Be Prepared for Long Hours — I knew owning my own business would require commitment and long hours, but it requires so much more than I imagined. I was unaware of all the hats I would need to wear. Every hat is your responsibility.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Siepierski.
Aaron Siepierski, 31, is the founder and owner of Aaron’s Estate Sales, a family-owned, award-winning estate sale company based in Birmingham, Michigan that has been redefining the estate sale industry in metro Detroit. Siepierski has grown the business from a small two-man operation to an enterprise of more than 30 staff members, conducting more than 200 estate sales a year. Many of the estate sales are high profile, like the Motown Mansion and the estate of former Detroit Tiger Denny McLain. His team takes care of the entire process seamlessly from start to finish. Siepierski holds his personal property appraisers certification from Certified Appraisers Guild of America, is a graduate from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and uses Hubbard Management Technology to grow and scale the three businesses he has under management.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/fa74ffb263ef2a8b1474d7c0919a7ef1
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 18 years old, I started working for an estate sales company and I did that for about three years. I was doing clean outs, assisting with set-ups and learning about antiques and collectibles on the job. My neighbor owned the business for 30 years. He needed help, so I helped and that’s how I got started.
My passion for the business began when, during one sale, we sold a torn-up jean jacket for 7,000 dollars. It was an extremely rare Levi railroad jacket from the early 1800s. I was blown away and fascinated by the whole experience. From then on, I was hooked.
I started buying research books and studying, learned everything I could about what makes something antique and collectible. I can really appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of pieces from the Victorian era, and I have a special passion for mid-century modern, but there have been so many amazing time periods. I found some Pewabic pottery in a kitchen of one of the houses we set up for an estate sale and sold it for 2,000 dollars, so then I delved heavily into learning about all things Pewabic.
Most people become an expert in one category, but I knew I had to learn as much as possible about all categories to be successful. It’s an ongoing study and a passion that became an obsession. Who’s not fascinated by finding hidden treasure? Now, I can walk into any home or storage space and quickly identify what has value.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The day after I lost my job is the day I decided to go out on my own. I went to the print shop to have flyers made that read, “We buy antiques. We buy collectibles.” I knew there was history in Detroit and in basements all across the City, and I wanted to be the one to find those items. I placed the flyers everywhere and anywhere, including mailboxes, which I didn’t realize was illegal.
I was up against stiff competition. Dealers were coming in and buying items at the lowest price so they could resell them at a higher price to make a profit. What I noticed is that they weren’t maximizing revenue for the clients. This is where I knew I could differentiate myself from the pack. I could help homeowners get the most money they could, while also make a living for myself and my family.
The early days were challenging. I was not very good at allocating money and every day brought new challenges, from producing the product to customer satisfaction to hiring. I also didn’t realize that moving from being a service provider to owning a business was going to involve 15-to-18 hour workdays, 7 days a week. Those challenges pushed me to continue working hard and to succeed.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I came from very humble beginnings. My mom, sister and I lived in a trailer park and we didn’t have much money. In my teens I volunteered with my church and traveled the country. During these travels, I was able to see how other people lived and maintained their lifestyles. The people I met had some things in common. They all had the drive and passion and also helped their communities.
My drive comes from that experience. I realized I could help families sell items in their homes. The money is a byproduct of doing a good job for my clients.
Every day, knowing I can make a living, help my employees, my church and the organizations that I care about, these are some of the reasons I get up, go to work, make money and give back.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today is the best day…we’re winning. We’re on the upward trend, expanding faster than ever. We’re also going to multiple cities and putting processes in place to replicate what we do here.
There were a lot of challenges and barriers I faced in the start-up years. I used to wake up at 4 a.m. panicked and stressed nearly every day. But I was willing to do whatever it took to push through, which I believe most people aren’t willing to do.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if I’d call this funny, but it certainly was a mistake.
A partner I had when I first started didn’t show up for work one day. I got upset and emotional and took all the money out of our account and bought a BMW. That was the end of that relationship.
