Auctioneer Dave "The Mogul" Hester, 47, is the unlikely star of A&E's number one reality show, "Storage Wars." The program, which premiered in 2010, follows a group of professional buyers who bid on the contents of abandoned storage lockers. Bidders get five minutes to inspect the items, and are only allowed to catch a glimpse from outside the locker door. The goal: Buy low and sell high.
Hester attended his first swap meet with his dad in 1969, and got a taste of the business by selling off his father's train collection piece by piece over five years. But a light bulb went off in 2005, when he was sentenced to 30 days community service at a Goodwill Store following a DUI conviction. The experience convinced Hester to convert his furniture store into a thrift operation, which now operates as Dave Hester Auctions.
The folksy Hester, who resembles a sinister UPS deliveryman in his black shirt, shorts, socks and baseball cap, enjoys antagonizing rivals, bidding at the last second with his trademark "Yuuuup." If anything, Hester's midlife transformation from thrift-store owner to reality TV star offers more evidence that it's never too late to take a risk. Huff/Post50 spoke with Hester about why the show is such a hit, his biggest regret and accomplishment, and the weirdest item he ever won in a bid.
Did you ever expect the show to be such a hit when you signed on?
No. I have figured out that you never know what's going to happen to you in life. Take everything with a little grain of salt and go with flow.
Why do you think people are so attracted to a show that's essentially about buying stuff in storage?
I think what makes our show exciting is that this is actually something you can get off your couch and go and do for a few hundred bucks. I like fishing and watching shows about shooting alligators -- that's exciting stuff -- but I'm not going to take my life in my hands doing that stuff. But everyone watching ("Storage Wars") can walk down the block and bid on a storage facility.
What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were growing up?
Listen to your parents.
What's your biggest regret?
It would probably be not going to college and studying. I think no matter what you do, a little extended education helps you open a lot of doors.
For some people a DUI conviction would be their biggest regret; but performing community service at Goodwill actually led you to this business, right?
I've learned that God works in mysterious ways; all of the sudden I'm in this position and it's like, "wow, how did I get there?"
What's the biggest risk you've taken in the last five years?
You could say the show was risky because we didn't know how much it was going to affect the business. When we got started everyone in the business was like, "don't do it, you'll ruin the business."
In a way that's true -- auctioneers across the country are seeing a growing number of bidders, which they attribute to the popularity of the show. So you have new competition.
Yes, I kind of stepped on toes exposing the business but I figured they were going to do it with or without me, so why not be on the inside and show people what a professional looks like, give the Dave side of the story. It's given me a chance to educate people; right now it's a situation where there is so much interest and demand. I will teach people the business through DVDs and books, which we will be launching.
What was your most valuable find in the last 25 years?
I found a painting by Jack Wilkinson Smith, a California impressionist, called "The Golden Pool." I paid $750 and sold it for $155,000.
What was the weirdest or most memorable?
I found a skeleton in a suitcase and wasn't sure if it was a homicide. So I took it to the coroner; they figured out it was probably brought over for medical purposes, so we were allowed to sell it.
You sold it?
There's a high demand for skeletons for medical purposes.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Work hard and give an honest day's work.
What advice would you give the less experienced bidders on the show?
Get out of the way -- you're bothering me.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
Having the privilege to work with my son (Dave Jr.) and teach him what I know; that brings a lot of happiness to me to see him following in the same footsteps. If you can make your kid self-sufficient, and they can feed their kids and take care of their families, that's a big accomplishment.
What charities or social causes are important to you?
I have always worked with St Jude's, the children's hospital in Memphis, Tennesee. And obviously Goodwill: Being put there for 30 days and seeing what they actually do and how many people they employ and help -- they are one of best non-profit companies out there. If you're really thinking about hustling, there's no better model than Goodwill, they are the best at it. Go volunteer at Goodwill for 30 days, and you'll learn how to process and value items.
Right now you're in negotiations with A&E for a third season. You told TMZ you hoped A&E would back away from its "unjust" contract negotiations. Are you returning to the show?
I can't discuss that, but hopefully it all works out.