He raised $1.2 million from friends at VC firms True Ventures and Harrison Metal in 2009 and has collected a total of $73 million from investors. “They’re just scratching the surface of what we think is a massive market,” says Pete Jenson, a partner at Spectrum Equity, which led a $65 million Series C round in 2018. Neither he nor the company would discuss the company’s valuation or their ownership stakes other than to confirm that Rosenberg has a minority stake. Based on the one publicly traded competitor, Liquidity Services, the company is likely worth at least $130 million, but that is likely low, given how fast it is growing.
“That is why Spectrum wrote us a check for $65 million. They like big markets,” agrees Rosenberg.
B-Stock isn’t the only option, of course. Washington, D.C.-based Optoro operates one warehouse but these days mostly sells software that helps chains identify the best way to offload unwanted inventory, whether by restocking merchandise, returning it to a vendor, refurbishing, donating or sending it to a secondary marketplace. It also operates Blinq.com, which sells one-off returns to consumers, and Bulq.com, a smaller B2B competitor to B-Stock. Happy Returns installs pop-up receiving sites for chains that have limited brick-and-mortar presence, and Liquidations.com similarly sells excess inventory via auction.
Rosenberg has taken a different tack, putting all of the burden back on the original sellers, who deal with sorting, packing and shipping items to buyers. No inventory risk, no shipping costs and all the pricing decisions are made by the buyers and sellers. Even the warehouses where all that stuff sits in are the domain of retailers or third-party logistics companies. Sellers pay an estimated 5%-to-10% transaction fee based on the amount of merchandise they move through some 175,000 auctions every year. That keeps overhead low–85% of Rosenberg’s costs consist of doling out paychecks–and that, he claims, has helped him produce net profits since the day he started in 2009.
To help retailers get the best price, B-Stock tinkers with things like whether to sell stuff together or separately, how big a lot should be, how long an auction should run, what pictures to use and what day it should close. It also helps leverage the power of brands–trusted retailers can command a 15% premium–with separate marketplaces for each customer.
“There are times when we get bogged down with returns,” says a manager at a Fortune 500 company that has worked with B-Stock for six years and declined to speak on the record. “We needed someone to help us find homes for product that might beforehand been thrown away.”
Who’s buying all this? People like Clayton Cook, 33, who runs three discount stores in Salt Lake City. He spends an hour every morning browsing B-Stock and typically places about 150 to 200 bids for toys, apparel and other items sold by Walmart, Target and Costco. He doesn’t have time to haggle, so he lowballs his bids and figures he will only win a fraction of them. “The biggest plus is that I get it directly from the source. Because of that I get a better variety and a better product,” says Cook, who expects sales of $8 million in 2019. The site has also attracted a lot of eBay and Poshmark sellers, although the company doesn’t keep track of just how many.
That’s not to say the business is hassle-free. The company’s Better Business Bureau page is littered with complaints from unhappy buyers, most of them upset by the actions of a retailer but blaming the middleman as the face of the transaction.
Rosenberg says the marketplace model has allowed him to build the biggest online liquidation business in town, yet he still only lays claim to less than 2% of a liquidation market that totals $100 billion. To continue cashing in on the returns boom, he wants to bring on outside companies who can offer various logistics services, including sorting and shipping, for an extra fee. He also has plenty of new business to chase: Only 18 of the top 100 retailers in the country are working with B-Stock, plus his current customers could be liquidating even more stuff through his platform.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” says Rosenberg. “And a really, really big market.”
COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY AARON KOTOWSKI FOR FORBES.
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I am a staff writer at Forbes covering retail. I’m particularly interested in entrepreneurs who are finding success in a tough and changing landscape. I have been at Forbes since 2013, first on the markets and investing team and most recently on the billionaires team. In the course of my reporting, I have interviewed the father of Indian gambling, the first female billionaire to enter the space race and the immigrant founder of one of the nation’s most secretive financial upstarts. My work has also appeared in Money Magazine and CNNMoney.com. Tips or story ideas? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.