Thomas Howard: A thought or two about GovDeals

By THOMAS HOWARD,

Over the past few years of sitting in board meetings, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of times GovDeals gets mentioned. GovDeals, an online auction site, is like eBay for governments. Schools, cities, states and law enforcement agencies throughout Mississippi, and the rest of the country, use govdeals to sell an astonishing variety of surplus, broken, obsolete or otherwise unwanted items.

But what is GovDeals? Who owns it? Years of firm belief that money is the only true motivator in government did not allow me to accept GovDeals was a public service. Nor could it be run by the government; it works too well. As a journalist, skeptic and all-around nosey person, I had to find out. It wasn’t hard.

A quick Google search of “who owns GovDeals” led me to Liquidity Services Inc., a liquidation service founded in 1999 under the URL liquidation.com. After several years of Department of Defense contracts, retail liquidation, etc., Liquidity Services split its liquidation business into several subsidiary companies, each focused on a different niche in the surplus liquidation market. According to Google, the company now owns and operates GovDeals Inc., Geneva Industries Ltd, TruckCenter.com LLC, Geneva Auctions Ltd, Liquidity Services Co. Ltd, DOD Surplus LLC, Government Liquidation.com LLC, Southern Textile Recycling Inc., Liquidity Services Limited, Surplus Acquisition Venture LLC, Network International Inc. Willen Trading Ltd, Liquidity Services GmbH, Machinio Inc. and Liquidity Services Asia Ltd.

Liquidity Services offers a wide range of liquidation services for industry, retail and government entities, and it makes a lot of money doing it. In 2018, the company brought in $52.7 million in revenue, which, according to a fourth quarter 2018 financial report, was just under $25 million profit. GovDeals was responsible for $7.7 million in revenue, or $7.1 million in profit.

Far be it from anyone to claim a company is good or bad based solely on financial information gleaned from a 5-minute google search. That is not the message I want to send. I have a GovDeals account, made several years ago while I was a student at the University of Alabama. I often enjoy browsing through the endless list of categories, fantasizing over the thought of purchasing a firetruck, tugboat or a pallet of old electronics. It is a decent website and a helpful service to local municipalities such as the City of Newton, which sold a tractor on GovDeals not to long ago, East Central Community College, which has ported over to GovDeals instead of storing surplus goods until a physical auction can be held, and the Town of Decatur, which is, last I heard, considering selling its old tanker truck to raise money for a new one.

GovDeals lets small, rural towns like Decatur and Newton put surplus goods in front of the entire world, maximizing exposure and bringing in the highest bid possible. Who can argue with more money?

No, I don’t think GovDeals is evil, and I don’t think Liquidity Services has some nefarious scheme to rob rural towns of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. I think it’s a worthwhile service, which is growing in popularity, use and moneymaking potential.

As far as I can tell, GovDeals is a great resource, for now, but far too often good things that make money are twisted to become bad things that make money.  Politicians and taxpayers alike have a vested interest in watching GovDeals and its parent company to ensure that service continues to be a positive tool for many years to come. 

Thomas is the managing editor of the Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@­newtoncountyappeal.com.