Whether it’s a $25 sofa, $15 computer monitor or binder priced at a quarter, Al Jeter, University Surplus logistics manager, is firm in his belief that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Jeter runs Carolina’s Surplus Property Retail Store, located off Estes Drive near the Giles F. Horney Building. As the name suggests, the store sells surplus items from around campus at low prices to anyone who might be interested. Equipment that is not reusable is recycled or disposed of responsibly. Merchandise that is not sold is palletized and sent to State surplus in Raleigh.
The store sells a wide variety of items: chairs, desks, lamps, tape dispensers, mini refrigerators, pianos, exercise equipment, glass beakers — nothing over $500. The store is typically busiest in June and July, when it receives athletic gear.
“A file cabinet could easily retail for $500-600. Here, we sell them for $10 a drawer. So a five-drawer file cabinet would be $50,” says Jeter.
They also sell computers, but because they’re University property, the software and operating systems are removed to comply with HIPAA requirements. “A customer could come in and buy a computer for $15-$20, and then go buy a hard drive and software and be good to go,” Jeter says.
They sell DVD players for $25-30. “These are nice, and they work. UNC doesn’t buy cheap things,” says Jeter.
During the pandemic, University Surplus closed its retail store. Staff continued picking up surplus, but sparingly. Jeter and his staff also managed the warehousing and distribution of personal protective equipment for the University.
The store is still working through a backlog of orders received during the pandemic. On a typical day, the store receives 15-20 pickup requests. A few months ago, the store had a backlog of 120 requests. Now, the number is down to 20. “The team has done a great job, especially with the shortage of personnel,” Jeter says.
Jeter says the strangest items he has seen pass through the store are anatomically correct mannequins, such as those used for medical training. They caused quite a stir.
“I had one customer demand that they be dressed so that she could continue to shop without distress,” Jeter says.
Through a partnership with Power House Recycling of Salisbury, North Carolina, University Surplus recycles an average of 10 tons of computers and electronic waste per month, as well as 351 tons of scrap metal waste per month.
Jeter said that his favorite part of working at the surplus store has to be the customers. “It’s very uplifting to see people come in and get a good deal and feel happy. I get a lot of joy from how happy people are with a good deal.”
Sometimes customers are so happy that they bring the employees donuts or muffins as a thank you.
The Surplus Property Retail Store is open to the public 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday. It closes for lunch each day from noon-12:30 p.m.