Ken Mills cast a longing glance at the big kitchen items up for auction Friday, hoping no one else would notice his interest.
Over the last several years, Mills has outfitted his restaurant, Cajun King, in northwest Oklahoma City with convection ovens, office supplies and even a company van with bargain purchases he's made at the state's monthly surplus property sales.
“Always looking for a good deal,” he said. “I hope a lot of people don't know about it. I hope we can keep it a secret and keep people from bombarding us.”
Before the start of Friday's auction, Mills and dozens of others wandered the warehouse floor of the state surplus building, W 2530 Reno in Oklahoma City, past vast stockpiles of items either surrendered, donated or that had outlived their usefulness to the state. The merchandise included everything from items seized in drug raids to property surrendered by travelers at Will Rogers World Airport.
Purchasers could bid on cars, trucks, heavy equipment, lawn mowers, loads of computers, cameras, piles of sandbags, stacks of wooden pallets, rubber boots, refrigerators, an old salon chair and mountains of chairs and desks. Other items, such as buckets of pocket knives, ice climbing shoes and judge's gavel could be purchased through an online auction the state agency also operates in conjunction with the monthly sale.
A quick glance around the warehouse Friday showed buyers utilizing two different strategies in hopes of returning home with their new purchase; ignore it completely and hope nobody else found their hidden treasure or guard it with a mean face in hopes of discouraging others from getting a closer look. Mills was using the nonchalant approach.
“There's a buyer for everything,” said state Surplus Manager Roger Stone, who oversees the program. “We have a pretty great base of buyers each month that are looking for that steal of an item.”
Over the years, the state has averaged nearly $3.5 million dollars annually from the auction. The past two years, that figure jumped to more than $11 million, due to a surge in the sale of tractors, bulldozers, forklifts and other heavy machinery. Money raised in the auction is returned to the state general fund.
Once the action got underway Friday, the auctioneer soon rattled off bids for a 2000 Ford Taurus with nearly 200,000 miles on it.