It was a typical scene on Black Friday morning — more than 150 customers, mostly men, waiting for the doors to open at 6 a.m. But the crowd in Burnsville wasn’t at Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s or Macy’s.
The line was at MN Home Outlet, a home improvement, home goods and electronics liquidation retailer that doesn’t even have doorbusters. What it has is a devoted legion of followers attracted by big discounts that few other big-box retailers offer. On Black Friday — and that day only — the discount is a whopping 50 percent.
Small businesses tend to offer bigger deals and attract more customers on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, bolstered by promotions by credit card companies for what’s called Small Business Saturday.
But when Jimmy Vosika opened MN Home Outlet in 2014, he didn’t want to wait until Saturday to cast out his bargains net. “We want to play with the big boys,” he said. “We like seeing how many people we can get in line just like they do.”
The home improvement liquidator at 2300 Hwy. 13 W. buys returned goods from national hardware stores, discounters and warehouse clubs and sells them for half as much as regular retail price. Rehabbers, flippers, resellers and contractors have discovered the low prices.
Shawn McIver of Bloomington got in line at the outlet at 5 a.m. Friday. “I’m going to get a $400 welder for about $70,” the HVAC installer said.
The store’s Black Friday lines are all the more remarkable because of the sales leading up to it. Everything in the store, about 300,000 items, is discounted 20 percent on the Monday before Black Friday, 30 percent on Tuesday, 40 percent on Wednesday and 50 percent on Black Friday
“Sales from Monday through Friday go up like a hockey stick,” Vosika said. “Saturday and Sunday traffic [after Black Friday] is depressing.”
Regulars sometimes find themselves agonizing over strategy. Should they buy early in the week and avoid Black Friday pandemonium or wait for the maximum discount and risk walking away empty-handed?
On Tuesday, Leslie Hurley of West St. Paul did a stakeout tour and formed a plan. “We were debating about buying ceramic tile today at 30 percent off until we saw another pallet of the same pattern in another place in the store,” she said. “We think they have plenty of stock so we’ll be here at 6 a.m. Friday.”
Alesha Goetzke of Waconia thought a 30 percent storewide discount was plenty. She picked up holiday decorations and gifts, including an Our Generation toy horse for her daughter that was $23 cheaper than at a discounter. “I’m here on a Tuesday because it gets too crazy when it’s 50 percent off,” she said.
“It’s fun and a little scary to be here on Black Friday,” Vosika said. “We decided to bring in a police officer last year to keep people under control. It’s chaos but it’s an awesome chaos.”
Next year even more shoppers in the metro can take part in MN Home’s Black Friday week sales. A new store will open late next month in the former Gander Mountain store in Woodbury. A Coon Rapids location in a former Circuit City will open in late January. Both new stores will participate in the storewide Black Friday sales, Vosika said.
He buys liquidated goods at 15 to 35 cents on the dollar. How can he afford to offer a 50 percent discount without limiting quantities, as larger retailers often do with doorbusters? “Eighty percent of our money comes from 20 percent of our product,” Vosika said. “We need to turn more of what hasn’t sold so we can buy more.”
Vosika has seen shoppers complain online that he marks things up in anticipation of the sale, but he says that doesn’t happen. “It’s not even remotely true,” he said. “We’d have to change prices on hundreds of thousands of items. We want to get rid of this stuff so we can sweep the floor and get the shelves stocked nicely again.”
Last year, the company sold about $500,000 worth of goods during Thanksgiving and Black Friday week. This year, Vosika thinks it will increase to $750,000.
He decided to expand the promotion to a week after the first year was a customer service nightmare. “We opened at 6 a.m. and said we’d give 50 percent off to anyone who had checked out by 8 a.m.,” Vosika said. “We had ridiculously long checkout lines and we couldn’t process them fast enough so we had to extend it by a couple of hours.”
Rick Kaczynski of Apple Valley shopped at MN Home Outlet every day this week. “You can’t wait until Friday on the really good stuff,” he said. Early in the week he bought a snowblower and a lawn mower.
On Friday, he was looking at a dishwasher and garage door opener to resell on Craigslist.