About Military Surplus
In the real estate industry many people promote the message; "Location, location, location!" In the military surplus industry we focus on; "Condition, condition, condition." This a repetitive phrase that reinforces the message that condition is of the utmost importance for YOU as a customer. The most educated customers will always want to buy the best quality surplus products that are reasonably priced. To help you achieve this objective, I am prepared to provide you with my 22 years of military retailing experience and other insider's secrets.
Finding the Right Sources of Information and Qualifying Your Needs:
When you receive any facts, you should try to determine how reliable is your source of information? You should try to determine how knowledgeable the source really is. It’s also wise to understand the seller's underlying motives. At the same time, you should try to qualify your own needs. What do YOU really want to receive? Do you want the best equipment quality regardless of price? Do you want clever designs? Do you want the least expensive option, or do you want the best value? The answer to these types of questions will ultimately determine how satisfied you will be after the money is exchanged. With all of these facts in mind, I will try to give you some useful information. Allow me to start at the beginning and discuss my own credentials:
· 1963 - 1982: Air Force Dependant.
· 1982 - 1986: U.S. Army. Enlisted Field Artillery Soldier. Active Duty.
· 1986 - 1990: U.S. Army Reserves. Enlisted Infantry Soldier.
· 1988 - 1990: ROTC Cadet.
· 1990: "Distinguished Military Graduate." Rated in the top 10% of all Army ROTC graduates.
· 1990 - 1992: U.S. Army. Commissioned Light Infantry Officer. Active Duty
· 1992 - Present: Bradley's Military Enterprises. Military Retail. Founder / President
Summarized Background Information:
I have been a military dependant, ROTC student, active duty soldier, and I have 22 years of experience as a military retailer. I know what it takes to be a professional soldier, and I have a good understanding about the military community. For 2 decades I have bought, sold and traded military gear from auctions, wholesalers and manufactures. I have also taken care of the needs of many soldiers and many different types of military collectors. In some respects, my whole life has been associated with the military. I think it's fair to state I'm an expert pertaining to current issue military surplus.
I'm not the most mechanically inclined person, but I have a friend in the auto industry. I trust him, and up till this day, he has never betrayed my trust. When my car is making weird noises I bring it to him. In most cases, it's relatively easy or inexpensive to fix. When I'm preparing to buy a new car, I speak with my friend well in advance. I tell him my needs and how much money I'm willing to spend, and he consistently points me in the right direction. He educates me about the various models and manufacturers. He educates me about extended warrantees, cash back programs and special financing. In some cases, I will wait for months until he can find me a good deal, and it's always worth the wait. I'm being completely honest when I say I'm happy that I have an inside source in the auto industry. He has always put me in the right vehicle at the right price. Likewise, you may appreciate the information that is provided below.
· The military surplus industry has little or no regulation. There are no set standards. There really isn't any quantitative grading processes that is regularly used throughout the industry.
· People in the military industry give ratings to various military surplus items such as “new, like new, excellent, good and average condition.” Here's the shortcoming with the rating system: Everyone has their own interpretation or their own way of rating surplus. The military surplus industry doesn't have a standardized evaluating process similar to NADA or Kelly Blue Book guidelines for the auto industry. I'm sure there are industry experts that are used to determine the condition or value of various military relics and old collectables, but there doesn't seem to be a well excepted industry standards for current issued military surplus items.
· It has been my experience that surplus wholesalers tend to overstate the condition of their products. What many wholesalers describe as "good” or “excellent" condition may be "average" or "below average" at best. Another frustrating issue associated with working with surplus wholesalers is that they often don't understand the acronyms or industry slang that is typically associated with the products they're selling. If you ask for an AAM, Jump Wings and an E-Tool they might state they don't have it in stock, but they may have Army Achievement Medals, parachutist badges and entrenching tools. As a military retailer, you need to make sure you use the right industry terminology. You also need to be aware of what your wholesalers are sending you. The condition is often less than desired. (*Note: Some surplus wholesalers are very honest and highly professional, but the list is rather small. Therefore, I don't want to disclose the military surplus wholesalers I work with. This is one insider's secret I don't want to share with everyone.)
· Likewise, it's not unusual for military retailers to overstate the condition of their surplus items as well. I regularly visit military surplus stores to see what's new or different, and it's not uncommon to find old, outdated, or poor conditioned items that are being sold at a premium. I guess overstating condition starts at the top and simply trickles down to the local surplus store.
