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5 Tips for Buying Used Equipment for Your Warehouse

By Sam Sterner

A lot has been written lately about the used warehouse equipment industry.  An article in a popular industry magazine recently suggested that “Used racking is a huge problem in the marketplace, there are lots of small operations running around selling used rack, and they’re happy to take your money and disappear.”  I feel this is a yes and no statement.  Are there businesses like that?  Yes, but that is an issue that extends far beyond the used rack marketplace and can be seen in any market.  So how do you know you are buying products that are actually what you expect?  All I do is buy used warehouse equipment, and here are 5 suggestions for buying used equipment for your warehouse.

1. See the Equipment in Person

This is a statement that I feel goes without question, yet is rarely done these days.  You wouldn’t buy a $40,000 car without looking at it, so why would you buy $150,000 of used rack without doing the same?  The number one way to weed out the pretenders from the players in dealing used warehouse equipment is to see the material yourself.  Brokering is a common means of supplying equipment, and it comes with its positives and its negatives.  The positive, the material can be found quite a bit faster.  The negative however, is that brokering can be like a childhood game of telephone.  It goes from one person, to the next, to the next, and finally to the actual user.  Often times in this four person transition, the material will somehow change sizes, or the quantities seem to magically change.  To correct any misinterpretation of equipment, you must now go through four people to fix the issue.  Weed out this person to person flipping of equipment by going to see it in person, where you know the people showing the equipment also own it.

2. Know the Inventory

I was taught this lesson the hard way.  Two years ago, we bought a large lot of rack from a closed warehouse in Iowa.  I personally went down to stack and load all the wire decks and uprights.  After landing in Minnesota, they were called 48” deep x 46” wide.  The missing link was channel length.  Decks were sold to customers who had different width beams, and the decks didn’t fit.  It turns out a batch of beams included in this material were slightly fatter than a standard beam, resulting in a narrower channel that did not sit on the step in standard step beams.  This occurrence forever changed our inventory system, as now not only wire decking, but beams, uprights, conveyors, wire baskets, you name it, are measured to the 1/8 of an inch.  Know the specifics you need in your equipment, and make sure the company you are buying from will guarantee that those specific measurements are met.  In addition to the correct sizes, the correct quantities are just as important.  If the equipment you want is the end of their current inventory, you better be sure it is there and ready to ship when promised.

3. Back Up Your Purchase

A common mistake I feel is searching for only the broad equipment, and forgetting to buy the extra components and parts.  If you buy a taper, what about extra tape heads?  Chances are better than not you will need them at some point.  If you just bought 500ft of line-shaft conveyor, how easy is it to find extra bands for your rollers?  If you are setting up rack, do you have row spacers and post protectors?  Stock up on extra components when you find them.  Many reputable dealers will already stock these “extra” items, that in many cases are considered wearable parts.  It will same time and effort in the future to keep a small stock of accessories for inevitable wear and tear on your equipment.

4. Refurbish

There is a misconception between used and refurbished.  A favorite phrase of many dealers is “used as is”, and while it saves you money to take “as-is” equipment, it leaves you open to dealer interpretation of what is usable condition.  Used as-is equipment in many cases is great, but if your expectations are to look like new, protect yourself.  To save yourself money and close the door on interpretation that may not match your personal ideas, ask for your equipment to be refurbished.  Chances are it will cost less than new, yet the difference will be negligible.

5. Utilize Google

Before buying from a company, do a search to dig into their customer history.  Most credible dealers will utilize a user review/ratings service for their company as a whole.  It is a strategy that has been used by large e-commerce companies for years.  If shopping on Amazon, I would never buy a product that had 50 reviews with one star, so why buy from a business with the same ratings, or no ratings at all?  Dealers who have been in the business a long time have no issue bragging about their success, and by most regards, these are the most reputable in the business.  If there are no specific customer reviews listed for a company on any site, that should set off red flags immediately.


Sam Sterner is the National Acquisitions Manager for SJF Material Handling in Winsted, MN.  Any questions or comments can be sent to samsterner@sjf.com.