Dan and Laura Dotson Interview
It just happens to be the hottest show on all of Cable t.v. at this time.
We are talking of course about the wildly successful show – “Storage Wars”.
At the center of “Storage Wars” success – auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson!!
Dan and Laura spoke with us about “Storage Wars” and their role in it, their business, as well as their future.
Q – It seems every time I turn on A and E there you are!!
Laura – Love it!
Dan – It seems like they just run those shows like the re-runs are doing better than some of the new shows.
Laura – We’re an educational show. We’re teaching you how to buy and sell and become an auctioneer!! (Laughs). It’s been a lot of fun.
It certainly is interesting, informative and entertaining.
Dan – Well, thank-you. We’re glad you love it. We’re in our third season.
Laura – Thank-you!
Q – Just how successful is “Storage Wars” on A and E? It seems like just a few years ago, “American Pickers” was the hot show. Now “Storage Wars” has pushed them aside just a little bit.
Dan – Well, ‘Storage Wars’ has pushed a bunch of people around. But, ‘American Pickers’ is a strong show. They have a great format. They still run really good numbers. But, you’re right. ‘Storage Wars’ has grabbed up lots of viewers. We’re about in the 4-5 million range and it seems like people love it.
Q – 4 – 5 million per show or a week?
Laura – Per show. We re-run so many shows that we were looking at our t.v . by the numbers or those deals that check out the ratings. We were looking at that and I said, ‘Did you know honey that the re-runs of ours are actually doing better than Pawn Stars re-runs? We were looking at their 8 o’clock to our 8 o’clock. It was 60,000 better. 100,000 better. Their night is Monday night. They’re number one for History. We’re Tuesday night. We’re number one and we’re very, very excited. IF we were on Monday night, I think it would be a lot of auction and a lot of items. I really believe we are totally two different shows. But, it is all about the treasure hunt and finding that value, what is it worth? I think the world has come to love it and we’re finding out. We’ve got international fans. Last night my episode was on ‘Pay The Lady’, which is an episode where I’m auctioneering. That’s Season One Show, Episode 22. I was getting so many Twitters. I got 500 new fans last night. I thought what’s going on? They’re from the U.K. and Ireland and Scotland. They said, ‘Hey Laura. Pay the lady. We didn’t know that you could talk that fast’. It is a phenomenon we’re finding out all over the world. I don’t se any end in sight. I think this is something that Danny and I are going to be the most outrageous, most popular auctioneers in the world and these buyers that are out there are like Super Heroes. Anybody can get off the sofa, go out there and start making some money. This shows that the ‘American Dream’ is attainable.
Q – One of the guys from the “Pawn” show went on Jay Leno and said the show was being seen in 150 countries. That’s got to be pretty much the same thing for you isn’t it?
Laura – Exactly. We are part of the History Channel. A and E owns History, so I believe that their marketing team is probably doing the same thing. They’re spreading us all over and the reception we’re getting is really warm. It’s exciting for us. Danny and I are getting a little more air time this season. You’re gonna find out who we are. They’re allowing me to do more auctions, showing that a lady can do it in a man’s world. When this show started, they were not going to show me auctioneering. It was more like Danny’s the auctioneer. They said, ‘You guys have some big personalities’. That time Danny had gotten up in the morning and had a tiny, little cough, but, you know, he’s a smoker. I just thought I’m going to let him sleep in a little bit here. He works so doggone hard. He wasn’t feeling that great, but Danny has never called in sick. Well, I got up and drove away and I wanted to handle this auction and give him the time off so we could have the weekend and have some fun. When I showed up, all the cameras were there. I’m a little bit panicked. So, I called Danny and said, ‘The cameras are here. It’s gonna be sale time in a little while’. He said, ‘Where the heck are you’? He said, ‘I feel fine’. I said, ‘I just want you to have the day off’. He said, ‘Really? You can handle it by yourself’? I said, ‘Yes’ and I looked at the cameras and thought this is my chance to debut. I’ve been auctioneering since 1996. So, when I showed up they said, ‘Where’s Danny’? I kind of said a little fib. ‘He’s not really feeling that well’. Sure enough they said to me, ‘O.k. Are you handling the auction today’? I said, ‘Yes, I am’. Can you do this? I said, ‘Yes, I can’. And that was my chance to shine.
