Selling Everything from Skulls to Heirlooms
Mother-and-son duo Debra and David Blue see a lot of unusual stuff as the founders of Blue Moon Estate Sales. Going from one house to the next, appraising items, doing pop-up sale marketing, participating in the downsizing or end of people's lives, the estate sale business is unlike any other—and in this age of "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars," business is booming.
Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Blue Moon Estate Sales began franchising in 2013 and is already up to 14 locations, including its first franchised location, run by patriarch Ken Blue. Its locations are primarily in North Carolina, but range as far west as Houston all the way up to New Jersey. As it seeks new units, Blue Moon is seeking to radiate outward from its existing turf.
“About 80 percent of what we do is actually downsizing, people moving to their second home for their retirement years, assisted living or other type of downsize,” David said. “We’ve helped 30-somethings move to England all the way up to 90-year-olds who were downsizing to apartment living.”
With a dad in the flea market biz, I can certainly relate to the excitement of working with fresh clients every week, interacting with a large horde of curious sale patrons and, most vividly, the thrill of finding something truly valuable among the pile of embroidered sweatshirts, old dishes and knick knacks.
“We see a lot of the same stuff in every home we’re in, but we have an eye for the unusual,” he said. “We teach our franchisees how to spot unusual things … [and] have sold hundreds of thousands of items at this point.”
“Seeing it all” years into the estate sale business now includes everything from a human skull—believed to have been used for academic purposes—to historic war artifacts and highly valuable coins and hand-me-down jewelry.
At one recent sale, a gentleman had a military helmet with unusual markings. After some investigation, the Blues determined it was from a German soldier coming off the beaches of Normandy for treatment at a neutral hospital.
“We attached that story to the helmet and were able to sell it at a big premium because it had some good providence with it and history,” David said. Other notables include a shag rug made out of monkey pelts from some Dead Heads, and a recent stash of silver dollars that went for as high as $2,500 a piece.
While he admits he’s not personally a fan of antiques in his own home, David added that helping people understand, price and sell these items is extremely rewarding and keeps his work interesting on a daily basis.
The fee for sellers is around 35 percent, with some variability depending on the area and amount of hoarding at play, and the franchisee fee for Blue Door is $25,000.
While my own dad might tell prospective ‘zees that all they need is a table and a chair to get started in this business, the Blues talk a good game of their expertise, marketing skill and training programs to teach their newbies how to spot rare and valuable items like an expert.
With the country’s aging demographics, there’s a solid argument that the boom tires are just beginning in the estate sale and flea market realms. That means a lot of interesting conversations and investigations yet to happen. From what I’m hearing, the social component is the most important part of the equation.