You're bound to find deeply discounted office furniture at M&T's Corporate ReUse store. But it's the random items that make you stop and think: A bank runs this place?
How about a hulking Toledo scale from about 1960, priced to move at $700? Or Japanese cloisonne vases from the 1930s, which once adorned an executive office of a bank that M&T acquired, at $1,050 for the pair? Plenty of used exercise machines to choose from, as well.
"I kind of liken this to M&T's TJ Maxx: You never know what you're going to find here," said Keith Belanger, M&T's senior vice president of corporate services.
Donald J. Blady Jr., the ReUse manager, could not agree more – and he loves that fact. There was the time the bank ended up with wedding dresses from a customer whose business had gone under. Blady set up a display complete with changing rooms. "People lined up at 7 o'clock in the morning to come in. It was unbelievable."
There was the replica of an Indy-style racing car that AllFirst Financial, a bank which M&T bought, had used for promotional purposes. Blady parked it inside the store and someone bought it, for about $1,500.
If the ReUse store had a catchy tagline, it ought to be, "Make it go away." It's an expression mentioned by the M&T people who helped launch the store and marvel at its results.
M&T has about 1,000 physical locations consisting of 9 million square feet of space. When a business operates in that many places, surplus equipment and furniture are bound to pile up in closets and basements. Someone has to decide how to responsibly dispose of the clutter.
M&T created a solution: the ReUse store, open to the public on Sonwil Drive in Cheektowaga, near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The store might opt to put something up for sale, send it elsewhere within the bank or donate it to charity. The decision depends on the condition an item is in, and how much demand there is for it.
Blady started ReUse in 2003, with just the corner of a warehouse. As the business grew, the ReUse operation started pulling in help from other employees, and in 2008 moved to a building on Sonwil Drive. Three expansions later, the store was out of room, and moved last October into its current, 40,000 square foot location at 80 Sonwil, where it operates with 10 employees.
The front of the building serves as a showroom. The rest of the building, where M&T stores inventory and refurbishes computers, are off limits to the public.
Computers that arrive are cleansed of any customer information before they go back into circulation, either to another M&T employee or for sale to the public. The laptops for sale are typically 3 to 5 years old, and might go for $100 or $125. Last year, the ReUse store sold almost 12,000 computers.
If computers are too old, ReUse employees destroy the hard drives, harvest the precious metals to keep those components out of a landfill and sell the remaining electronic waste to a recycler.
Why doesn't M&T just hire an outside company to make the surplus material go away?
Belanger said M&T used to take that approach with technology. "We really spent a fair amount of money," Belanger said. "We didn't have the control we wanted to, we couldn't be assured that it was being appropriately destroyed or redistributed. It was cost and control."
Blady and the store staff can also deliver quick turnaround times for projects, compared to what outside vendors might quote to complete a job, said Brian Lane, manager of internal resources for M&T. "It's something that you really can't quantify, but that's what his team can bring to the table."
Blady travels a lot. With such a large footprint, M&T locations are often undergoing renovation or moving, frequently on tight deadlines. Blady might find a buyer for surplus materials in that particular town, or have them trucked to Cheektowaga. After M&T bought New Jersey-based Hudson City Bancorp, the ReUse store brought 6,000 pieces of technology back here to sell.
Buyers come to the ReUse store through the front door as well as the Internet, at mtreuse.com or eBay. Customers include everyone from Dunn Tire and hospitals to law firms and college students.
"Every week when you walk in here, it's different, because of the way the product moves and comes back in," Blady said. The store doesn't advertise, but has drawn plenty of attention from word of mouth.
On one recent visit, there was lots of furniture, like a $200 credenza, a U-shaped desk priced at $550 and myriad tables and chairs. An intern who is a SUNY Buffalo State student researches the artwork to determine their worth.
Aside from M&T offices and branches, the ReUse store's inventory might come from a business that was liquidated, or equipment coming off lease, like Precor elliptical machines, which might sell for $1,000 or less. "Christmas week alone, I sold six of them," Blady said.
Belanger estimated the ReUse store generates an annual "value" of $2 million to M&T. That is a combination of revenues from product sales and the money the bank didn't have to spend because something was redeployed within the bank. To put that number in perspective, M&T recorded net income of $1.32 billion last year.
Belanger expects the surplus material to keep flowing.
"With all the properties we have, there's plenty of stuff out there," Belanger said. "There's no shortage of inventory."
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