Dan – I’ve been hustling since I was a kid and Laura’s been hustling since she was a kid. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about just being able to figure out what your niche can be, where your strengths are. You get up every day and make the money. You do the trades. You buy the stuff. You hustle wherever you can. If you’re in an industry like ours where it’s kind of a special thing, it’s like trying to be an actor. You just can’t say, Hey I’m gonna be an actor and go do it. You gotta do a lot of things.
Laura – And study.
Dan – In our case, you go donate your time. You do whatever you can. You help the other local auctioneers around you. You have to learn how to…..
Laura – Auctioneer.
Dan – Have social skills to get along with them so they don’t feel threatened as you’re learning. It’s just a lot of things that are in the fabric of our culture to be this entrepreneur. I mean everybody’s really an entrepreneur and I just think some people are better at it than others.
Laura – Maybe people dream a little bigger than others. When they do that they see this opportunity and things start to fulfill their dreams and go a little bit farther and a little bit more. I think with Danny and I he had this great business he had been working on. I met him in 1996, Danny being an auctioneer from his mother and his grandfather also. We decided I was going to sell my restaurant.
Dan – I met her in ’93. I met her again in ’94 and I met her again in ’95 and hooked up with her later.
Q – Are you telling me you went into a restaurant to have something to eat and that’s how you met her?
Dan – No. It was the other way around.
Laura – Danny was actually selling out a restaurant with restaurant equipment. And I was opening restaurants. So, I was looking for pizza equipment and restaurant equipment. One of the restaurants I had taken over before I had built two of my own. They said, ‘Have you ever heard of this auction co. American Auctioneers? Have you ever heard of buying equipment other than full price’? I said, ‘At an auction? I got to see this’. So, I go down and instantly Danny and I our eyes met. This is ’93, ’94, ’95.
Dan – I’m flirting with her big time. I’m auctioneering. I’m down there working stuff. ‘Hey look at that blonde-haired, green eyed girl. You and I would make a good couple’ or whatever. Anyway we just left and that happened about 3 years ago.
Laura – I’m thinking this auctioneer boy is really sweet. He’s trying to make me buy a lot of stuff or something.
Q – Did it work?
Laura – Oh, yes it did. I’m the actual winner here. I got the auction fever. I got the best deal of the day. I won Danny Dotson. We have a son together. We’ve been together 16 years now. Danny has not only given the world a wonderful, wonderful chance to see him auctioneer with his rhythmic auction chatter and bringing this excitement, but he’s given me this opportunity to enjoy my life and become an auctioneer. I sold my restaurants. He’d gotten his wisdom teeth pulled and had some auctions lined up. His mother said to me, ‘You can go do it’. I’m like, ‘No. You should go do it’. She was an auctioneer. ‘You need to go out and do it. She goes, ‘I’m handling other stuff and you’re gonna go do this. Don’t be afraid’. I looked at her and said, ‘I’m terrified’. She said, ‘Laura it doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as you can talk it out and get the money. You’re one of the biggest talkers I know’. I had so much confidence and I went out there and got Top Dollar on these items. Danny just said to me, ‘You know what? I think you just found your calling’. I said, ‘I think I did too. I’ve always wanted to be in front of everybody, and be the center of attention and the only girl’. So, it’s been a dream come true. He’s taught me how to auctioneer and when I wake up in the morning I love work. I love what we’re doing and notice that with Danny every day is a thrill for him. He says, ‘You know what? It doesn’t feel like work to me’.
Q – How did A and E hear about you two? Did they come up with this concept for “Storage Wars”?
Dan – ABC, NBC, and KCGL did thrift economy stories in 2009. Laura and I had started putting cameras in the self-storage and other auctions and putting it on You Tube about a year, year and a half before that.
Laura – Making our own little treasure hunts. I was helping Danny build his legacy because 3rd generation auctioneer, he did not have any footage plus I wanted to show myself on there. Danny started putting these You Tube up and the rest in History.