I’m a true believer in doing what you say you’re going to do. If you uphold your own integrity, others will, too. That’s my general philosophy. I suppose that’s why I acted out, albeit so irrationally.
I was 22 years old. A lot has changed since then. I’ve matured and done away with over-reacting, especially when it can jeopardize my livelihood and that of my employees.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think Aaron’s Estate Sales stands out because of the organizational process that goes into each client’s estate sale. From set-ups to staging and everything in between, each step has someone in charge of it.
The ability to handle the amount of work we do and expand as fast as we’re expanding, while keeping customer service and quality our top priorities, also differentiate our company from others.
The staff is here every single day because they like to help others.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The estate sales business can be very laborious, which can certainly lead to burn out. To me, burn out is a loss of purpose. To help reignite your passion and to thrive, write down your goals. I do this often and highly recommend it to others.
It’s not just the big things people need to step back and appreciate. It’s the little things and everything in between. I still get a thrill when I walk out with new contracts, and when I find that piece or two of hidden treasure.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A lot of people have helped me along the way. I am particularly grateful for my stepdad. He owned thousands of payphones around metro Detroit and got up really early and worked until 10 p.m.
He had his own house and business, and he had these things because he worked hard. He also worked hard because he wanted to fund different activities to give back.
It wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I heard the word entrepreneur. I didn’t know what it meant then, but when I did I realized that was my stepdad. He totally changed the course of my family and life. And he taught me how to sell.
Eventually, as payphones died off, he went from enjoying a thriving business to losing nearly everything. I watched him and my mom get thrown out onto the street. This happened about the time I started Aaron’s Estate Sales. Fortunately, I was in a position to help them through that transition.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The estate sale industry in general brings goodness to the world. Every time an item, be it a clock or a piece of pottery or jewelry, is put back into use, it helps reduce the effects of inflation, because you’re keeping things in motion and eliminating waste.
I also believe that the success of my company is a success for my staff. I want them to work really hard and feel accomplished. That to me is bringing goodness to the world, as well.
We hold success meetings twice a week. We go over wins and losses, share the reviews we get from clients. We also started securing testimonials from our clients. To keep the staff winning, that’s tough to do, but someone is directly responsible and actively creating that win. I always monitor that and make sure to share these wins and accomplishments with my people.
What are your “Five things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be Prepared for Long Hours — I knew owning my own business would require commitment and long hours, but it requires so much more than I imagined. I was unaware of all the hats I would need to wear. Every hat is your responsibility.
2. It’s one thing to be a boss, but it’s another to be a leader — I didn’t realize when first hiring people that I had to grow and change to set the right example for my employees. You can’t hold people to standards you don’t keep yourself. And there’s nothing I ask of my employees that I wouldn’t do or haven’t already done.
3. Pay Yourself First — Not just in terms of payroll. You need to pay your business first. Had I done that from the beginning, I would have had substantial business reserves and the business would have grown faster. For too long I allocated only a very small percentage of income to go into a reserve account. To reinforce the lesson of keeping a reserve on hand at all times, I now have a label on my account that reads, “DO NOT TOUCH, DO NOT SPEND.”
4. Transparency is Key — It’s important to be honest with clients and employees. As a leader, it is important to highlight and share successes, but also to share areas of weaknesses and where you need support.
5. Employee Separation is Inevitable — Don’t be afraid to make necessary employment decisions, no matter how unpleasant. This might include letting go of individuals who aren’t performing or those who negatively impact the success of the business. It’s not easy having to make the tough calls, but they are necessary.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement, it would be to tackle the early childhood literacy crisis in our country. In my early years, I struggled with reading and learning and that led to self-esteem issues. It also held me back in many ways. I have since spent every day, in some fashion, educating myself on many different topics to get where I am today. I feel fortunate that I have the desire to learn and the awareness that reading is a fundamental tool to help people succeed in school and in life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!