Goodwill’s auction site showcases its ‘coolest, weirdest’ donations

Donations made to Tri-City area Goodwill stores listed for nationwide sales

A small team of employees spend their workday at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia sorting through unique instruments, collectible jewelry, antique artwork, vintage toys and often the unexpected—like framed animal teeth.

“The teeth I can’t get out of my head for some reason,” said Michelle Price, e-commerce manager for Goodwill. “They weren’t human teeth, or I actually would have called the police.”

 It’s all a day at the office for Price, whose team catalogued and photographed the framed animal teeth to list in an online auction on Goodwill’s website, similar to eBay.

“At first, I thought they were really creepy. But then I found out that people who do taxidermy look for that. Because in order to do taxidermy, when you get an animal, they sometimes don’t have all their teeth. So it wasn’t as weird as I thought, but it sure did creep me out,” she said.

The teeth were just one of many unusual and potentially valuable donations that make their way to the e-commerce room in Pasco. The facility is not open to the public, but it’s in the same complex as the Pasco Goodwill store at 3521 W. Court St.

“There’s no way someone would walk into the Pasco Goodwill and shell out $1,200 for a guitar. So for us, we are able to make the most out of all the donations we have,” Price said.

It’s not just the big-ticket items that get listed. Price held up boxes of unmatched buttons, various LEGOs and collectible trading cards.

“You can’t sell one single marble, or even a bag of marbles, because it would get torn apart. So we’re able to take these tiny things, or things like game cards, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Magic the Gathering —this is the kind of stuff where it’s one card at a time in donations, put it all together and a box of Magic cards could go for $150 or more, depending on if they’re vintage or not,” she said.

The team of six sorts through LEGOs, separating them by size and pulling out any mini figures, which are most sought after by collectors.

“We separate these into the regular ones, licensed ones—like from a movie, or ‘Star Wars’ figures,” Price said. These are sold by weight versus a numbered count of figures. “A tiny bag is well over $100 and it’s consistent. So it’s worth it for us to sort it,” she said.

Goodwill gets plenty of donations that leave employees unsure of what they’re looking at. Price said her team considers its theme song to be, “What’s This?” from the movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“We say it a thousand times a day. ‘What’s this? What’s this?’ We definitely work as a team and we have to ask each other,” she said.

The process of an item ending up in the e-commerce department starts when employees sort donations. Workers are trained to know what’s ideal for an online sale and can consult a product guide to verify. Price said stores also frequently text her photos of items or call with a description.

From there, it’s up to the small Pasco team to do its best to market the item on the online site.

“We do a lot of research. Surprisingly, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from a group on Facebook that is something like, ‘Weird Things Found in Thrift Stores.’ It’s the most entertaining and educational site for me because it’s all these people who know really specific things that I don’t know anything about. But it also helps to have the people who work here have a lot of knowledge about specific things,” Price said.

She said she “phones a friend,” often calling her parents, or a friend who knows a lot about sports memorabilia. “My dad’s a big military buff so I’ll often take pictures of things and send it to my dad, ‘Do you know what this is?’ ”

The eight stores that make up Goodwill Industries of the Columbia set aside items received at their donation sites until they receive enough to fill a pallet, then they ship it to the Pasco e-commerce department.

“We never want there to be any perfection (to this method) because we always want customers to be able to find those awesome things in the store. We don’t want every single awesome thing. We still want customers to get those treasures, whether they’re online or in the store,” Price said.

The online option has been offered  locally since 2011, though Price thinks the e-commerce site began nationally in 2009. Now, more than 120 locations participate from 160 autonomous Goodwill stores nationwide.

“It’s a concentration of all the coolest, weirdest stuff we get as a company. It’s history, it’s anything you could possibly imagine,” Price said.

Most bidding starts at $10 per item since customers know the value of the items they’re interested in and will bid up accordingly.

The item from Pasco with the highest online bid was a saxophone from the 1930s that netted $6,500 a few months ago.

The team also successfully listed and sold a Gibson electric guitar for a couple thousand dollars. “I’ve been doing this for eight years and I’m still surprised what our donors give us,” Price said. A bag of mismatched and potentially broken 10K and 14K gold jewelry weighing 68 grams sold for $1,100 in October.

An engraved Heuer Carrera watch, likely a gift from an employer on a 25th employment anniversary in the 1960s, resulted in a winning bid of $4,200 this past summer.

As Price spoke, a team member hung a designer dress on a mannequin that had arrived via the Wenatchee Goodwill after a local dress boutique closed. It was from the New York fashion line Jovani, a brand worn by celebrities, and originally priced at $550.

“We don’t need to know every single thing about something. We just need to have excellent pictures. Things like serial numbers, all the aspects of something and the customers know the value,” Price said.

Auction winners who buy items from the Pasco store can pick up items locally, but otherwise all items are shipped, though only to the U.S. and Canada.

Goodwill recently began buying its packaging materials from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, which has a small cardboard box-making plant on site.

“They’re cheaper and they’re better made. It’s a really awesome relationship that we have,” Price said.

Price said her job is never boring, and while she’s had to learn a lot about many different collectibles, she hesitates to call herself an expert on anything.

“I can tell a real LEGO from a Mega Blok from a mile away, just from the sheen of it alone. You can say I’m an expert on that,” Price laughed.

Maximizing the amount returned from donations is an important part of Goodwill’s mission to help put people to work.

“Last year we helped 753 people find jobs locally, which was a new record for us. We helped over 4,000 people, and we’re on pace to break that record again. That’s what the profits Goodwill is making go towards funding,” said Joey Edminster, community and marketing specialist for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia. “Our mission is changing lives through the power of work.”

A resource center next door to the Pasco Goodwill store includes a computer lab, job board and staff to assist job-seekers with free help with the process, whether practicing for an interview or building a résumé.

“We have people come in daily to check out our ‘hidden jobs’ board,” Edminster said. “Companies will call us daily to tell us about positions and then we’ll show how to apply for the jobs available.

“Everyone here is pretty proud of what we do because we’re able to contribute to our mission, which is to put people to work. It makes everybody feel good,” Price said.

To bid on Goodwill items, go to shopgoodwill.com. To view items from the Pasco store, click “Advanced search” at top right of the page and select “WA—Pasco—Goodwill Industries of the Columbia, Inc.” from the drop down menu in the “Sellers” box.

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