NICOLLET, MINN. – If there's one lesson that Kimberly Salisbury has learned from selling industrial and commercial equipment in online auctions, it's that people will buy anything.
Components to an antiquated conveyor belt system? Sold. Capacitors and other electronic components to 1950s electronics? Sold.
Antique birthing chair? Sold.
"We didn't ask what they were going to use it for," she said, laughing.
The more esoteric the item, it seems, the more likely it will sell.
The business, which she operates with her husband, Jason, is called NPS Industrial Surplus, and they run it out of a Nicollet warehouse a block from their home. They specialize in selling farm machinery, industrial surplus and commercial equipment. They often work with people who have a lot of stuff they'd like to convert to cash.
It's like an online estate sale, and their pitch is that a seller can fetch higher prices than they could by holding a live auction or sale.
Earlier this year, they became an affiliate of the online auction site K-BID, which sells a variety of industrial, agricultural and personal property throughout the Midwest. Featured auctions at the time of this writing included the floor of a basketball court, dented or scratched appliances, and everything inside a liquidated Elk River-based boot repair shop.
As recently as a few years ago, Kimberly Salisbury spent most of her time on graphic design and her husband on electronics recycling. Neither could have predicted they'd end up in the online auction business.
"We wouldn't have planned it this way, but we wouldn't have it any other way," Kimberly Salisbury said.
When she left her design and marketing job at Taylor Corp. in 2015 to pursue a career in freelance graphic design, Kimberly Salisbury was anxious about leaving the safety of a steady job.
"It was so scary," she said.
Meanwhile, Jason Salisbury had started a side business. He and a partner co-own Green Tech Recycling, and he learned that many recycled electrical components, like relays and circuit breakers, still worked. So he made a deal with a nearby scrapyard to acquire the items and found they sold reliably.
He started an eBay store out of their garage, which progressed to storage space and then, last summer, to the 3,600-square-foot warehouse.
Kimberly Salisbury helped out, but focused on her freelance business and raising their two daughters. In 2017, she started to spend most work time at the auction business.
To get an idea what exactly they do, consider a typical day.
An online estate sale
Most mornings, the first order of business is shipping out the items that bidders won the night before.
"You'd be amazed how many people order things at 4 o'clock in the morning," she said. Then they move on to new items to list, a task that could include photography, cataloging and research.
On this particular day, the Salisburys were at a farm site preparing to hold an online auction for a family selling their father's collection of antique cars and parts.
"We're up to our elbows in dirt and dust and rush and we're loading up a trailer," Kimberly Salisbury said. They handle every part of the sale, including taking photos that put the items in the best light to ensuring they work as advertised.
Jason Salisbury brings mechanical aptitude to the team. If he doesn't know what a particular item is, he probably knows someone who does.
They take a commission off each sale depending on its value. For costlier items, it might be 15%; for less expensive items they go up to 40%. The commission is higher on smaller items because it can take more work to sell them, and they bring in less money.
Reaching the right potential buyers is the core of their pitch, so marketing the auction is important. They use Facebook and join online forums.
The auctions run online for a few weeks, but most of the action happens in the final hours and minutes.
"That is such a rush," Kimberly Salisbury said. "Things that you didn't expect to go for a lot tend to go for more than you expect."