Five questions for the surplus guy


Manager Mark Ludwig on the ISU Surplus sales floor at 1102 Southern Hills Dr., east of the research park. Photo by Amy Vinchattle.

ISU Surplus is the only unit with decision-making authority to sell, recycle or dispose of used university property. Departments can't make that decision, nor can they sell items themselves. Mark Ludwig has been supervising the surplus unit since it was moved under the Central Stores umbrella 14 years ago. Inside recently talked with Ludwig about making treasures out of would-be trash.

The basics

Name: Mark Ludwig
Position: Manager, ISU Surplus,
University Surplus Property Association president since 2007
Years at Iowa State: 29
Years supervising ISU Surplus: 14
Staff: FT program assistant Logan Gaedke (since February), and 15 PT students (working 4-16 hours/week)

Online public auctions are growing. How much does ISU Surplus use such websites?

What's on our sales floor is 75-80 percent of what we sell. I'm trying to do more online auctions because we get a better return on our assets -- you've got more of a national audience. Sometimes the local clientele don't know what something is or don't want to pay what it's really worth.

Last year (FY13), ISU Surplus took in $195,000 from online auctions. So, with a little bit of focus on it, we could bump that up even higher. We've used with great results and They're both geared to selling only government agency equipment.

Is there such a thing as un-sellable?

I try to sell everything. Every day I'm surprised at what somebody will buy. Something will come through here and I think, "No one is going to buy that." And it's the first thing out the door. Or you get something in and think, "Someone will jump on that." And it's weeks before it sells.

We're here to try to get the best return for our assets, but we also have to keep moving them. We've got such a backlog. We've got the same issues everyone on campus has with space.

You have a huge warehouse. There's still a backlog?

People get restless because their excess property is sitting in the hallway or in dock areas, waiting for us to pick it up. We're about eight weeks backlogged. I don't like being behind like that, but my hands are tied -- we just don't have the space, especially since one of our top goals is to keep things out of the landfill. Not only do we take care of the main campus community, we have all the farms, all the county extension offices across the state. We take care of the state's special schools in Vinton and Council Bluffs, and Lakeside Laboratory in Milford. We've got semitrailers that are full. We have some things in the old ice arena. Behind our sales floor is an overflow area, and that's full.

The good news is that we are out for bid on a cold storage building that could go up in the spring. When that's up, we'll try to clean the whole campus up, get everything out here and sort through it.

But my advice is don't wait until you have a room full of excess property. We don't have a holding area big enough for five truckloads of stuff. If you can get it to us in smaller increments, we can handle that.

What were some of your most unusual sales?

We sold a university plane years ago, through sealed bids. We got about $151,000 for it. That was one of my first big sales. We've sold lots of what basically are antique tractors from university farms. We also sold an animal autopsy table, all stainless steel, with a garbage disposal built into it, full flushers. The unusual thing was that we got it in during the Halloween season and it didn't stay here very long. I think that had something to do with it.

(Reading from the current sales list): A wattmeter, an autostainer, a matrix switcher, an optical microtome. Do you know what any of those things are? Do you need to?

You learn as you go. We see some of this stuff over and over again. People ask me a lot: "How do you know about all of this stuff?" We don't. We rely on the departments an awful lot, when they fill out their excess property form (PDF), to give us a pretty good description. That's where online research helps, too, if you can Google a key word. You hope the people that are buying it -- and this is true, I'd say 75 percent of the time -- know what they're looking at.