The Extras

Local and international bidders can find anything at MU surplus auctions.
Thursday, March 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:35 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

In the market for 12 computer monitors? A medical examination table? A cheap piano? They may not be as hard to find as you think.

The MU Office of Procurement Services has sold university surplus property — including computer and medical equipment — for almost 30 years.

Public auctions are held once a month in the surplus property warehouse off Rock Quarry Road. The most recent auction was held March 9.

A day before the auction, buyers can inspect and test the merchandise, which comes mostly from university departments, said Chris West, executive assistant for the Office of Procurement Services.

On the day of the most recent auction, Gary Merriman showed up before the 10 a.m. start time to see what the university had to offer. An auction regular, Merriman said he has been buying university surplus for more than 15 years.

Although the large brown warehouse was filled, Merriman said that not too long ago, surplus property spilled onto the hill across the parking lot. “This is the first time I haven’t seen stuff up on that hill in a long time,” he said.

The lack of merchandise this month might be attributed to West’s latest method for surplus sales. In August 2004, his office began selling surplus online, particularly on eBay. What started as the sale of five items per week from all four UM system schools has grown to the sale of about 20 items a week, generating more than $30,000 in sales revenue, West said.

West said the greatest aspect of online sales is the potential to reach a wider audience than before.

“We really want to be able to hit remote parts of Missouri,” he said. “Those people can’t drive to the auction, so eBay will bring it directly to their desktops.”

Buyers are required to arrange for the shipping of their larger, freight-sized goods, but West said people are willing to pay the money.

The items up for bid are mostly computer parts and machinery, but West said he hopes to add a variety of goods within a few weeks.

The eBay program has expanded sales for the university to the outer regions of Missouri and beyond. “We’ve sold to people in California, New York and even Italy,” West said.

West said he thinks online sales provide a multitude of benefits for the UM system that stretch further than revenue. “Ultimately, this is about moving into the electronic age,” he said. “The university wants to do that, and this could be the program that could help.”

For auction-goers, the idea of buying on eBay spurs mixed reactions.

“I’ve checked it out, but it looks like they sell mostly computers,” Merriman said. “If they had other stuff, I might be interested. I buy so much stuff online anyway.”

Even on this cold March morning, auction regular Ken Talbott said he wouldn’t be interested in buying online.

“The auction is just more personal,” he said. “You can open up the lid and check things out every once in a while.”

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