· On the other hand, I have also worked with Japanese collectors that tend to understate the value of military surplus. These customers are extremely knowledgeable, but they tend to label "like new" or "excellent" products as "good" or "average." These astute customers know what they want. In many cases they have memorized NSN, GLA or SPO numbers, and they always seek to purchase the best surplus products at rock bottom prices. I don't harbor any animosity against these thrifty customers. I admire their knowledge and attention to detail, but I would suggest these serious collectors represent one extreme while various wholesalers represent the other extreme. In most cases, the true value of surplus falls somewhere between these 2 extremes.
· To be honest with you, I believe the average customer who buys surplus is stuck somewhere in the middle. To some extent they know what they want to buy, but in many cases they could use some additional assistance. A professional surplus company should take the time to educate their customers, and point them in the right direction. They should also offer their customers a 30 day 100% satisfaction guarantee. As the President of Bradley's Military Enterprises, I ensure this takes place every time we do business.
· Although the private sector doesn't appear to have any widely held standards, my organization has found a model that helps us determine the quality or condition of surplus items. The standards we have adopted stems from the model provided by the United States Army's Central issuing Facility, which is better known as CIF.
· For those who never heard about CIF, allow me to give you some insight about this organization. When the Department of Defense (DOD) purchases various clothing and equipment from their manufacturers, they send it to CIF. CIF in return issues this equipment to our soldiers.
· Another piece of information that my civilian readers might find interesting is the equipment that CIF issues is commonly known as "TA-50." This is an example of the many acronyms and slang that is regularly used by soldiers and the military establishment. In the Army, TA-50 translates into "Table of Allowances 50." Don't let this terminology confuse you, soldiers are usually issued significantly more than 50 items. When I was a soldier it took 2 or 3 duffle bags to carry all of my TA-50. Here's the bottom line, TA-50 is a term every Army soldiers uses to describe the uniforms, clothing and field equipment that is issued to them by CIF. The Marines, on the other hand, uses the acronym "782 Gear," which basically means the same thing as TA-50.
· When a soldier is assigned to a military unit one of the first things they will do is to report to CIF, and they are issued duffle bags filled with TA-50. Soldiers will regularly use these items for training and combat purposes. When a soldier is preparing to leave for another duty station (Permanent Change of Station or PCS) or end their time in service (ETS), they are required to return their TA-50 back to CIF.
· As TA-50 is returned back to the Central Issuing Facility, soldiers face some strict standards that are set by CIF. Typically, the average soldier spends hours cleaning, repairing, and performing accountability of their TA-50 before they go to CIF. If any of the TA-50 items are not highly cleaned, functional and fully serviceable, CIF will reject the equipment. When this happens a soldier must quickly address the shortcoming, or they are issued a statement of charges. When a soldier receives a statement of charges they're required to pay for the damaged or missing equipment. This explains why many soldiers consider returning TA-50 back to CIF an unpleasant experience. It can be time consuming and very expensive despite the fact TA-50 items are discounted based on set depreciation rates.
· Although soldiers tend to dislike CIF's high standards, it has created an ideal model for Bradley's Military to follow. When I rate the condition of various TA-50 items I don't use the private sector's methods. Instead, I rate military surplus as "Serviceable" which indicates it's CIF Clearable, or I rate it as "Unserviceable" and it will not clear CIF. This is the same process that the Central Issuing Facility would use.
· When Bradley's sells surplus items, we provide a 30-day 100% satisfaction guarantee. We specifically guarantee our products will clear CIF, and we do everything we can to help soldiers in this process. Bradley's staff educates our customers about what CIF is willing to accept or not. We gladly point out what CIF focuses on, we offer cleaning tips, and we try keep our customers away from surplus items or commercial products that will not clear CIF.
· We also take into consideration the prices CIF will charge a soldier. In other words, we strive to undercut what a soldier will pay CIF if they simply accept a statement of charges. In many cases soldier can save a substantial amount of money by buying high quality surplus items. In other cases we can't beat CIF's prices due to their depreciation discounts. In many situations, we will openly tell our customers they would be wiser to accept a statement of charges if CIF prices are less expensive. On the other hand, we are quick to let soldiers know when our prices are less expensive than CIF. This is very beneficial for soldiers.
· Even if you are a civilian who likes military surplus, the approach Bradley's uses is also beneficial for you. We will gladly tell you up front what is CIF clearable or not. We will also tell you if an item is priced above or below CIF prices. This type of an approach is both smarter and much more quantitative in nature than simply accepting what someone has labeled as "excellent condition." Remember, when you see something labeled as excellent condition you should ask yourself what criteria was used to form this rating? Did the person selling the surplus simply assign their own condition rating? In many cases this is exactly what takes place. Many surplus sellers simply set their own condition ratings, and the buyer might be wise to be wary. In many situations, customers could use some unbiased information before spending their money.
