One man’s trash can be another man’s TV show.
Since 2007, Kraig Bantle’s Raleigh business, Garage Brothers, has been equal parts moving company, cleaning company and salvage company. On Saturday, Garage Brothers will also become “Garage Gold” to the viewing audience of the DIY network.
Bantle’s business cleans out junky, neglected, overstuffed spaces – usually garages, basements and attics – in trade for some of the items recovered. Those items are then sold by Bantle, either online or at his warehouse off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh.
A New York City production company called Paper Route discovered Garage Brothers in 2011 when they were Googling businesses with the word “brother” in the title.
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They found Bantle and his garage, but there’s no brother.
“I started the company with my best friend, and he helped come up with the name,” said Bantle. “It was catchy.”
A Paper Route crew came to Raleigh and filmed a segment, which they pitched to different networks. Bantle says five networks wanted the show, and Paper Route went with DIY, which specializes in home improvement shows like “House Crashers,” “Rescue Renovation” and “I Hate My Bath.”
DIY has five episodes of “Garage Gold” completed and ready to air.
Before Garage Brothers, Bantle spent 15 years working in retail, the last four as the manager at a local Target store. During that time, he would buy and resell items at a profit on eBay. Bantle wondered if there was a way to get items without paying money for them, and that’s when the idea of trading labor for goods came in. He then quit his retail job to focus on the concept full time.
Almost all of Garage Brothers’ customers hear about the business from word-of-mouth. Bantle said he inspects the place a customer wants cleared and gives a dollar estimate of what the job will cost. The customer can either pay that amount or give him items in trade.
The items he collects are sold on eBay or held in his warehouse for “pickers” to hunt through, by appointment only. Once a month, he holds a giant yard sale in the Garage Brothers warehouse parking lot, and 25 percent of the proceeds go to a local charity. His next sale, on April 27, benefits the SAFE Haven for Cats rescue group.
“I started out with an 8-by-10 storage unit and a Jeep,” said Bantle. He now has the warehouse, a 14-foot box truck, and three employees. For awhile, Bantle had a Garage Brothers thrift shop in Cary, which is seen on the TV show but since closed – “bad location,” Bantle says. He hopes to add a second crew after the show airs and maybe try another thrift store.
Bantle is excited about what kind of impact the TV show might have on business, but says his purpose for starting Garage Brothers was never about getting rich.
“I’m passionate about the charities I work with,” he said. “And about keeping stuff out of landfills. We recycle so much stuff, it’s crazy. The stuff people throw in landfills drives me batty.”
Bantle says he’s been criticized by a few posters on Craigslist, a free online advertising site, who accuse him of taking advantage of people in bad situations. He isn’t bothered by it because he says it’s simply not true. He recounts a job at the home of a hoarder where he found $5,000 in cash under a pile of junk.
“They had no idea there was money in the house,” Bantle said of the family. “Of course I gave it back to them. I found a $5 bill once and mailed it back. I grew up in a good Catholic family.”
Bantle says he also makes a point to return items that might have sentimental value, such as photos, death certificates and cremation ashes.
The oddest thing he’s ever come across? “A bag of toenails,” he says, declining to speculate on their purpose. “I could write two books about the stuff I’ve found. One for kids and one for adults. Some people have no shame.”