When a Havre man volunteered last year to use his expertise selling secondhand items online to help a friend of his wife's sell her parent's estate, he ended up launching a new local business.
Brett Antley, owner of The Past Estate Sales and Service, started selling items on the online auction website eBay after a head injury, about five years ago, left him unable to work. He said it kept him occupied, brought in a little money and helped with his rehabilitation.
One major side-effect of his injury, Antley said, is extreme social anxiety.
"I really didn't do good in large crowds, and I started doing eBay, and I was pretty home-ridden for 3-1/2 years," he said. "... My neurosurgeon says too much information is going in and I can't process it fast enough."
Antley said he went into that first estate sale project thinking it would be a one-time thing that he would push himself to do for a friend. However, he said, it went well enough to drive him to try doing it again, so when another friend offered the use of an empty building on the 600 block of 1st Street for a six-month trial, he hung out an "Estate Sale" sign and went into the secondhand store business.
While some of his business comes from purchasing and reselling used items - anything from boxes of knick-knacks and plates to furniture, appliances and antiques - when people downsize their belongings, remodel or move, he said, about 90 percent of his merchandise comes from his estate buy-out services.
"I go in after the family has taken out what they want to take out," he said, "and just make an offer, and then I go in, pack it up and move it out. Then they can get the house on the market" or end a lease on an apartment or storage unit.
Antley said he hires his son, Havre High School senior Ryne Antley, and some of Ryne's friends to help him when he's ready to haul estate items to his store or his own storage facilities.
"I'm working on an estate right now. I'll spend the next five or six nights over (there) packing, wrapping dishes and stuff, and packing up," he said last Wednesdayy, "and then they'll go in on the weekend and load up the trailer."
At the end of his six-month trial period, Antley said, he decided to keep the business going, so he moved The Past Estate Sale and Service to a larger facility on the east end of town, at 2120 U.S. Highway 2 East, and set some business goals.
The change in location changed his business some, he said, but he's still meeting his goals, if still not a paycheck for himself. People tended to buy more of the small items displayed on tabletops and shelves at the original location, but at the new location, he said, he has sold more large items, especially the furniture, he said.
"My table stuff is probably down 80 percent, but we set a number that we wanted to average per day over the winter, and we were over that average by $67 per day," he said. "I'm already considering pulling some tables and running more furniture."
Other aspects of the business have also created a sharp upswing on the learning curve, Antley said.
While he still markets store items on eBay, he also utilizes social media to bring in foot traffic by setting up a Facebook page for The Past Estate Sales and Service and regularly listing items on online yard sale-type pages.
He said he figured out quickly that the best advertising targets yard sale and bargain shoppers.
He also has become more selective about the consignment items he sells, Antley said, because he learned that people can have an emotional attachment to their or their loved one's things.
It's understandable, he said, but this sentimental value doesn't necessarily translate to extra dollars a potential customer is willing to spend.
The balance between business operation and head trauma recovery can sometimes be challenging, Antley said, adding that his neurosurgeon told him to expect another 5 percent recovery from the injury, but not a full recovery.
Sometimes, he said, he has to step outside the store to let the wide open space calm his anxiety, and he's been worried about attending his son's impending high school graduation ceremony for weeks, but he tries to keep everything in perspective with some humor.
"My short term memory is terrible," he said. "It makes my job - well, the one thing that I say is cool is I go and I pack up the houses, when I unpack it I don't remember what I packed to begin with. I get to find stuff twice."