What standards does CIF use?
Some of the criteria CIF uses when it receives TA-50 was mention earlier, but allow me to give you some of the finer details.
· If a piece of TA-50 doesn't meet CIF's standards it is deemed as "unserviceable."
· CIF has strict standards for cleanliness. When CIF says they want their equipment cleaned they mean it. They want soldiers to use attention to detail while cleaning their gear.
· Any item that is ripped, burned, discolored or has separating seams is considered unserviceable.
· If anything is broken such as quick releases, buckles, snaps, zippers, frames (etc.), it will be deemed as unserviceable.
· If buttons, straps, screws, nuts or any parts are missing it will be considered unserviceable.
· If any piece of equipment is burnt, has paint on it or if it has been written on, it will be deemed unserviceable. Duffle bags are one of the few exceptions. The bottom of a duffle bag can be written on, but the writing must be covered with tan paint before it is returned to CIF.
· If a piece of clothing or equipment has a DRMO stamp on it, it will be deemed as unserviceable. (*Note: Before the military establishment sells its surplus to the private sector it is sent to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service or DRMO. DRMO performs accountability, it marks these products with a DRMO ink stamp, and it prepares the surplus for resale. In the past, DRMO would auctioned off surplus to various civilian businesses. Today this reselling process is performed by Defense Logistic Agencies or DLA.) Bottom line, if any gear was in the military system before, and it was marked with the DRMO stamp, it will not be accepted by CIF.
· If any official tags or labels are missing it will be deemed as unserviceable. CIF wants to be able to identify NSN, DLA, and SPO numbers that are provided on these military labels. They also want to see other types of tags that identifies DSCP or Generation III items. CIF does this to ensure they are accepting genuine issued products and not a close commercial product with a similar appearance.
· It should be noted that CIF standards are strict, but soldiers are offered some exceptions. Soldier can request to DX (Direct Exchange) excessively worn or damaged equipment under certain circumstances. Soldiers can request a report of survey that will try to determine if a soldier is not responsible for stolen military equipment, and commanders can provide their subordinates with field loss or damage statements. Once again, it is possible that a soldier can be found not responsible for the loss or damage of TA-50. This is especially true in a combat or training setting. Although the military establishment has strict standards, they do allow for reasonable wear and tear.
· At the Central Issuing Facility TA-50 or surplus items eventually come to a Y in the road. If CIF receives serviceable TA-50 it is reissued to another soldier. If the surplus is deemed unserviceable, CIF will send this equipment to DRMO or DLA, and then it is sold to civilian businessmen. This is important fact to keep in mind. Much of the military clothing and equipment you see in military surplus stores was rejected by CIF because it was considered unserviceable. Sometimes businesses will recondition these unserviceable items, but in many other cases, it is simply sold "as is."
· Some surplus stores that are located close to a military installation, such as Bradley's Military, buy surplus directly from soldiers. Most soldiers buy extra gear, and they sell these personally owned items after they retire. Military products that are purchased directly from soldiers tend to be in much better condition than the unserviceable items sold at military auctions. This is a competitive advantage Bradley's possesses and many other military surplus stores lack.
· If you can purchase serviceable or CIF clearable military surplus below CIF prices, you have found a good deal. Another way to determine if the price is right is to visit eBay, and see what are the typical prices on-line. This is great advice for the average person who is thinking about purchasing a surplus item.
I hope you found this article to be informative, and you can put it to good use. The message I tried to communicate is serviceable (CIF Clearable) surplus tends to be inexpensive and very durable. In most cases, surplus that is in the condition I’ describing is an exceptional value. On the other hand, unserviceable surplus is always overpriced and easily broken. With this I mind, before you buy any surplus items you should always take into consideration if the product is serviceable, functional, and in good condition. Most importantly, you should want to receive a 30-day guarantee to ensure any surplus items are CIF clearable. This is quintessential if you are a soldier, and it is still important if you are a civilian. You need adequate time to clear CIF, test the equipment or perform research on the product to ensure it's right for you. This is a reasonable request, so if your local surplus store won't give you any assurances or a 30-day guarantee, contact Bradley's Military Surplus. We know what is considered serviceable surplus, we know what will clear CIF, and we are more than happy to guarantee it.
William G. McKinney
Bradley's Military Enterprises