Reuse Store offers sustainable and fun shopping experience
Where can shoppers purchase inexpensive home or apartment-size furnishings, electronics, art and books originating from the university? What about low-cost UT-branded apparel and memorabilia? All of these items and more are available at the UT Surplus REuse Store. Launched in 2018, the REuse Store was first proposed by Ben Reid, manager of Building Logistics and Keys, in 2015. Besides providing value to customers, the UT Surplus REuse Store is also a creative way to reduce waste as part of the university’s Zero Waste Program.
Selling a part of UT while diverting waste from the landfill
Resource Recovery Manager Bobby Moddrell oversees the university’s Zero Waste Program and its related campus services, including Surplus Property and the REuse Store. That unit collects UT items that are no longer being used and sells them through online auctions (large items, including vehicles) or the UT Surplus REuse Store.
“The UT Surplus REuse Store is an innovative way to open the opportunity to own a part of UT to people who didn’t want to purchase online, a way to reach a broader community,” Moddrell said. “Through the UT Surplus REuse Store, we are able to make people aware of the online auction sales. The two magnify each other.”
As a result, Surplus Property diverted 92 percent of landfill waste in 2020—considered zero waste, Moddrell said. This is comparable to more mature sustainability organizations in higher education--remarkable given that Resource Recovery launched the store less than three years ago, he added.
Mark Engelman, Resource Recovery assistant manager, said he likes seeing the history of UT come through the store by way of old yearbooks, furniture and art pieces.
Moddrell said he enjoys seeing the unique items that come in, such as a 50-inch magnifying glass from one of the telescopes at McDonald Observatory and a hefty 60-inch square desk mat made of half-inch thick glass--originally donated to the LBJ Library after it was made incorrectly for the George W. Bush Library at Texas A&M University.
Initially, the store was open only on Thursday evenings, with existing staff, including student workers and student interns from the University Leadership Network (ULN). Now, it is open on Saturday mornings as well, and the store has expanded by approximately 50 percent, to 13,000 square feet and features hundreds of items, according to Engelman. Together with Surplus Properties Supervisor Luis Alvarado, Engelman determines which items will be auctioned online and which will be sold at the REuse Store.
Customers can shop safely due to safety measures put in place in spring 2020, such as requiring masks and limiting the number of customers in the store to 15 at a time.
Store helps drive educational mission of the university
“In addition to permanent staff, we have work-study student interns and ULN interns serving our clients and the university,” Moddrell said. “The students form five diverse teams assigned to different tasks, and staff serve students by offering a true internship with learning outcomes. We’re supporting the educational mission of the university.”
Alvarado, who supervises the staff, work-study students and interns, explained that when shoppers arrive at the store, interns and staff greet and assist them. Interns work with staff to prepare the store for sales by organizing to best present items and ensuring cleanliness. Interns handle checkout and cash registers. They are also responsible for projects such as ones that encourage awareness of the REuse Store among the student body.
The interns are involved in analytics, using project outcomes and analytics for their required end-of-semester presentations. As examples, Engelman said that intern analytics show a steady increase in sales: 35 percent from calendar year 2018 to the same period in 2019, and 39 percent from calendar year 2019 to the same period in 2020. Interns found that Thursday night attendance is approximately 80 to 100 people. The store has been open on Saturdays for only about two months, so more attendance data is needed.
Collaborating with campus partners and connecting with the community
Resource Recovery has taken multiple approaches to increase UT Surplus REuse Store and online auction sales through outreach, according to Engelman, including collaboration with others. For example, by collaborating with Parking and Transportation Services, 159 impounded bikes were auctioned online in November, and another 60 were auctioned in February. Other lots will be auctioned in the future, and Engelman emphasized that UT Surplus Property items are available through online auction weekly.
Resource Recovery has also established a relationship with Texas Athletics.
“Texas Athletics sends surplus team apparel, footwear, and equipment, most of which is sold in the UT Surplus Reuse Store,” Engelman said.
Another UT Surplus REuse Store outreach tactic is social media. Engelman noted that social media engagement has grown significantly, citing the popularity of a retweet by Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte in February 2020. Craig’s List paid advertising, digital media and kiosks are additional tactics. Before the pandemic, student engagement included tabling at campus events such as Earth Day in collaboration with other Resource Recovery teams.
Innovating while operating
Current operations and future innovations require teamwork and service, Moddrell said. For example, a new point of sales program will provide data for interns and Alvarado to track.
“We constantly move forward,” Moddrell said. “We constantly improve and innovate while adhering to state and UT requirements for obtaining revenue in the best possible way. Revenue goes back to the university through the Facilities Services general revenue account, and proceeds from sales of items from auxiliary units go back to those units.”
The UT Surplus REuse Store is open on Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. The store is located on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus at the intersection of Burnet Road and Braker Lane, in Building 30 on 3300 Read Granberry Trail. For parking information, a list of the types of items that can be found at the store, and contact information, visit the REuse Store webpage. You can also follow the store on Facebook and Twitter.