When Alexander Archbold first toured the derelict house in Provost, Alberta, it was filled with newspapers, had shoddy electricity and seemed to be falling down. Naturally, he bought it.
Beneath the home's plumes of dust and decades of discard, Archbold saw treasure. And, if there’s one thing to know about Archbold, it’s that he loves a good treasure hunt. An antique dealer by trade, Archbold brings in thousands of dollars a month taking his YouTube subscribers inside the house as he cases it for antiques.
“I love exploring,” says Archbold, 40, who kicked off his latest quest with a video called “We bought a hoarder house! 100 years of stuff! what will we find???” Since mid-January, Archbold has spent his weekends hunting through the house for valuable second-hand goods — and showing off his finds on Curiosity Incorporated, his YouTube channel with nearly as many subscribers as HGTV’s.
"The Potters House," Archbold's ongoing series with more than a dozen installments so far, may have been an immediate hit online, but it comes after years of hard work building a creative internet presence, Archbold says. What started as a way to advertise his antique store has become the career of his dreams.
“There were many times I thought about packing it up and getting a normal job,” he says, “but I stuck with it through thick and thin.”
Hunting for treasure
In Archbold’s first video of the house, plastic bags litter the staircase. Towers of cardboard block out the windows. One room houses a piano somewhere, the home’s sellers tell Archbold, but it is impossible to find under the massive pile of clothes that cover everything in sight.
This didn’t deter Archbold, who bought the house for $20,000 CAD — the equivalent of about $15,000 USD — and got to work, chronicling his vintage finds and renovation efforts in a Youtube series. The house last belonged to a notable Canadian potter who amassed decades of belongings within its walls before moving out in old age. After starting his search, Archbold went on to find artwork, vintage furniture, several pieces of original pottery and even a centuries-old water jug — and posted his discoveries on YouTube the whole way.
The series has racked up more than 6.6 million views in the two months since Archbold posted his first "Potters House" video, but the antique collector has been laying the groundwork for over two years.
After leaving the film industry in his late 20s, Archbold says he worked various gigs, opening a toy shop with his wife at one point and managing two Apple Stores at another.
“It was a good paying job, but it didn’t have any adventure,” Archbold says. “I felt like a piece of machinery.”
It was clear Archbold was unhappy — he says he became depressed and started questioning his purpose in life — so he and his wife took a life-changing risk. The pair took out a new line of credit to make good on Archbold’s life-long goal of owning an antique store. The shop opened in late 2016, and Archbold's YouTube channel followed closely behind.
The store, also named Curiosity Incorporated, is not in a naturally high-traffic location, Archbold says. By using social media to spread the word about his out-of-the-way antique store, Archbold thought, he could save some money on conventional advertising.
Archbold had been building his YouTube following — filming and posting his searches for valuables inside junkyards, estate sales and storage units — for two years when he heard about the house. One of his long-time customers tipped him off. The house was about two and a half hours away from his shop and, he was told, wasn’t in great condition. But it seemed like an adventure, so he drove out and took a look.
Today, Archbold posts videos from inside the house at least once a week, the cumulation of the 18 to 22 hours of work every weekend. The channel's videos — both the house series and Archbold's other videos — have generated tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue since the house series began, and Archbold estimates he could earn $600,000 CAD, or about $450,000 USD, from the purchase — roughly half from the sale of the house and half from its contents.
While the house was originally scheduled for demolition, Archbold says, one of its greatest surprises was its relatively solid bones. As far as the clutter inside, Archbold says he keeps what he wants, donates what he can and trashes the rest.
He has already sold some of the home’s antiques though Instagram and Facebook, platforms he says open his sales up to buyers far away from his Edmonton antique shop. Archbold says his store has gotten more attention thanks to the series, too. Last week, a couple from Iowa visited the store, Archbold says, telling him they knew him from YouTube.
A lot of hard work
The son of artists, Archbold says running Curiosity Incorporated allows him to tap into that creativity, taking risks and making his own decisions — but it's not as stable as managing Apple Stores.
“I went from having the certainty of a full-time job with a reputable company to now having this crazy weird empire,” Archbold says. That lack of stability can be taxing, especially when a new idea has yet to catch on.
“Our first Youtube paycheck was like $35. It was like, ‘great, we can go out for dinner now,” Archbold says. “For the first six months or so we didn’t make a dime off it."
The tradeoffs, though, are worth it for the time he gets to spend with his family, Archbold says.
“I get to include my family, my wife and kids, and we get to do pretty much whatever we want,” Archbold says. “If I want to buy an old house, we can. If I want to buy an old car, we can.”
As for what’s next, Archbold doesn’t see the house series coming to an end any time soon. Viewers can expect another seven to 10 episodes as he makes his way through the house and readies it for sale. And after that, he says, there’s more exploring on the horizon. Once the series wraps, he and his wife are thinking about buying a historic commercial building and turning it into a new shop, he says. And, like everything else in Archbold’s life, it will be chronicled for his YouTube subscribers.
“This is the continuing real-life drama that happens to anybody,” Archbold says. “I just happen to be broadcasting it.”