January 19, 2011
UW Surplus: ‘Serving the planet and the pocketbook
- Department is now at 4515 25th Ave. NE.
- Public store every Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m.; next public auction is Feb. 12.
- Learn the latest from the Moving & Surplus Twitter feed.
- See below for slide show.
From computers to carillon bells, when the things we use end their campus lives, they meet their fate at UW Moving & Surplus.
Now in a new, more public location, with popular auctions, smart social networking and an eye toward embracing new markets, Surplus, for short, is continuing to make sustainability an everyday business.
“Weve been involved in reuse and sustainability for a long time,” said Anne Eskridge, assistant director of Materials Management, the working group that now includes Surplus. “The UW surpluses 40,000 to 50,000 items a year. The ability to either recycle those items and keep them out of the landfill or resell them serves both the planet and the pocketbook.”
Overseeing Moving & Surplus proper is Teresa Seyfried, who has been on the job for 23 years. “What were responsible for is the appropriate disposal of all of the Universitys excess personal property,” she said. “Furniture, equipment, basically anything the University has purchased or acquired, other than consumables.
“As much as possible, we make things available for reuse on campus or with other state or local government agencies,” she said. “Probably 85 to 90 percent of the stuff we sell goes to the public, but we offer it to our priority groups first.”
The Surplus store is open to UW departments, other state agencies and nonprofits from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. every weekday, and the public gets its chance every Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. There are online auctions and a live auction every two months, and the public store is open those days, too. Live audio from the auctions is streamed from the website, with the hope of full webcasts to come.
After years in the Bryant Building, Moving & Surplus is settling into a new location at 4515 25th Ave. NE. The square footage is slightly less, Seyfried said, but the space has higher ceilings and is easier to use. “Its nice that they can actually drive forklifts in here. We make good use of the vertical space we have here.”
The University is a virtual city, and gives forth daily with a steady stream of surplus items — and some find new owners more easily than others. “Computer equipment sells really fast. Laptops go fast,” Seyfried said. “If we have laptops in the store — depending on the quality as far as memory — well have people who will be in line at 7 a.m. waiting for the store to open at noon.”
Some of the same people have been coming to shop at Surplus for years, she said. Who are these early-arriving regulars? “Small resellers,” Seyfried said, “Theyre in the business of reselling, but they arent representing major companies.”
They are part of Surpluss loyal and growing fan base, which stays informed via an entertaining Twitter feed (“Mister Flintstone, of the Bedrock Flintstones? Weve got your grill!”) written by Eric Wahl, a program coordinator who came to Surplus in November. Surplus had about 1,000 followers when Wahl arrived and has since added 400 more, Seyfried said. A presence on Facebook will come soon.
Even hard disks from dead computers sell well, Seyfried said as she stood over a 4×4-foot box (called a gaylord) of hard drives that have been removed and perforated with a special machine to render them useless. These boxes of dead hard drives are then sold at auction “and people will buy them,” Seyfried said. “I think they try to get the precious metals off the hard drives and the circuit boards.” The last “gaylord” of hard drives sold for $500, “but prices fluctuate with the markets. “Weve sold them for $800 as well,” she said.
Even lower-end computers sell well in the auctions — by the pallet-load. “We dont have any problem moving that kind of stuff,” Seyfried said confidently. “We clear it all out in a week and start over.” UW departments are free to shop in the Departments Only Boutique, stocked with items specially marked and set aside for UW use. The next public auction is Feb. 12.
Surplus keeps the first $100 from everything it sells in the store. The Surplus part of Moving & Surplus is financially self-sustaining, while the Moving part is state-supported. In all, Moving & Surplus has 15 employees. The department also is for hire to help campus departments move, though about half its moving jobs are paid trips to pick up surplus items.
Furniture sells less well, though startup businesses sometimes buy whole lots of tables and chairs, Seyfried said. Plastics and many electronic items have long been recycled; Seyfried said furniture of no resale value can now be recycled as construction and demolition debris.
So, what kind of unusual items pass through this scene of campus afterlife — part purgatory, part Island of Misfit Toys? A foam comet and harpsichords sold on behalf of the School of Music come to mind for a start. “The biggest thing is just the variety of stuff that we get,” Seyfried said.
The departments Frequently Asked Questions comments speak to the question: “We have been known to offer: trucks, boats, airplanes, decommissioned police cruisers, smoothie machines, harpsichords, incubators, wooden card catalogs, football shoes, antique electronics, a giant foam comet, a submarine, and an enormous bean bag chair that we still swear looked like the worlds largest potato ever grown. You literally never know what might enter our circus of the fabulous.” Just now, the website notes that Surplus is taking sealed bids on a set of used carillon bells.
The more routine items make a never-ending torrent of well-used tables, desks, chairs, lamps, computer keyboards, monitors and mouses (mice?); filing cabinets (flagship item of most surplus stores), lab glass and office supplies of all description. One shelf has the dusty, ageless look of an antiques store, housing old microscopes and doctors equipment, a half-century-old television and long-outdated copies of the Faculty Handbook. Not for sale.
The ongoing recession creates both opportunities and challenges for dealers in used items: demand is up because people want stuff cheap, but supply can be slowed because departments are trying to get more use out of vario
Despite continued strong sales and the growing online presence of Moving & Surplus, Eskridge and Seyfried — both trained auctioneers, by the way — said theyre interested in expanding to new markets, on campus and off.
“There are a lot of people who dont know were here — dont know that they can come down and buy stuff from us. And sometimes the stuff that we get is better quality than what you can buy new!”
Eskridge agreed, and said she hopes the new location brings greater attention to the great deals available through UW Moving & Surplus. “With so many people going by, it could be like the fish-throwing spot at the Pike Place Market,” she said. “People will see whats going on and start learning that we are here not only for the University but for the general public.”
She added, “I think its still a hidden treasure, even to the University community.”