WALLA WALLA — If you’ve watched “Storage Wars” or “Auction Hunters,” you have a sense of the roll-of-the-die gamble a person might make in buying a locker or truckload full of items — sight unseen — to resell.
Scott Holgate, operator of the new Discount Corner in the back of Ace Hardware in Eastgate, has cast that die. The store department is populated in large part by the fruits of a 26-pallet truckload of overstock, returns and dented-box items Holgate bought from Amazon.com.
“Amazon.com does $10 million every 90 minutes in sales. They have entire warehouses all over the county in returned items. They don’t put them back on the shelf and don’t resell them. We hook up with them and strike a deal with them to buy it at a percentage of retail,” he said.
A walk through the department Friday afternoon was like a tour through a flea market where everything is new, albeit sometimes in damaged packaging.
Here, three Celestron telescopes, from the backyard level to a trash can-size edition marked at about $2,000.
There, a pair of ski poles and three golf clubs.
On this shelf, Major League Baseball-licensed plastic buckets. Over there, a chair, bed frames and boxes of business furniture. Nearby, two Breville juicers bookended a Jack LaLanne version of the same near a supply of steam cleaners and vacuums.
While the items are for the most part sold “as is” with no refunds offered, a few of the more complicated items, such as a bottled water dispenser, have stickers indicating they can be brought back within seven days.
Many tags include the purchase price you might expect to see at Amazon paired with the discounted price available here. Holgate said the prices are typically 30 to 70 percent off.
“As a general rule we went 50 percent off across the board. We’ve priced it to go. Our goal is to have constantly revolving inventory,” he said.
The haul for Holgate wasn’t a complete crapshoot: You can get a feel for what will show up in a truckload either by shopping at Amazon a lot or by fishing around online. One website that offers 30- to 35-pallet truckloads for $12,500 plus shipping, has a sample manifest that is eerily similar to the stock at the Discount Corner.
Nevertheless, Holgate said it was a bit like Christmas processing the shipment.
“It was a lot of fun. We’d open the pallet and the box would look horrible. And we’d open the box and it’d all be perfect. Then we’d sigh and move on to the next one. We ended up with the majority of it being sellable,” he said.
“What I’ve been telling people: If you can get past the dented box, it’s your own version of ‘Storage Wars.’”
Holgate, whose father operates Ace, said the family wanted to see if the local market could sustain the kind of operation more customarily associated with eBay.
“We brought in Coscto returns to my store, Dollar Plus (in Milton-Freewater), a couple of years ago,” Holgate said. The experiment was not a ringing success, he said.
“It’s kind of always been on the back burner to try that model in Walla Walla. We’ve kind of sat on the idea for a couple of years. Walla Walla Ace had all that room back there that they weren’t using.”
Holgate said more pallets are en route.
“We’ll have new or different things coming in on a pretty much weekly basis until we know whether it’s going to fly and how we can match the volume (to demand).”
“It’s a whole new world I had no idea existed until the past three months. And it’s a big world.”
Alasdair Stewart can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8311.