Friday, December 31, 2010

Estate Sale with the Vintage Girls - what a mistake (From April 2010)

THE VINTAGE GIRLS and the bad experience I had with them…

By barbaradouglas

My Mother recently passed away unexpectedly and I was faced with the daunting task of handling her estate. The biggest challenge was cleaning out her 3 bedroom, 3 bath 2 story condo that she had lived in for 20 years. I happen to come acrosswww.estatesales.net , a website where estate sales planning companies can list their sales. I chose 3 companies who work in the Atlanta area, looked at their individual websites and then had them meet me at different times over at my Mom’s condo to go through it. The companies were all similar but I chose the Vintage Girls because I felt the best connection with the owner (1 of 2) who came to meet me. Her name is Cheryl Dobson and she explained to me that she was recently hired by the original owner, Ashley Wheeler, to handle the finances and to be the upfront ”people person” of the company. Unfortunately, I did not ask all of the right questions, and did not meet the other owner prior to signing a contract, as things were much different than I had been led to believe.

First of all, I was led to believe that my Mom’s condo would be the only sale they would be handling this particular weekend. I was also told that 3-4 people would be at the sale to handle the flow of customers, make sure that parking was not a problem in the condo complex and to handle the check out area. ONLY days before the sale, I discovered that The Vintage Girls had scheduled another sale the same weekend and that they would be splitting their resources to handle both (ie. limited personnel and signage for the sale and having to stage and set up 2 sales the week before instead of just one.)

Because we knew that there was no way that the limited staff could handle the traffic and parking in the condo community, my husband and I were forced to do “parking attendant” duty for every hour of the sale. This ended up being enlightening because it is how we found out about a lot of the disappointments that we had during the sale. Normally, estate sale companies do not want the owners anywhere around during the sale, and now, maybe I understand why.

For our sale, we only had Cheryl Dobson (the newest & more pleasant owner) and one helper for each of the 3 days. I thought that the staging/displays were acceptable in only the living room downstairs. The Den and the kitchen looked disheveled and the bedrooms looked pretty much like they did before the Vintage Girls got there – with items pulled out but not classified or organized.

ex: den

master bath

Kitchen

I had been told by both owners that they would bring lots of racks to hang up my Mother’s clothing (because I thought her closet was too dark and cramped for people to see anything and shop) and that the items would be identified by menu type signs (ie. pants-$, shirts, $, etc). I had spent weeks prior to the sale making sure that the clothing was organized and in very good shape so I was distraught to discover late on Friday, the first day of the sale, that none of the clothing had been displayed on racks or group priced. (When asked, Cheryl said the rack (just one) was still in her car.) I ended up bringing my own clothes rack over the next morning early and displaying some of the items. When Cheryl saw how upset I was, she did write out some pricing on notebook paper and added it to the racks so that people could know the prices of the clothing items and shoes. We discovered on Sunday afternoon as the sale was winding down that the main coat closet had never even been opened up by The Vintage Girls and so none of the things in that closet had been on display during the sale. Just one more disappointment in a long weekend.

As for advertising, I started checking The Vintage Girls’ own website on the Tuesday prior to the sale. There were no updates until about Thursday. I also started checking on Craigslist on Tuesday for any ads from them but saw none. Since I was getting worried, I posted my own ad on Craigslist for the sale – with pictures. Still looking to see if they were going to post one, I continually checked Craigslist until Thursday about 9 pm. Apparently, they did add one on Thursday around 9:15 pm but it had no pictures on it. Many of the people coming to the sale had copies of MY Craigslist ad with them and one lady, who had contacted me about an item I had shown in my ad, drove over an hour to come buy that item. She ended up buying several other items as well. The Vintage Lady does not put pictures in their Craigslist ads. Finally, even though they identified their sale on Estatesales.net on Tuesday, they noted that pictures would be up on Wednesday am but I never saw any pictures until Thursday. And, when the pictures were finally added, they were not particularly inviting.

Here is one example: This is a picture of a decorative CD holder that looks like a golf bag. It still has the tags on it (originally $180) but had been in a storage unit with saran wrap on it for protection. The Vintage Girls never removed the plastic wrap, never priced it and took a picture of it just like this for the website. This is how it stood all day Friday during the sale. You really could not even tell what it was until I saw it in the condo on Saturday morning and cut off the wrap and priced it for them (It sold later that morning!)

As for signage, I was told that they had professionally prepared signs that would be up on a lot of street corners. The ”professional printed sign” that we ever saw was the one directly in front of the condo and when people parked in front, the sign was not visible. We had brought helium balloons with us to the sale every day and we ended up parking our car in front of the unit and adding a lot of helium balloons to it to help idenitfy the sale’s location. The signs outside the condo complex were handmade and after one customer commented to us that she missed it the first time because the sign was not very visible, we added helium balloons to that sign ourselves. We also made a huge sign promoting 50% off for the last day of the sale and added that to the entrance of the complex. Having 2 sales on the same weekend not only made for a limited staff, but virtually halved the signage as well.

Having only one person to “float” around a two story condo to help customers and one to do the check out process left no one to help with taking things down(like window treatments) or hauling things out for customers. Luckily, my husband was there all weekend as he was called on multiple times by The Vintage Girls to do these things for him. They actually should have paid him as hired help!

As a business woman, I saw a couple of other things that really bothered me, and if you are looking at hiring an estate sales company, you should address these things up front.

