TORONTO – War — what is it good for? Ratings, apparently.
TV’s “Storage Wars” franchise — where crafty teams of professional bidders scan storage units with flashlights and look for clues that suggest gems such as Rolexes, rare furniture, or even pianos lurk inside — has become wildly popular since its 2010 debut, drawing millions of viewers every week and spawning expansions into New York and Texas.
Now, one fan of the original show is set to star in the north-of-the-border spin-off “Storage Wars Canada,” which debuts Thursday.
“I thought it was modern-day treasure hunting,” says Roy Dirnbeck of Mississauga, Ont. “I own a small courier business, so when I saw this on TV, I had some spare time, and I used to sneak off to auctions. After hitting a couple good ones early, I couldn’t believe the kinds of things that people were leaving behind. It just became addictive for me.”
It’s become addictive for many others, too. Don Reinhart, the auctioneer for the Canadian incarnation, has been in the business for more than 40 years. He says crowds have ballooned in size in recent years, from 10 or 15 to as many as 200.
“It takes longer,” Reinhart says. “Where it used to be 15 or 20 minutes to sell two or three lockers, you’re now half an hour or 45 minutes because everybody has to have a look.”
Cast members on “Storage Wars Canada” have all been bestowed with specific labels: the devious Dirnbeck is the “instigator”, while Woodbridge, Ont., supply teacher Ursula Stolf’s penchant for designer heels and body-hugging dresses have earned her the “knockout” moniker. Cindy Hayden and her partner Rick Coffill, who have been involved with auctions for 17 years, fill the TV role of the “veterans.”
“Every unit has a story,” says Hayden. “We don’t know (the people who lost their units) personally, but by the end of the digging, you kind of feel bad, because they lost their locker.”
The cast members — all professionals of the circuit — say the cameras have brought a new kind of scrutiny and pressure.
“It’s ruining the business part of it because we’re paying extra for lockers,” says Dirnbeck, now a three-year vet. “Everyone wants to bid against us, everyone wants to beat us, they know we’re professionals and they want to prove themselves against us.”
“And the thing is, they come to know our characters, know what we’re coming to look for and what we’re coming to buy,” Stolf adds. “Take, for example, if there’s a clothes locker: Everyone in a crowd knows, ‘It’s an Ursula locker.’ I know that that locker, if it’s worth $500, if I really want it, I have to pay $2,000. It becomes a little cumbersome, but you deal with it.
But leave it to the confident and canny Dirnbeck to see it all as strategy.
“We’re professionals, we know what the number should be. So if someone wants to bid us up, we’ll let them have fun for a while. They never come back the next week. They get stuck with stuff. They don’t play that game very long; we’re just weeding them out right now. It’s gonna come, we were expecting it.”
The popularity also raises the risk of celebrating the glamour of the high-stakes bidding without the focus on the hard work that follows — moving the often heavy and musty contents, fixing what’s broken, cleaning the storage unit, and occasionally all for nothing, when a bet on a bin goes bad. Indeed, while the profits can be tantalizing, Coffill says he and Hayden have found dead cats and other animals among the lots they’ve purchased.
“I wouldn’t recommend that anyone go out and quit their job and decide to do this full-time,” says Coffill. “It’s not something you can just jump into, because you can lose utterly, and I don’t want to see anybody do that. It is gambling.”
At the end of the day, all is fair in love and “Storage Wars.” Hayden and Coffill are common-law partners, and the cast also features a father-and-son duo and is entirely made up of people clearly passionate for the work that they do.
“But when the door goes up, there are no friends,” says Coffill.
“Storage Wars Canada” premieres Thursday on OLN.