Q – Dan, I think you are to Auctions, what Michael Buffer is to Boxing. You’re so recognizable.
Laura – Oh, wow!
Dan – Yeah. Absolutely. We’ve invented ourselves in this industry. We’ve been in Self-Storage for 25 years. After ABC, NBCm and KCGL did this thrift economy story we had 20 separate production cos. contact us in 18 months. Thom Beers was Number 16. Laura and I had been to contract with two other production cos. 6 months at a time. Both of them failed. Laura one day said, ‘God, please send us a Thom Beers’, ‘cause we had so many people coming at us. I didn’t know who he was. I asked her’ – ‘Who’s that?’
Laura – I said the only shows you’ll sit down and watch with me are basically reality shows. If he comes along, he’s the one. He’s the money man. He’s the Gold money dreamer, the maker. And, it happened.
Dan – Three weeks later, this guy comes to my sale and says, ‘Have you ever thought of doing a reality show?’ I said, ‘You’re Number 16, Baby’. That’s what I said to him. He gives me his card and it’s Thom Beers. I said, ‘My wife prayed you’d come around and here you are. You’re the man’. So, here we are. He took his hands in a triangle and said, ‘This is an easy concept. A lot of shows are a little more difficult with the nuts and bolts. This is easy. It will all fall together’. Laura and I always knew we could put this stuff out there and these buyers were interesting buyers that are out there. We’ve got a good cross-section of people that were ultimately chosen.
Laura – They said, ‘We see what you guys are doing. We’re watching your videos. Do you guys have any great buyers or anybody that you would like to bring down and cast’? Danny said, ‘Well, yes. I’ve got Dave Hester’. Danny and I put lists together. It was so funny. We started doing a check list. Dave was at the Top of each one of our lists. We both had Jarrod, Brandi.
Dan – It was kind of interesting. We had 12-15 people. We were smart enough to choose who to pick.
Laura – And Darryl. We’ve known these people forever. Like Danny’s known Dave for 25 years. I’ve known him 16 (years). I’ve known Darryl for 15 years, Jarrod and Brandi for about 3 (years). They said, ‘You know, people that got along, don’t get along, you know, new buyers, old buyers. Just tell us what you got’. Danny and I knew what we had and with the 6,000 buyer base we had at the time, and now it’s huge. We’re part of a national co. which is Storage Treasures. We have 349,000 different registered bidders. Different cos. on there. So, this is really going nation-wide for us. We are ecstatic!
Dan – We’re doing some national sales. We’re going to South Carolina. We’ve got some things in Texas, Georgia that we’re looking into. Just really exciting times for us. We went from Laura and I and my brother and a couple other auctioneers and we’ve got 14 auctioneers now. They’re seasoned good guys and happy to work with us.
Laura – And, we have enough business to keep them busy. The work is coming and the people are seeing it and the word is out there are auctions and that’s the way to go. We’re happy to take it on. We don’t just do storage which is a mass majority. We do different liquidations and appraisals.
Dan – We do homegate sales and commercial sales. A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing the last 3-4 years is REO, for post market, doing the appraisals on the abandoned personal property. That was actually a God saver for me 4 years ago. I was broke, man. The economy was tanked. I was losing 6 grand a month, some of my major accounts. I just had a couple weeks to go and an attorney called me up that I had worked with in the 80’s and 90’s. This is where longevity really pays off. He calls me up and says, ‘Hey Dan are you still doing the same thing’? I said, ‘Yes, I am’. I didn’t know it but, he was the exclusive eviction attorney for Wilshire Bank and Indymac Bank. He helped me.
Laura – He helped us to pull the For Sale sign right off our house.
Dan – And buy equipment. We bought a bunch of filming equipment. We got some professional people to do our editing for You tube.
Laura – When the economy started to tank, it started a little bit for us and all of a sudden it tripled, turned over and went the opposite direction. We turned 300 auctions to 3,000 auctions that we’re handling now with appraisals, even more. We’re just absolutely excited.
