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One retailer’s unsold or returned items – and even its store fixtures – can become another company’s treasure, as entrepreneurs are rapidly discovering online. In the past year, Washington, DC-based Liquidity Services Inc., an online auction site for excess merchandise, has seen unprecedented growth, and has even launched a new category – selling the fixtures of shuttering stores. Bill Angrick, CEO, spoke with GlobeSt.com about how the resale market benefits the buyers, sellers and even the environment as the ultimate form of recycling.

GlobeSt.com: How old is the business?

Angrick: Liquidity Services Inc. was founded in November 1999. We achieved profitability in fall 2002, and have grown the business through our own free cash flow ever since. We took the company public in February 2006, and since that time have tripled the gross merchandise volume auctioned through our marketplace, tripled operating income, doubled the size of our buyer base, and continued to cement our position as a market leader in handling a segment of the economy we refer to as the reverse supply chain.

GlobeSt.com: What is the business model?

Angrick: We’re a pure online marketplace. What’s interesting is that as we’ve continued to grow the buyer base –and our buyer base was up 44% year over year for the December quarter–more sellers see that this is the optimal marketplace for sellers to convert their assets into cash. This in turn attracts more buyers. So there’s a network effect in play. About 35 Fortune 500 retailers and companies sell through our online marketplace, liquidation.com, and our growth is based on further penetrating these existing customers, selling more volume for them, as well as adding new customers.

The big categories for us are excess inventory, which could include consumer electronics, apparel and accessories, DIY home improvement tools, computers, office equipment. In the last three months or so, we’ve added store fixtures and equipment. Clearly, this downturn caused every major retailer to revisit its own business plans. They’re rebalancing inventory, they’re rebalancing the number of locations to address the change in consumer demand. We’re seeing a good amount of business – we’ve actually signed three Fortune 500 retailers in the past three months specifically to sell store fixtures and equipment.

GlobeSt.com: Who’s buying?

Angrick: We have about 1.2 million registered buyers; these are small businesses, entrepreneurs, in some cases local or regional brick and mortar retail chains. They all have an appetite to buy surplus equipment from big companies, and refurbish and reuse these items. These companies can go online, search for, find and buy this equipment and save money to sustain a growth in their own business.

GlobeSt.com: Are there other benefits?

Angrick: This is environmentally a great solution –we’ve found that a lot of the inventory and equipment that comes out of these Fortune 500 companies otherwise would have been scrapped and put into landfill system. We’re creating brand new markets for a lot of this equipment and excess inventory that is viewed as a cost center because it had to be scrapped and landfilled. We’re actually recovering more value for it, giving these small business buyers access to good prices on equipment that they can use.

GlobeSt.com: Why is it preferable to buy from you rather than directly from the retailer?

Angrick: The value proposition for buyers is time, savings and convenience. Using an Internet browser is very convenient for buyers. Buyers can log on to liquidation.com, scan everything available very conveniently. They can set up email alerts to notify them when something comes into the marketplace that meets their criteria. Once they find what they need, they can place their bid online in a trusted and transparent marketplace, so the buyers are actually setting the price.

Once the item is won, we collect the funds from the buyer, and handle shipping and transportation, so buyers can get a shipping quote when they’re figuring out how much they want to pay for the item. We track the shipment in process.

The breadth of the product is another attraction: they can look at several categories of goods while they’re online.

GlobeSt.com: For the seller?

Angrick: The sellers are trying to free up space and outsource a noncore part of their business: tracking, storing, returned merchandise, excess inventory, and surplus capital equipment. They actually are benefiting from outsourcing this to a specialized marketplace that has economies of scale and buyer base. We have eight distribution center hubs across the United States with 1.1 million square feet of storage space. Retailers can unload this volume of goods and free up their retail stores by shipping to our distribution centers. That’s very valuable.

We attract an average of five auction participants for everything we put up for bid. Sellers otherwise would be selling in the local market, and we can give them access to a truly national market. It is truly an interesting way to access a national buyer base, get true market competition for the asset and be able to track all this transparently for the seller, and do all this in a single marketplace, as opposed to delegating this to literally hundreds, if not thousands, of sore locations.

GlobeSt.com: How are you paid?

Angrick: We are paid a commission when the item actually sells and the transaction is complete. Our commission from the seller is in the range of 15%–it can be higher if the seller elects to have additional services such as using our storage location, asking us to label the product to protect their channel. From the buyer point of view, there is a premium, roughly 5% of the final value of the item, which covers our credit card processing fees, collection services, and our shipping and management services to support the transaction.

GlobeSt.com: So it’s not just companies that are going out of business?

Angrick: We help healthy, going concern retailers be more efficient. Even the healthiest companies are revisiting their cost structure. The NRF estimated the volume of [seasonal] returns as being 20% higher this year than last year, and this is in a year when retail sales declined. If we can step in and reduce the burden by receiving these items directly, merchandising them, putting them up for bid and attracting five auction participants, there is more money for the retailers. We reduce their costs. Our transactions are closed in two to five business days, so we’re able to get quick turns, better value, and free up a lot of their resources to focus on the next season.

GlobeSt.com: This must be a boom time, between the regular supply chain situation and entire companies liquidating.

Angrick: Sure. You have both, and a third – healthy companies doing partial liquidations, closing underperforming stores. We’re a way that the friction around that process is removed or reduced significantly. It’s healthy for the economy because it puts the assets in the hands of small business and entrepreneurs that can get a positive return on capital from using those items, and gets capital back in the hands of these companies to redeploy to healthier parts of their business. This over time will allow them to grow again, hire people, and bring value to the consumer. This is an important part of a capitalistic, free value part of the economy.

GlobeSt.com: What is big right now?

Angrick: Store fixtures and equipment is appealing because there is a lot of supply coming into the marketplace. People who have been fired or let go from their principal business are looking to open small businesses. All this equipment we’ve put into the marketplace is appealing to the small business that are started in these periods.

We’ve seen a lot of consumer electronics come into the marketplace because a lot of it didn’t sell in the holiday season, or the average sale price in that period where consumers are trading down was just too high. This is an interesting set of products. We’re selling gaming systems, as well. We have a lot of jewelry, accessories, continuing to come out of a lot of department store chains.

There is a buyer base for any quantity, type or condition of asset. There is a buyer for scrap, for salvage material. Our January volume was up 33% vs. November. And February was better than January.

GlobeSt.com: What happens when better times return?

Angrick: As more goods and products are produced and sold at retail, the aggregate size of the retail industry grows. And that’s good for us – as the aggregate size of the retail industry grows, and volume of returns is constant, more goods come into the reverse supply chain. There are more people shopping and more people taking things back. It’s an intractable part of retail.

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