Ever wanted to own old goal posts from the Big House? How about an inflatable dinosaur costume worn by members of the Michigan Marching Band? Does an adult tricycle strike your fancy?
At Property Disposition, the University sells surplus from offices and dorms on the Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses, as well as from Michigan Medicine and the sports venues. Although customers can pick up the odd items such as goal posts, most visitors come for laptops and office chairs. Property Disposition also sells desks, lab equipment, and even vehicles.
“The mission is to sell, recycle, or dispose of surplus equipment to the best advantage of the University,” says Charles Sulikowski, the procurement general operations manager.
That wasn’t always the case. Property Disposition started more than 40 years ago as a warehouse for unused equipment. Sulikowski says units could check items out, but over time, more was being stored than used. So, Property Disposition started selling items.
Sulikowski says its customer base has been growing — even though the warehouse on Baxter Road has been closed to the public for months. That’s because Property Disposition has expanded its e-commerce platform.
Customers have always included University faculty, staff, students, and Ann Arbor residents. But Sulikowski says since March, Property Disposition has seen upticks in customers across Michigan and Ohio. And once the facility offers shipping services, he believes customers will come from all over the country.
Most items had a fixed price when shopping was in person, with an occasional sealed-bid auction.
“Customers could inspect those items, fill out a bid sheet, and place it in our drop box. Once a week, we would open the box, tally up the submissions, and contact the winners so they could pay and pick up their items,” Sulikowski says.
When the pandemic hit, Property Disposition was prepared to sell entirely online.
“We started working on building an e-commerce storefront back in late 2019,” Sulikowski says.
The department upgraded its inventory management system, enabling it to store detailed information, and created an app to help receive and price products quickly.
Sulikowski compares Property Disposition’s new e-commerce site, Dispo Direct, to Amazon.com.
“Customers can search for products, review product info, and view photos of the items,” Sulikowski says.
Sulikowski says the move to online sales has forced the department to hire additional staff including product photographers and staff familiar with IT hardware to ensure products are processed and tested correctly.
“You need to describe products in detail and have photos to reinforce the descriptions when selling online,” he says.
The increased costs have been worth it; customers like it and University departments find it easier to use.
“We are starting to see more reuse of products across the University because of the site,” Sulikowski says.
Online shopping is working so well that Property Disposition will continue it beyond the pandemic.
“In time, we may establish a hybrid model, where inventory is available online and in person,” Sulikowski says.
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