Dan – What we did is we got our cart ahead of our horses. We started building our foundation probably before we needed it. It was expensive. Then, when we lost a couple of major accounts it almost just flipped me on my head. But, we worked it out, because we are entrepreneurs.
Q – When I watch “Storage Wars” it’s always the same people bidding – Barny Weiss, Darryl, Jarrod. Is that because these people have the most money? I used to think, are these guys actors?
Dan – No. I like the way it’s working out now. What they do is when someone on the show buys a unit and it happens lots of times, they drop the camera and go to the next one. When someone from the show buys a unit; let’s say Dave buys a unit for $500, we do a thing called Take Two. That’s when the unit still legally sold for $500, but, they’re going to go and change the cameras around and ultimately what they were doing for a long time is just focusing on the buyers, the characters on the show. So, the Take Two they would just replace those bids from people. It ultimately sold for the same amount, they just changed the angles on it, and focused on the people cast on the show and not new buyers because I think they believe if they get too many personalities involved in the show it may not be as good.
Laura – That’s one thing A and E said, ‘We want some core people that people can fall in love with and tune into week after week. If we have too many buyers in there, they’re not going to feel something that they know and understand this person’. So, there’s lots of times, like just the other day we did a huge auction, a co. unit and nobody bought anything. I thought, Wow! our cameras are out here. That was a wasted day and now we’re going off to the next. Sometimes it takes auction after auction after auction just to finally get a show because they’re up against a lot of stiff competition. Those units are going crazy, high prices. Sometimes it’s a no win and you’re gonna see it on the show. So, they are introducing some new people that are around that are really steppin’ up. So, you’re gonna see it on the camera coming in and kind of giving them a run for their money. So, they’re not as willing to allow the camera to follow them for 2 or 3 days after the excavation to find the treasure, see if it’s in there, and then to be interviewed. Having the cast member, they’re ready for that. It’s something that they’re definitely going to do.
Q – Is Barry Weiss a music executive? What’s he doing bidding on storage units?
Dan – No. This guy is a produce guy. He’s into fruits and vegetable with his Dad and brother in L.A. That’s what he did forever. His Dad passed away years ago and his brother bought him out about 5 years ago.
Laura – He’s kind of a rocker in the sense that he knows all about the music and the movies.
Dan – He’s the only guy on the show who is Thom Beer’s friend. He’s the Jewish godfather to Jesse James, Sandra Bulleck’s Jesse James. They met on ‘Monster Garage’. I’m sure that Thom Beers looked at hom and said, ‘You’re one of a kind, unique guy. I’m gonna find the perfect place for you’. And, he was a collector. He likes all the interesting stuff. If you ever went to his house he’s got the most interesting Man Cave you’ve ever seen.
Laura – Thom Beers once said, ‘You know, I’ve been to a lot of auctions and I’ve not seen anyone like Barry. When Monster Garage would happen we’d be looking for a certain type of stick shift or hood ornament or certain thing and he was always able to find it. This guy knows where everything is. He knows everyone. He buys everything. I think he’d be perfect for the show’. Danny was like, ‘Who is this guy? I don’t know him’. I’m telling you Barry has given these guys a run for their money too.
Dan – He doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t care. It’s obvious. He donates most of his stuff.
Q – Before the auction is set, do you get to see what is in the storage unit?
Dan – Whenever you see that little red tag that is on every show, maybe they don’t show it, in reality 3 weeks ahead of these shows and we go up to the door and put a camera on a tripod. There’s always a set of eyeballs. We have very strict procedure for our lock cuttings and the only time we go into a unit is if there’s guns, a meth lab or an automobile we need to get numbers off of. The rest of the time it’s inventoried from the door, evaluated from the door. It’s all done on camera and then we put a seal on it. When we close that door down we read that seal back to the camera. We put a Manager’s Overlock on, or the Manager actually does that. Then they shut the camera off and go to the next unit.
Laura – The first time the buyers ever lay their eyes on that unit is when we are cutting off that Manager lock, breaking that seal that is still intact. They know nobody’s been in the unit and that’s the first time they do it.
