Santa Rosa store offers bargains for inflation-weary customers

From gas to beer, inflation is eating away at folks’ hard-earned cash.

But there is a store that opened Tuesday in west Santa Rosa that is perfectly made for these economic times, combining the thrill of a treasure hunt with the practicality of bargain-basement prices.

It’s evident in the shop’s name: Falling Prices.

The store receives liquidated items from such retail giants as Amazon, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wayfair on a weekly basis that are less than $50. They range from pet food and children’s clothes to duvets and some food items, such as flavored almonds.

The twist is its pricing operates on a sliding scale based on the day of the week. All items on Tuesday are priced at $6, then on Wednesday at $4, Thursday at $2 and Friday at $1. Everything left on Saturday is just a quarter so the inventory can be all cleared for next week.

Another new batch of products are then refilled into the plywood bins, which are spaced out through the store like a checkerboard. The process begins again the following Tuesday morning with about 8,000 various items for sale and eager customers ready to rummage through the product mix.

“I love this because it’s real,” said Richard Cawood, a Bennett Valley resident who operates the store on College Avenue with his wife, Ruth.

Cawood is an independent dealer within the RL Liquidators network out of Sacramento that helps facilitates the weekly truck deliveries into the location.

“Yes, it makes money. But the people who will shop here really need us… the small food section, toys or books or household items. They’re buying stuff that has just come off the shelf at Target that they can pay for a fraction of the cost.”

Those shoppers on Wednesday included Al Siedentopf, a retired veteran from Santa Rosa.

While other shoppers were more eager on grabbing items, Siedentopf was carefully perusing one bin, being very selective on what he would put in his cart. He had selected two reams of printer paper from Amazon costing $8.

“That’s a pretty good price to pay,” Siedentopf said.

He also had eyed the 10-pound bag of organic chicken feed, but found it too expensive for $4 on Wednesday as he typically buys his chicken feed at Tractor Supply Co. Siedentopf said he may visit later in the week when the price for the bag comes down even further.

But Cawood noted the bags could all be gone if he waits too long given that word-of-mouth spreads in the local community, which has a sizable number of chicken owners. A check on Cawood’s smartphone revealed a comparable item sells at a price near $20 a bag at Walmart.

“Come back on $1 day and make sure you get your dollar chicken food,” Cawood informed Siedentopf.

“I like 25 cents better,” Siedentopf chuckled.

That exchange epitomized the give-and-take that goes into a decision that the more than 50 customers on Wednesday morning were making. They ranged from moms to millennials and they were all looking for special deals.

The store activity also reflects the crucial role that liquidation plays in the US retail market, allowing major companies to quickly get rid of their merchandise that is seasonal, being discontinued or doesn’t sell well.

The liquidation market in this country has more than doubled since 2008 and reached $688 billion in 2021, according to Zachary Rogers, assistant professor of supply chain management at Colorado State University.

The business is seeing an upswing with inflation, said Larry Morgan, chief executive officer of RL Liquidators, who has 10 Falling Prices locations in the Sacramento area and is expanding his reach.

His company also has another operation, BidRL, where consumers can bid on more premium items that are typically offered at retail for $50 and above, such as mattresses, laptop computers and coffee makers. Overall, RL Liquidators receive more than 1,000 semi-trailer loads a month, Morgan said.

Cawood also operates a Santa Rosa location for BidRL, where customers have to come and pick up their purchases if they are successful. That pickup location will be moved to the Falling Prices store in the near future.

“As inflation rises, people have to find ways that they can save on items they buy every day,” said Morgan. “It’s like Black Friday every single day.”

Cawood said there were 60 people outside the store before the doors opened at 10 am on its first day of business as shoppers looked to get the first pick of any bargains at $6 per item. Bags of dog food sold out quickly, and one man found a framed autographed picture of a San Francisco 49ers player, he said.

Anticipating its popularity, Cawood is already giving thought on ways to manage crowds, especially on Tuesday mornings. Shoppers can download the Falling Prices app on their smartphone to reserve a space in line up to 24 hours in advance to help limit customer flow and ensure it is orderly.

“We only have a limited number of shopping carts, so by getting a line pass, you can have coffee in your car and stand up at 10 o’clock when I say who is number one?” Cawood said.

During the latter part of the week, the store will attract shoppers looking for items that they can later resell via their own garage sales, Cawood said, keeping the business cycle going.

Cawood previously worked as an executive for Charles Schwab & Co. and got interested in the reselling market as a result of his son, Ben, who had been running a small business selling on Amazon and eBay.

When Ben left for college in Boston, Cawood became more interested in “reverse logistics,” which is taking back items from retailers in large volume and selling them back to the public. He and his wife connected with Morgan in 2018.

“We were intrigued. By operating a store where you reduce the price of every item based on the day of the week, you can empty a store during the week so you can restock and go again,” he said.

Opening a retail store was a big step, but Cawood said he relied on advice from Teejay Lowe, whose family operated G & G Supermarket before selling to Safeway in 2016. Lowe who is now managing the commercial shopping center where the Falling Prices store is located .

“It’s an exciting retail model, quite honestly,” Lowe said of the store. “If you provide people with value, they will shop with you.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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