Retail and Small Business & Startups

In the business of rejects

Brothers open store that uses creative pricing model to resell Amazon returns.

December 13, 2019
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GR Liquidators
Blake Kunzi helps a customer at the Grand Rapids Liquidators store in Kentwood, which opened in September. Courtesy Grand Rapids Liquidators

Two brothers who grew up during the age of Amazon are making a living off its excess.

Ross Kunzi, 22, who is a 2018 graduate of Grand Valley State University, and his brother, Blake Kunzi, 20, a current student at Grand Rapids Community College, opened Grand Rapids Liquidators on Sept. 14.

The store at 5420 S. Division Ave. in Kentwood buys returned products and “shelf pulls” from major retailers (mainly Amazon) and offers them to customers at bargain prices.

Common items offered include electronics, toys and games, sporting goods, small appliances and more.

Because the brothers, who are an operation of two, get their inventory by the pallet load and find individual item pricing to be impractical at this point, they use a flat pricing structure similar to that of a dollar store — with a twist.

“We get all new inventory weekly and set the price based on the day of the week,” Ross Kunzi said. “On Saturday and Sunday, everything is $5, Monday and Tuesday it’s $3, Wednesday it’s $2, Thursday it’s $1, and Friday alternates between 25 cents, 50 cents and $1, depending on how much inventory we have left at the end of the day on Thursday. We restock with the new inventory Friday night, so it is ready on Saturday morning, and the cycle continues.”

The Kunzis said they can keep prices so low because Amazon cannot make money off reselling returns, so it sells them cheaply to bidders and bulk buyers.

“Amazon gets a lot of returns. Rather than spending the time to restock them and sell them — put it back into inventory and test to see that they’re OK and everything — they just get rid of them,” Ross Kunzi said.

“It’s not worth their time, and they don’t have anything set up to buy (returns) directly from them for just the everyday layperson, so they go through different liquidation sites that mass liquidate these returns. The sites usually work where you bid for the pallets or you could just buy a truckload at a fixed price.”

Currently, the Kunzis bid for pallets.

In order to keep their prices low, the brothers do not inspect or test the inventory before putting it on the floor, so customers are encouraged to open boxes and check the items for missing or broken parts, making sure everything works as it should before purchasing. All sales are final.

Ross Kunzi said the progressively lower pricing throughout the week not only helps the brothers quickly turn over the inventory but also gives customers the opportunity to come in and be the first to buy hot sellers after browsing pictures of the upcoming week’s merchandise the brothers post on Facebook after resetting the store on Friday nights.

“If you find something you want, you may be able to get it for a better price later in the week; however, there is a chance it may not be there when you come back for it,” Ross Kunzi said.

The brothers said they have cultivated a group of “passionate regulars” who have been invaluable in spreading the word about Grand Rapids Liquidators.

Both Ross Kunzi and Blake Kunzi previously worked together in roles such as product development, coordination and assembly at a reptile supply store that bred geckos and sold them, along with food, bedding and décor for reptile home habitats.

Having a longtime interest in entrepreneurship, the Kunzis decided to strike off on their own and start Grand Rapids Liquidators when, over dinner with their grandparents one night, they heard about a similar resale store concept and were intrigued.

Since forming the company in July and opening the store in September, the brothers said they have had their eyes opened to the amount of work that goes into retail, including permits and inspections, logistics, merchant services, taxes, cleaning, presentation of goods and day-to-day operations.

Blake Kunzi said the interactions with people have taught him a lot.

“Interacting with customers is a big (thing) because … with as much as people are buying from Amazon now, people do enjoy human interaction. They like to come in and have conversations and just check on how your day’s going.”

The Kunzis said they also have learned that while their pricing system works for most of the inventory, there are a few higher-end items that people are willing to pay more for, so they added a “priced as marked” table in the store where high-demand items can be found at deep discounts, just not as deep as the rest of the day’s inventory.

As time goes on, the brothers hope to expand their use of attractive displays in the store to “appeal to a broader audience,” rather than having everything be a treasure hunt.

Grand Rapids Liquidators also this month began selling “mystery boxes,” an assortment of the week’s inventory inside boxes that people buy for a flat price, sight unseen, for the fun of not knowing what they’re getting. The small box contains 10-15 items, the medium-sized box 30-40 and the mega box has 100 items.

“People have seemed to like them quite a bit. They’ve been selling pretty well,” Ross Kunzi said.

By next fall, Ross Kunzi expects the business will be in hiring mode as he prepares to head to law school and Blake Kunzi stays on hand to manage the store.

Grand Rapids Liquidators is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

More information about the business is available on the store’s Facebook page.

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