Dan – That’s not 100% of the facilities, but, probably 90% of the facility.
Laura – That’s the first time Danny and I lay our eyes on the unit because it’s the Manager and Lock cutter that do it prior.
Dan – I could grab that stuff up and take a look at it, but, I don’t.
Laura – He probably sells 30,000 – 40,000 units a year so there’s so many chances for treasure. I just don’t see the end in sight.
Dan – I wish we could have a camera at every sale every time. Laura’s right. You just never know what’s gonna come out of there. It seems that there’s more stuff that’s discovered when there’s no camera around than there ever is with one around.
Laura – Right.
Q – Barry will often say, “This is a rich area. There’s got to be something good in that unit”. If it’s such a rich area, why didn’t the person keep up the payments on the locker?
Laura – Many, many different reasons. Some times when we have star stuff like Madonna’s stuff, and Suge Knight and Jack Kevorkian it’s because their assistants put things on the storage. The credit card was either void or not valid anymore or they got fired or went to jail like Suge Knight’s stuff or Jack Kevorkian or the wealthy people, there’s divorce situations or they’re going through a legal battle and it’s in storage and somehow it didn’t get paid and it’s through trustees and then it’s lost and that is how these items came up. It’s incredible when they look for all next of Kin. In November of 2011, I reported on Twitter ‘Hey, congratulations John of San Jose on your $500,000 pieces of eight, Gold find in a unit for $1,100. All the new stations and t.v. stations picked it up. Danny and I were filming and we got to go on Fox News and talk about it. Sure enough they look for next of Kin and there just wasn’t any. This unit that looked like a regular unit, nothing spectacular had treasures. You never know what you’re going to find. Jack Kevorkian had $38,000 in a unit. He was in jail. His assistant had put it in there. That unit went up for auction and that person that found that unit got to keep his Death Machine, his paperwork and all that cash.
Dan – There’s a lot of reasons like Laura says that people lose their stuff. One thing is for sure, when people get desperate and they do go broke, their priorities all change. You would think if he had that in that unit why wouldn’t he just go sell it and get the money and do it? Who the hell knows? I don’t know why people do what they do. Maybe there was somebody else in the family kind of loaded stuff on top of it and that person ended up dying. Then another family member looked at it, and said, ‘This is just Jack’s crap when it was really Aunt Lilly’s stuff and it was great’. When you have so much stuff being stored and eventually some of it being sold, when you have that much of a turnover there’s stuff out there. It’s like a slot machine handle. If you can get it there and double or triple your money or break-even, that’s a win. If you can do that long enough you might be one of the lucky enough ones that pulls the handle and it turns into a jackpot. It can happen.
Laura – Sometimes it’ll slip right through your fingers and you say, ‘Why didn’t I just pull the trigger on that one? This guy just won that unit and he’s a newbie. I’ve been doing it for all these years. Well, what it’s done is that newbie is hooked. He’s gonna be there for 20 years too.
Dan – Some might be there for 20 days.
Laura – Yeah. You were asking why don’t they get back in their unit if they know there was money in the unit? Once they haven’t paid, they’re 30 days late, it goes into a lockening procedure then that lock is cut and they are not allowed to come through the gate any longer with their code. They have to come pay that bill before they go back there and cut someone else’s locker, get in there and pull their stuff out. So, it’s insurance for then and assurance that they’re absolutely going to get their money. When they say ‘I’ll work a deal with you, sometimes they make payments. They’re able to do it. Sometimes they say, ‘Fire, I’ll get you next month and it goes to another month and another month. In that process they’re running ads, liens. It’s a 64 day process. That’s in California. Once they’re done all the liens and we’re done the lock-cutting and we’re able to get in there and get it inot the schedule, it’s anywhere from 64 to 90 days. They can show up at the last moment literally when that door opens and bid on it to get it or pay for it in the office the minute before the sale. So, they really do have that opportunity but, sometimes they just don’t show up.
Dan – I’ve seen storage units where you’ve had nothing but little bags there and inside the bags are nothing but old bottle caps or food. The other ones will be wrapped up around everything they pulled out of the box from QVC on t.v. All brand new stuff. Thousands of dollars’ worth of it. Why would they do that? I have no idea.
