Plopped in the middle of Northern Arizona University’s cavernous Property Surplus warehouse, surrounded by Dell laptops, stacks of filing cabinets and a grove of used office chairs, is a giant glass display case — yours for the low, low price of $200.
Such a deal, huh?
Well, perhaps. One might speculate that the consumer market for 10-foot tall, 7-foot sized museum-like cases might be fairly limited. But when the powers that be at NAU’s Wettaw Biology building decided to take down a giant molecule display, they found themselves left with its sarcophagus, the case that housed it.
Because the university is all about recycling, and because the display case in question is state property and cannot be given away or discreetly tossed in a dumpster, there it sits amidst a bevy of other discarded NAU items, everything from stapler removers (50 cents) to Adidas track spikes ($10) to a pick-up truck (going for slightly less than Blue Book value).
“You may see a display case,” said Ken MacFerren, manager of the surplus store, “but somebody else sees, like, a terrarium. See those filing cabinets over there. Since everybody’s going paperless on campus, I sell more filing cabinets as tool boxes or planters. A lot of people like to repurpose things.”
But, somewhat surprisingly, not a lot of people know that NAU sells all of its gently used (or not so) office supplies, books and VHS tapes, binders, desks, computer monitors and hard drives — sometimes at ridiculously low prices — and that you do not have to be affiliated with the university to come by and browse.
In many respects, NAU’s Property Surplus is a thrift store not unlike Goodwill or Savers, only with an academic pedigree. All the stuff lining the shelves has once been used by university personnel; now, it’s either obsolete or deemed too weathered and ramshackle to retain. Often, therefore, some primo deals can be had.
Take the Dell laptops kept close by near the cash register. MacFerren said the university has a policy that its technical crew will “not support any computers over five years old.” Thus, these laptops — deemed fully-functional by campus ITS — can be had for as little as $70.
“Go to Best Buy,” MacFerren said, “and they’re way more expensive.”
MacFerren doesn’t mean to put on the hard sell, but he said he’s passionate about creative reuse of items NAU no longer needs. Personally, he adds, he hates throwing anything out — and, besides, his job mandate won’t allow it since it’s all state property. Hence, there are some steals for items that would garner significantly higher prices at say, an office supply store.
“We’re kind of the end of life for these assets and we’re trying to recoup,” MacFerren said. “I have high turnaround. My struggle is pricing something to move but maximizing that dollar but making sure I have floor space to keep my turnaround.”
Part of MacFerren’s struggle is getting the public to know that Property Surplus even exists. The warehouse is located in the back of the Facilities Building at the far south end of campus, across from the NAU police headquarters. There are five dedicated parking spaces for customers, so a campus pass is not needed. Still, MacFerren laments that a lot of townsfolk know nothing of the warehouse’s existence.
“I’d imagine it’s a little bit intimidating for people who’ve never been on campus,” he said. We rely a lot on word-of-mouth. We try to get the word out on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NAUPropertySurplus). That’s where we publicize some of our best deals. We have regulars who come in every day, but we do post about new stuff all the time. We’d like to have more (customers).”
One regular — once a week or so — is Flagstaff resident Cheryl Ward, who simply likes to browse. She currently is looking for a bar stool for her home and came up empty not just at Property Surplus but at other thrift stores. But she says she likes puttering around and sometimes makes impulse buys.
On one recent afternoon, she was checking out bins full of used (but hopefully thoroughly cleaned) Nalgene and other stainless steel water bottles. She picked up a clear Nalgene for $2, put it back. Then she saw a stainless steel CamelBak bottle emblazoned with the NAU logo for $10.
“That’s a great brand and a good deal,” she said. “I’m a big NAU fan, so this works.”
Ward also had her eye on two ceiling fans, selling for $5 each. Of course, she’d have to install said fans herself, but the price couldn’t be beaten.
“It’s interesting,” she said, “to see what the university has to sell off. A little while ago, I was looking for a rolling cart and got one for five bucks. That was a great day. A lot of it is off-the-wall stuff, things I’d never use. But it’s fun.”
MacFerren said some of the more unusual items surprisingly sell quickly. He once had off-road Segways (with big tires), and whever the university “retires” a CPR dummy, they are snatched up quickly — “especially around Halloween,” he said.
But what about the big-ticket items, such as automobiles. The university car fleet is constantly being replenished, so often there are used hybrid Camrys or Honda Accords, white vans or pick-up trucks.
“They take those stickers and logos off,” MacFerren said. “I sold a van yesterday. If it’s a desirable item like a vehicle or an iMac, I hold it for a week just so word can get out. If you’re the only person there that day (it goes on sale) it’s yours for the asking price. More than one, it goes up for a live auction.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to move such a sheer volume of product, in which case MacFerren puts the items on a public-surplus website. For instance, MacFerren found himself inundated with student desks from dorm rooms, more than 100. He sold them in bulk to people and organizations throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
“Some of the charter schools in town buy desks and stuff from us, too,” he added. “It’s cost-effective.”
Not everything for sale is on display in the warehouse. One enticing, big-ticket item: A full-length, wood basketball court with two baskets and backboards, formerly used at the NAU Fieldhouse.
Come on in, MacFerren said, he’s open to offers. Everything must go.
Sam McManis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 556-2248.
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