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Government Liquidation


By Thomas J. McLean
The Internet has long been a valuable tool for production designers and prop masters hunting down just the right prop or items to dress a set � especially when they�re on a budget. But the vastness of the Internet makes it easy for treasure troves such as those found at the website Government Liquidation ( to go largely untapped.
Tom Burton, president and COO of the site, says the vast array of equipment � all acquired from the Department of Defense � offers huge resources for film crews regardless of whether the film needs military equipment, a complete medical facility or furniture for an office set.
�A military base is a city,� says Burton, a former live auctioneer who started the site about 6� years ago. �And it�s got the same facilities, the same restaurants, the same movie theaters, the same recreational facilities.� What sets the site apart is the depth, quantity and low cost of the items it sells.
Burton says the Department of Defense gives the site about 10,000 items a week. The company estimates 93 percent of those items are sold for an average of 7 percent of the price the government originally paid for it. Items range from aircraft parts to computers, audio-video equipment, medical equipment, clothing, vehicles, office equipment, restaurant equipment, horses, and even luxury items such as a Mercedes-Benz.
�All of this property has been purchased with taxpayer dollars, it has only been in the custody of the US military,� he says.
There are frequent surprises showing up, such as a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox from an officer�s club in San Diego, or large collections of audio-visual equipment. �We just had somewhere in the Midwest, I think maybe it was Columbus, we had turned in about 700 or 800 16mm projectors � and they were all new,� Burton says.
The company�s contract with the Department of Defense calls for it to sell all usable items the department decides it no longer needs. The government delivers items once a week, and the company has representatives at 70 different military installations around the country accepting items and organizing them into lots.
Items are put up for auction twice, and if they remain unsold are usually scrapped. Burton says 80 percent of the proceeds go back to the government and the company keeps the rest. Every sale starts at a placeholder value of $50. Burton says that despite the low cost, the company sells items for about three times as much as the government has historically sold items for.
With items being collected all over the nation, Government Liquidation does its best to accurately describe items and their condition, taking 500,000 photographs a year and posting them to the correct auctions. Additionally, services are available through the website for transporters to inspect items in person and provide estimates of shipping costs if the item needs to be shipped.
Burton�s background as a live auctioneer has affected the bidding process on the site. While eBay�s fixed auction end times allow bidders to �snipe� an auction by bidding at the last possible second, Government Liquidation�s auctions don�t end until there has been no bidding for 15 minutes after the scheduled conclusion.
While that means auctions could go on for days, hot items typically close within an hour or two. Burton says the company is eager to assist its customers and is more than happy to try to assemble lots to fit the specific needs of film crews.
�If they want several entire hospital rooms or a complete fire station, we would certainly take that kind of feedback and use that to create something that would have more value,� Burton says. Film-related buyers who wish to help the company improve its offerings to the industry or provide feedback can contact the company by email at [email protected].

Written by Tom McLean

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