Q – How do you two get paid? Does the auction house pay you? Does the buyer have to pay you a percentage of what they bid?
Dan – It works all ways. Our co. is a commission based co. We usually charge anywhere from 20% on self-storage, up to 35% depending on what we’re doing. With self-storage at this point in California there is no buyer’s premium which is usually 10 or 15%. That’s when a buyer pays for the item they pay us $110 or $115. We do charge buyers premiums on a lot of our sales and it’s a matter of time, probably a short time that the whole self-storage industry will be charged a buyer’s premium and I imagine the auctioneers will reduce their commissions down to the sellers.
Q – I’m guessing it takes a while to understand what it is you’re saying at an auction. You talk so fast. Is this something you can learn as time goes on?
Dan – Well, yeah. It doesn’t take that long sometimes. It really depends on the auctioneer. I was doing a fundraiser 10 or 12 years ago and there was a little old couple out front. I was talking to them. ‘I’m the auctioneer tonight. I’m Dan Dotson’. Well, you’re not one of those fast-talking auctioneers are you? ‘Well, I’m pretty fast’. We don’t hear very good and we like to be able to hear. I said, ‘Well, I think you’re going to be able to hear everything just fine ma’am. If you don’t I want you to let me know’. We got through with the night and she said, ‘I can understand everything you’re saying. You’re a magnificent auctioneer her husband said’. I take a lot of pride in being crisp at what I’m saying. If you just listen usually we’re asking for how much money we want. The lesser number is how much we do have. People just have to kind of open their minds up to it and listen and then they get it. Some people it freaks them out. They just don’t even want to listen.
Laura – I think the auction chatter is part of the excitement and frenzy that absolutely gets them to spend their money. The chatter just makes it fantastic.
Dan – You’ve heard of the term ‘Auction Fever’ haven’t you?
Q – No. I haven’t.
Dan – It’s just a term ‘Auction Fever’. What it applies to is people get in there and they get over-zealous and they bid. I think it’s a true phenomenon. They’re proven that when people shop their endorphins travel a certain way and it makes them feel good. It certainly makes ‘em feel good when they’re shopping. So, I think when people get to be involved in an auction it kind of involves everybody. It helps them feel good. You know, my grandfather always said if I would have a good time and enjoy myself that I would be the best auctioneer out there. And, I’ve always had a good time and enjoyed myself.
Q – How far can you take what you’re doing on t.v.? I realize that if and when “Storage Wars” ends you would go on as auctioneers.
Dan – I don’t know. We’ve had a lot of opportunities. We get opportunities all the time for different things. I think we could probably start a consulting business.
Laura – I think Laura is going to be a t.v. show/game show host.
Dan – We actually have some plans, dreams about putting together a show, a game show. Laura and I would both make excellent hosts for something like that. I think our concepts would really be solid. So, we’re probably going to let ‘Storage Wars’ run it’s course and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of options for Laura and I to do celebrity endorsements, maybe write a book or two.
Laura – And auctions, auctions, auctions.
Dan – And if we have 200 auctioneers strewn all over the United States and we’re doing 200-300 auctions a day them we won’t care if we’re on t.v. or not.
Q – You’re going to be media entrepreneurs!
Laura – Oh, I love it!
Dan – That’s probably what this whole interview was about, just so you could tell me that. This is a blast. We’re having the time of our lives. No kidding. We’ve certainly brought it to A and E’s attention that we could be the conduit for every show in this franchise and to schedule it and produce it and make it work that we’d be really happy to step up and do that. We think all of the shows would be better if they had a common denominator that would be the King and Queen of Auctions, the Duke and Duchess, Dan and Laura Dotson. I told one of the heads of A and E about this and he kind of looked at me and goes, ‘You know, I do agree, but, not as much as you’.
Laura – (Laughs). We’re Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We just love it. Danny and I are thrilled. We just thank you for letting us be the ambassadors to this auction world. And don’t forget to pay the lady!
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