Boeing 's surplus sales draw year-round crowds

Monday, February 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KENT, Wash. (AP) _ Twelve to 15 semitrailers pull up each weekday to unload jumbles of goods at the Boeing Surplus Store in this town 20 miles south of Seattle.

And just as quickly, the wares flow out the doors as swarms of bargain hunters grab what they need, what's cool, and what they can resell on eBay.

``You almost can't think of something we don't get through here,'' said Dave White, the store manager.

It's a year-round garage sale, one amid 100,000 square feet of store and warehouse, with three acres of weather-hardy goods stacked on pallets outside. It's also a profitable way for the Puget Sound business icon to offload outdated and unneeded equipment.

Of course, there's all the machinery that any manly-man shopper could want, from lathes and bandsaws to laser alignment tools, wrenches and sockets.

Then there are the occasional, less expected items. How about top-grade cowhide from England meant to upholster first-class seats? Or some new aircraft carpeting? Both leftovers from canceled aircraft orders, White said.

In his four years there, White said the most unusual thing sold is the ``chicken cannon,'' a 10-foot-long pneumatic gun used at a test site to fire dead chickens at aircraft wings to check their resilience to fowl collisions.

More everyday offerings include computers, office furniture, cafeteria equipment, treadmills and Stairmasters. Boeing has a much smaller version of its surplus store in Wichita, Kan. The company also uses auctions and direct sales to unload other materials it no longer needs.

Despite the steady tide of Boeing goods, the stores sell no airplane parts, an FAA prohibition, White said.

White, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, said the never-ending flow of goods at the Kent store brought in more than $5 million in sales last year. Sales figures for the Kansas store were not immediately available.

That's easy to believe on a recent Friday. Before the doors opened, scores of shoppers crowded outside, primed to rummage. As people burst through, an employee warned, ``slow down, no running!''

Most of the Kent visitors know the store well. An October survey found 89 percent were repeat visitors, White said.

The regulars can be divided into hobbyists, who browse to cram their garages and shelves, and commercial shoppers, who make money reselling the goods.

Ed Williams, 52, regularly visits the store the two weekdays it's open to see what he and his partner can resell profitably, most of it on eBay. Their niche is computers, networking equipment and other electronics. He knows of about 10 to 20 other store regulars who do such business, though targeting different goods, such as hand tools.

All sales are final. The store offers no refunds. So it takes an educated eye and a knowledge of prices to know what can be resold profitably.

Joe Korbecki, a spry 69-year-old retired Boeing engineer, is one of the regulars, visiting pretty much every day it's open. He's been a steady customer ever since he started putting together his 4,000 square foot shop in 1981, loading it up with machines to work wood, metal, and parts to build other machines.

Korbecki figures he's spent about $25,000 on materials at the surplus store.

``I'm single, that's why I can do it,'' he said with a smile.

The prices, he said, aren't the bargains of the old days, with store staff checking catalogs and eBay to keep track of the going rates.

That hasn't slowed sales. ``We have no trouble moving the stuff,'' White said.