1. When I went into the condo on Friday, I noticed SEVERAL items that were not my mother’s belongings placed around for sale. I found out that the Vintage Girls had brought these in themselves. They were either items that they have on consignment for others or they were items that they personally wanted to sell themselves. On Sunday, they were still bringing in things that were not my Mom’s. My problem with this is that I am paying them 30% to host this sale. I also paid for the ad in the newspaper and they never asked my permission to bring in their items (which is what neighbors usually do when they want to sell something in my garage sales out of courtesy). Also, if a customer has only $10 to spend, I want them to spend it on my things. There were a couple of items that were in direct competition with my Mom’s items (ie china, pinoir set, side table, etc). I basically think this practice is unprofessional and a bit sneaky. (When I mentioned this in an email to the owner, she did not respond.)

2. At the end of the first day, I saw the Vintage Girls’ employee leaving to go to her car. With her she had a crystal lamp from the condo that I had noticed had been marked as “sold”. As she was leaving, she smiled and said, “this is how I get paid”…. what??? When an estate sale company “sells” items to its employees, it seems like a conflict of interest. Did we get the best price? Did the employee price it herself and maybe give herself an employee discount? Did we even get money for it (since she implied that she got this in exchange for hours worked)? And, we will never know because this company DOES NOT GIVE AN ACCOUNTING OF SALES AND DEDUCTIONS when it give you the check. (Another big mistake not to have asked for ahead of time) I am not saying that we did not get paid on this particular item, but again, this is just very unprofessional and left me feeling a lack of trust. (Also, when sending the owner a comment about this in an email, she never acknowledged or commented on it.)

On Sunday morning of the sale, I was upset by what I had seen so far and my feelings got back to Ashley (the original owner who was working the other sale). She emailed me a rather nasty email defending their sales. I responded that night with another email that further outlined some of the concerns I have laid out here. None of these concerns were further addresssed by her.

After the sale, on Monday am, I went over to the condo at 8 am to start boxing and bagging my Mom’s unsold clothing. It took me 6 hours. In their contract, they are supposed to do this. But I knew that they would not have time since we had fortunately sold the condo and were closing on it quickly. Cheryl did show up to help around 11 am and boxed up the items in the living room, kitchen and den in order that the charity could come and pick up the donated items on Tuesday.

In any business, it is usually good practice to make the customer feel good. This company never acknowledged or thanked my husband and I for all the help we gave them before, during and after the sale. While I felt that Cheryl Dobson was very nice but wary about what to say and do against her partner, Ashley, on the other hand, I felt, did everything she could to antaganize me. After the sale, I took home an unsold vintage stereo receiver to see if I could hook it up and verify that it worked so that I could possible sell it more reliably on Craigslist. I also took the Vintage Chandelier that did not sell but is sentimental to me. I immediately got another snide email from Ashley saying that per the contract, they had 2 extra weeks to sell those items and if I did not return them to them, they would deduct commission on those 2 items from our check. So, without delay, I returned these 2 items BUT was not surprised when I never saw one posting in Craigslist, Ebay or on their website for these items. It was as if she was just being spiteful.

Finally, per their contract, I was supposed to receive the proceeds of the estate sale after 5 days. I finally received it on day 12 and only after I emailed and texted them several times. Some companies will detail every item sold during a sale. While this may be too complicated, it would have made me feel better had the check come with some sort of summary as to how the amount was derived at (ie total sales, less the items they brought in, plus items employees took for hours worked, less commission, less newspaper ad cost, etc..) At this point, I just have to assume the amount I received is more or less okay and live with it.

So, what did I learn? Estate Sales are held usually when people are having to deal with the loss of a loved one and can easily be taken advantage of. We were fortunate (or unfortunate) in that we were around the sale doing parking attendant duty and saw some of these unprofessional things first hand. While we really liked one partner, the other one was the original owner and seems to sour our entire experience. I kick myself for not going to one of their sales prior to signing the contract with them (I highly recommend you do that for any company you are considering.) I also would recommend you ask about employees taking/buying items from the sale and about items being brought in that are not yours. I would ask for an accounting of all things sold and how the total check is calculated. I would get a better understanding of advertising, ie. when to expect it, how many signs, etc. I would put in the contract that the sale would be their only dedicated sale for the dates specified. I would have the specify in writing just how many employees will be working your sale. (Make sure that one can take down items and help with the heavy stuff.)

My husband and I are both business people so we have a standard we like to see in the companies we do business with. This is one company that did not live up to that standard and I can personally never recommend them to anyone in the future.

FOLLOW UP: The owner of the company saw my review on Kudzu (as well as another negative comment made by another estate who had hired her but was displeased) and she posted a response to mine that was so like her. She blamed everything on the fact that my sister was living in my Mom’s condo until the Monday prior to the Friday sale. They knew she was living there and I had told them she would be out Monday morning (which she was) and they made it sound perfectly okay because, as they explained to me all along, they would only need 3-4 days to stage and price everything. As it was, they were hardly there that week – even with my sister moved out – and the display of items and the lack of thoroughness that was shown was the result of them having to split their time between 2 sales that week and NOT because my sister was in the condo. If they had needed to get into the condo earlier, they could have had access to every single room in the condo except my sister’s bedroom and this was explained, but they said no need… Her response just made me shake my head.

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1 comment:

Suresh Karunakaran said...

Hi Author

Thanks a lot. Simple but effective. It worked.