Bellevue’s surplus sale brings in nearly $6,000 per month

As an avid eBay seller, Tom Woodard used to strategically post items at all hours of the day. He studied when his target audience was bidding and how to boost sales.

So when Woodard, who’s Bellevue’s safety inspector, saw the city needed to sell a dated, but expensive, piece of machinery five years ago, he suggested trying an online auction.

The city normally held public auctions, where the few attendees — most of whom were city employees — walked away with cheap goods. Woodard knew this type of machinery, a marina dredge that hadn’t been used in a decade, would probably be sold for more online.

He listed it on a bidding site for just $4,000 scrap, where a California company bought it for $50,000. Woodard was shocked.

That was their first online surplus sale — and largest to date — on what would become the city’s new, more profitable way of discarding old items.

Since then, the city has sold items online to people from 36 states and two countries, he said.

“This has ballooned into something bigger than anyone would have thought it would be,” Woodard said.

The city uses an auction website called Gov Deals, For a sales fee, the service tracks order sales and holds bidders accountable.

He updates the website continuously and tracks all sales on a white board in a surplus sale storage room.

He resells everything from computers to bicycles to uniforms and more. It’s grown to the point that no city department is allowed to throw anything out before he looks at them. He also hunts for unused items while doing safety inspections.

One man’s junk, he said, is another man’s treasure.

“There’s a market out there for everything,” Woodard said. “If I think I can sell it, I’ll sell it. Usually I can sell about 90% of it.”

These items, while no longer needed by the city, are still valuable to others, Woodard said. The city tries to dispose of them before they’re completely broken so they can get some money back.

“Everything I sell is still usable, it just may be tired,” Woodard said.

When Woodard decides to sell an item, he cleans it if needed, takes photos, learns about its history and researches how much it’s worth. He posts the item’s photos and information online, and selects whether bidding will last seven, 10 or 14 days.

Everything is sold as is, without warranty and cannot be returned. He ensures the description and item history includes all the information they have.

“I try to be as honest as I can because it is a reflection on the city,” Woodard said.

Bidding works just like the infamous auction website eBay, Woodard said. Over several days, those interested will bid on items again and again, driving up the price.

Many of those bidders become return customers. They often sell to small-town fire departments, theaters and tarring companies.

When the bidding war ends, it’s sold to the highest bidder.

Buyers must pick up their purchases, though Woodard said he’s willing to take mailable items to UPS if they pay for shipping.

If items don’t sell, he asks city employees if they want it for a lower price. If no one buys it, the city will donate it to a thrift store.

Woodard said the items are usually sold for 30–50% more than they did previously at public auctions.

Retired police cruisers are sold for 2–3 times as much as they’d receive for a trade in.

The city used to pay $25 to have unclaimed bikes picked up, but now sells them as a bundle online, most recently bringing in $300.

He’s sold numerous items destroyed in the spring flood, the cost of which loss was already covered by insurance.

So far, the city has sold $400,000 in surplus sales, Woodard said, almost $6,000 per month. He tracks his progress in a report to City Council every two weeks.

That revenue is put back into the city’s general fund, Woodard said.

Woodard said he “happy danced” at work when the city reached a quarter of a million in sales. His next goal, he said, is to reach a half-million in sales.

“It’s amazing some of the money we get for some of these items,” Woodard said. “I’m just flabbergasted.”