The Dallas Business Journal, July 2-8, 1999 p.53
AN INFORMATION ARSENAL FOR EMERGING COMPANIES
Queen of the estate sale
Help Me Ronda's clients get the royal treatment
By CYNTHIA WEBB
PARK CITIES -- From Baccarat candelabras to leather caskets, $25,000 oils to 10 cent magnets, Ronda Hooks has seen and sold it all.
"When I was a kid my dad would drive my mom and I to estate sales, garage sales and flea markets," Hooks, 36, said. And for the owner of Help Me Ronda Estate Sales, the art of the deal is as much a part of her life as the antiques.
The company, started in 1995, con-
ducts estate sales in and around the Park Cities and Lakewood areas in Dallas. Based in Hooks' Highland Park home, Help Me Ronda had gross sales of more than $500,000 in 1998.
In 1998 Hooks handled two sales a month.
"1999 has been a slower year," Hook said. "I've only done six sales."
Hooks isn't concerned about the slowdown. It's part of the natural ebb and flow of the business.
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"I've talked to other people in the business and it's been slow for them," she said.
Preparing for an estate sale of Hooks' expectations goes beyond holding a neighborhood garage sale.
"At a garage sale you sit outside, trying to get rid of your junk," Hooks said. "At an estate sale you have pretty things in pretty settings and it's, 'These things are worth selling.'"
She meets with potential clients, walks through their homes and discusses her fee, which ranges from 25% to 30% of the sale's receipts.
"I've never lost a contract when I've gone and talked to the client," Hooks said. "It's a fun, challenging thing to leave with a signed contract when clients were going to interview companies after me."
Two weeks prior to the sale the set-up crew assesses the value of the merchandise and attaches price tags.
The house then gets the white glove treatment in preparation for displaying the goods. If any specialty items need to be researched, Hooks calls in experts.
"Anything you have — coins, stamps, rugs you name it — I have an expert for," said Hooks, referring to 20 to 30 appraisers just a phone call away.
"The more organized you can be, the more the customers like it," she said.
A second work crew of about six people comes in for the two-day sales and cleanup afterward.
With each new contract, Hooks activates her 2,000-strong mailing list, which brings together collectors, dealers, interior designers, as well as estate sale attendees. She also places ads in local newspapers. The day of the sale signs go up around the neighborhood.
Mailings, employees, advertising, signs and appraisals for each sale average between $1,500 and $2,000 and are paid out of Hooks' percentage;
'The Garage Sale Queen," as Hooks has been called, seems to have been born to sell. Before starting her business, she was always available with advice for friends' sales.
"I'd tell them, you can get more for that," she said.
When Hooks' mother, Edna Ross, returned from a 1985 trip to Europe with the idea for an antique market, Hooks was game.
That same year, mother and daughter opened the McKinney Ave. Market, the first co-op antique market in Dallas, taping off 8-by-10 stalls in the 10,000-square-foot building to accommodate 50 dealers.
During the five years they managed the market, Hooks continued to develop her feel for antiques. She furthered her skills while managing the English Pine company, an importer of pine furniture.
In 1995, she invested 16 weeks in an appraisal course taught by Marion Tanner Westbrook, an expert with 50 years of experience in the antiques field. The course is designed to teach the overall antiques field, Hooks said.
"Marion teaches you to do estate sales her way, the proper way," Hooks said. "You display things instead of leaving them in a box, you educate your sales staff about the history of the pieces."
After taking the course, Hooks opted for a new venture. She chose estate sales.
"Appraising is sitting at a desk doing research," said Hooks. "I like the people end of the business."
The name for her business came through a chance phone call. Hooks and a friend from high school were working on a flyer for the yet-to-be-named venture when the friend's banker phoned and asked what he was doing.
"Helping Ronda name her business," he said.
"Ohhh," the banker answered, "Help me, Ronda," referring to the Beach Boys' song
of the same name.
"I've gotten a lot of mileage from it," a laughing Hooks said. "It's appropriate and people who don't know me pick me because of the name."
But having a recognizable name is only part of the business equation.
"This is a business where you can have a zero start-up cost," she said. "But you have to count on word of mouth and reputation. "Customer service is the concept. I keep the clients and customers happy, return phone calls and have a mailing list. I ask clients what they want."
Come sale away
Compromising to meet a client's special needs is paramount to a successful sale, Hooks said.
For example, when former University Park Mayor Roy Coffee and his wife Janice planned to move, their existing home was to be demolished.
Hooks negotiated a contract with the Coffees which included special stipulations due to the demolition.
"Mr. Coffee wanted to make sure the house could be demolished right after the sale and that the trees weren't cut," Hooks said. "We oversaw every single little detail."
Doors, floors and windows were sold and removed, but they weren't the biggest project.
A couple fell in love with the Coffee's Italian tiled kitchen and bid $13,000 to literally walk away with the entire room, including the kitchen sink. Hooks supervised the nail-by-nail dismantling.
Most touching was another client, a 70-year-old woman who had lost her husband, and was supposed to be living with her son.
Unbeknownst to the crew, the woman spent the night before the sale in the house. The first day of the sale she followed people, telling them "I'm not sure I want to sell that."
By the time the family came to pick her up, the crew was heartbroken, Hooks said.
Hooks is aware that selling the personal belongings of families and individuals requires finesse. From helping a family dismantle a houseful of memories to working with clients who want to start new collections, she must always keep in mind the personal nature of the transactions. Change can be difficult.
Hooks and her husband, Brian, who owns Architectural Elements in Dallas, are themselves facing change — of a positive nature — with the upcoming birth of twin girls.
"Our life is going to be filled with total business and challenges," Hooks said. "But I'm never turning down business."
|SELLING MEMORIES: Ronda Hooks and the crew of Help Me Ronda Estate Sales topped $500,000 in sales in 1998. From left to right are: Edna Ross, Mary Ross, Hooks, Marian Bowen and Gloria Rutledge.|