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Would you like fries with that? Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002
The phrase “clean out your desk” doesn’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of employees at HGR Industrial Surplus.

Odds are, no one has been fired. More likely, one of the salespeople just sold a desk to a customer. Besides, a new desk will probably arrive in one of the 30 weekly truckloads to HGR’s facility, located in Euclid’s former Fisher Guide plant.

HGR’s entire office — with the exception of the computer system — is furnished with surplus materials from other companies, explains Paul M. Betori, president of the two-year-old business. For that reason, just about everything is for sale.

“What separates us is our whole approach to selling surplus equipment,” Betori says. “We’ve had everything including the kitchen sink, and we’ve sold it.”

Here are three of Betori’s tips for balancing customer loyalty with company profitability:

View everything as a commodity

Betori’s approach incorporates a melange of selling styles, including a touch of street vendor. After a difficult haggling session, he’s been known to settle the deal with the flip of a coin.

His salespeople are taught to always be prepared. It’s not uncommon for them to return to their desks and find the chair has been added to someone’s order.

HGR employs a price-slashing policy similar to that of the national clothing retailer Syms. Customers roam the floor browsing the company’s huge inventory, and if a piece hasn’t been sold after three months, its price is cut. Every subsequent month, the price is cut again until it’s sold. Betori also empowers his salaried salespeople to negotiate deals at will.

Last year, this approach helped HGR reach $7 million in revenue. Betori says he expects to exceed that by more than $500,000 this year, and he’ll do just about anything to reach that goal.

Include fun in your operations

Betori tries to inject humor into just about everything the company does. The monthly catalog features a drawing with head shots of Betori and his sales staff pasted over cartoon bodies.

That attitude not only works with customers, it works with employees as well. In fact, Betori admits the levity may actually mean more to the employees.

“We’ve got to come to work,” Betori says. “We might as well have fun.”

Every Wednesday, no matter the weather, HGR hosts a barbecue known affectionately as “Vincenzo’s Café,” named for the man who cooks burgers, chicken and kielbasa for customers. On days with the free lunch, HGR’s walk-in business doubles.

Explains Betori, “We try to create that impulse buying that you get in a retail store.”

Give customers what they want

Free food isn’t the only way to draw customers. Betori also offers drawings for Indians tickets, sidewalk sales and other promotions and recently gave away a Bahamas vacation.

Among the myriad rows of used equipment, customers find what they’re looking for, and often things they didn’t know they needed. Betori says its common for someone to come in to pick up, say, a $40 filing cabinet and leave with thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

With experiences like that, it’s not surprising that HGR turned over its inventory roughly six times last year in an industry in which once or twice is considered good.

Despite this, Betori admits some of his competitors may have a slight edge when it comes to some aspects of business, delivery or set-up, for example. But he claims his overall approach keeps customers coming back.

They don’t need appointments, and Betori insists that his staff be as “user friendly” as possible. That means being honest, as well.

Says Betori, “It’s not a sales pitch to tell somebody it’s a hunk of junk.”

How to reach: HGR Industrial Surplus, (216) 486-4567 or www.hgrindustrialsurplus.com

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.