are being let into a secret. I am seeing lockers bought and left to be re auctioned the next time because people are in way over there heads. IT IS NOT LIKE THE TV SHOW! if you have money to loose, go buy a locker and get it out of your system. Tv is staged and made to entertain. Go to an auction and see how many doors they open and it is full of junk. Some of the lockers on tv that sell for $1500 would in reality be more like $3000-$10,000 Dave takes $10,000 to an auction. I would love to come face to face with him and a good locker if he only takes $10,000.

April 16 2011 at 7:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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