If video games, camouflage jackets, grass seed and Winthrop Eagles pajamas are on your next shopping list, Mark Bradley has a deal for you.
A "little bit of everything store" is what Bradley calls the salvage freight business he opened in November in a south Rock Hill strip mall. But don't call it junk.
"Some people come in and call me Sanford and Son," said Bradley, recalling the popular 1970s TV show. "Sanford dealt in used stuff. Other than a few items of furniture, everything in here is new. We don't like the 'junk' word too much."
Fred Sanford never sold stuff on eBay, but the popular Internet auction site accounts for three-fourths of Bradley's sales at Marble Mac Discount Sales. He's been a serious seller for about six years.
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Now, Bradley hopes to transition to in-store business at a time when retailers are struggling through a dismal year. Salvage freight might be among the few examples of an industry that can flourish in an economic downturn.
A niche business
At Main Street Discount, a similar store in downtown Waynesboro, Va., sales are up 24 percent compared to last year, owner Bill Mikolay said.
"We've had to expand to being open on Sundays," Mikolay said. "We were trying to help out customers who didn't like the crowded store on Saturdays. We'll probably open two more stores in the next year."
Still, it's a grueling way to earn a living. Two or three times a week, Bradley drives to auctions across the Southeast to buy surplus goods, or salvage freight.
It could be boxes of shampoo. It could be South Carolina Gamecocks sweat shirts. It might even be a stack of football helmets.
Many goods were part of shipments that got lost during delivery or suffered partial damage en route to stores. Sometimes, Bradley doesn't know what he bought until it gets opened up on his sales floor.
Customers want bargains
That's why he can buy it cheap and sell it for 40 percent to 50 percent below retail value.
"There's so much freight that's moved in this country," he said. "The more freight there is, the more salvage there's going to be. That creates a market."
Bradley has plenty of experience with the Internet, having worked as a Web sales manager for Comporium Communications. The retail side is a different challenge, but it's rife with opportunities to lure bargain-hungry shoppers.
"People are having to look more for deals than they ever have," Bradley said. "I think the time is right for us."