SWAP ushers in a new era in surplus merchandise

Oct. 4, 2007

by Dennis Chaptman

In the market for a bowling pin? Or 10?

A lightly used chemistry lab flask? A television set with a clear housing so that state prison guards could easily check it for contraband? An archery target specially manufactured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from compressed waste plastic foam? How about the kitchen sink?

You'll find it — and an always-changing inventory of other merchandise — at UW-Madison's new Surplus With a Purpose (SWAP) shop, which is moving to its new location in Verona at 1061 Thousand Oaks Trail, in the Verona Technology Park near the intersection of highways M and PB.

The first public sale at the new store — which sells quality surplus university and state government property to nonprofits and the public — will be on Friday, Oct. 5, but the grand opening will be held on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12-13. The grand opening hours on Friday are 8 a.m.-6 p.m., and on Saturday, the store will be open from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

"This new facility gives us the space to better display our merchandise that is available to the public," says Mike Marean, general manager at Materials Distribution Services/SWAP. "After being located on Madison's east side for years, the move also gives us the chance to tap some new markets on the other side of the metro area."

During the grand opening, the store will be offering a wide variety of furniture, computer equipment, refrigerators, desks and other items. Five-drawer wooden dressers from the old Ogg Hall will be sold for $10 each. Grand-opening customers will receive 10 percent off of their purchases.

On Saturday, the store will offer refreshments and an appearance by Bucky Badger from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 

The surplus property program, which traces its history to 1994, has kept more than 1,000 tons of surplus material out of landfills.

"In addition to providing our customers with some incredible bargains, we have been able to make items available for reuse, hold down our disposal costs and protect Wisconsin's environment," says Tim Sell, business manager at SWAP.

The value of property resold to UW-Madison departments, state agencies and nonprofit groups has exceeded a quarter-million dollars in each of the past two years, and sales to the general public have brought in another $1 million a year.

Sell says the store has handled some obscure, one-of-a-kind items.

Recently, the store sold pneumatic clocks — timepieces run by air pressure — that dated to the construction of the current state Capitol in 1917. The store has also sold other unusual merchandise such as high-purity gold strands left over from construction of satellite components for NASA, game-used Badgers football jerseys and outdated furnishings from the governor's residence.

"We have a loyal following, and that's one of the things that keeps people coming back — you never know what you'll find from week to week," Sell says. "But you'll always find bargains."