Emory Report

February 21, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 22

Surplus Property a hidden treasure

By Michael Terrazas

It may not run full-page ads in the Sunday paper or produce blaring TV and radio spots, but Emory's furniture--and just about everything else under the sun--clearinghouse has its own warehouses, its own showroom and its own bargain-basement prices.

The Surplus Property Program, now in its 16th year of operation, takes old but not necessarily worn-out items from departments and offices across the University and sells them, returning a handsome 85 percent of the proceeds to the items' previous owners. And even though the program operates two warehouse showrooms--one in the 1762 Building and one at 791 DeKalb Industrial Way--not to mention providing nearly $250,000 in University revenue during fiscal year 1999, a lot of people don't know the place exists.

"With employee turnover, sometimes we don't have a chance to get the word out," said John Zolder, program manager since 1989. Zolder said the office has no budget for publicity or advertising. "Our main advertisement is word of mouth."

Still, office cooler talk must be working because Zolder said Surplus Property turns over its own merchandise stock every couple months. "The next time you come, all this stuff," he said, gesturing around at the hangar-sized showroom filled with small office vignettes displaying its wares, "will be gone, and a whole new batch of stuff will be here."

As far as the "stuff" itself, the range of items is truly bewildering. From computer equipment to office furniture, from laboratory beakers to wine glasses, from hospital beds to centrifuges, the showroom is a pack rat's paradise. A giant, 82-by-109-foot projection screen, whose duplicate hangs in the 1525 Building, sells for a mere $500, marked down from $5,000.

Steve Roeber, who along with Danny Barberi serves as a material handler in the warehouse, said the strangest thing he's ever seen come in was a five-foot-high, hydraulic embalming table. "A nursery bought it," Roeber said.

"They're using it for redoing plants."

Zolder and his staff charge fair market value for items, determined through bluebooks and other sources, but he said departments may request a certain price for items. If the item does not sell within 90 days, though, the price starts dropping. "We don't have a whole lot that sits in here 90 days," Zolder added.

Surplus Property operates under Procurement and Materials Services, and Assistant Director Mary Ellen McClellan said the program created a revenue source from what previously had been a steady stream to the landfill.

"Once we were able to give departments back something for their items, then people started to bring in those old chairs or desks sitting in corners," McClellan said. "The program's whole purpose was to provide an overall system to recycle existing property within the University; Emory needed a fair way to manage its property."

In the future, McClellan hopes to use the space in 1762 Clifton entirely as a showroom; presently the warehouse is filled with chain-link cages that serve solely to store records and other materials for departments. McClellan would like to set up cages in the DeKalb Industrial facility and rent the spaces out for storage. Space has become so tight in the campus facility that she's had to turn down storage requests.

Related to that, she hopes to receive funding to formalize and create a "records center." Though Surplus Property stores records strictly as a favor, some departments don't understand that. Formalizing the arrangement, McClellan said, will make everyone happier.

In the meantime, shoppers will negotiate the cages while they search for hidden treasures, be they low-priced bargains or simply one-of-a-kind curios.

Asked what was the most off-the-wall knickknack he's ever tried to sell, Zolder scratched his chin and said, "Well, what about this?" gesturing toward a four-foot-tall black wooden sculpture of a dragon that more closely resembled a giant human thumb.

And as for whether he haggles with the more forensically inclined shoppers, Zolder laughed. "Absolutely. We're not here to keep this stuff."

Return to February 21, 2000 contents page