Is buying used warehouse racks better? Not really.

There’s a particular phrase that makes me instantly suspicious. It’s a phrase I heard a lot growing up in a household where “disposable income” was a pipe dream. And that phrase is “just as good”.

I heard this phrase a lot because it was my mother’s phrase of choice to describe almost every purchase we made: the off-brand food products we bought; the used bike I got; and the little TV we had. I’d pick out Hostess Cupcakes, and she’d put them back and get the store brand, saying they were “just as good”. They weren’t. “Just as good” never really is, if you know what I mean.

Now what do tasty snacks have to do with buying refurbished warehouse storage equipment? Well, the entire reason for this post is someone recently told me that refurbished racks were “just as good” as new. They aren’t, for quite a few reasons. But let’s go over the top three.

1 – You Don’t Know Exactly What You Are Buying

Unless you get extremely lucky and buy used warehouse racks from someone who just bought them new and then went out of business, then in all likelihood, your refurbished racks are years, or even decades, old. The person who bought them has probably moved on. The company that sold them might be long gone. Maybe that model no longer exists, and exact replacement parts are no longer available.

And if you’ve been around a warehouse, you know mishaps are part of the job. How many hundreds of times did the forklift hit the racks? Does anybody know if pieces were replaced? Is that end connector original?

More questions: What are the specs, like load capacity? Is the yield strength the old 35,000 PSI, or the newer 55,000 PSI? What gauge are the steel beams (which really cannot be answered unless you cut them open)?

There are always questions when buying anything refurbished, but the preceding take on additional importance when you are talking about thousands of pounds of material stored above where people work. One structural failure can change everything.

If you are still intent on buying refurbished pallet racks or similar, read the preceding again and get these questions answered.

2 – Standards Change

Does your area have seismic restrictions? Because it’s not just a Southern California thing anymore. In fact, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking. Storage racks are considered building-like structures by the International Building Code and the Rack Manufacture’s Institute (RMI), and should be built to conform to a property’s local seismic profile.

20, 30, 40 years ago, this wasn’t much of an issue. It’s probable that most locations outside of earthquake hot spots even had a seismic profile, and if they did, nobody paid much attention to it. But today, with technology leading the way, we’ve come to understand seismic activity much better.

Of course, seismic is hardly alone here. Building codes have changed over the last several decades. Standards have as well. Earlier I mentioned yield strength going from 35,000 psi to 55,000. That’s quite a jump, and one that left a lot of refurbished racks in the dust.

The point to this is simple: many of yesterday’s racks do not meet today’s codes and safety standards. And it’s not really a matter of getting them installed without being flagged – the big issue happens when there’s an incident, and the insurance company says “err, wait a minute…”.

So again, if you are still considering refurbished warehouse racks, definitely make sure they conform to today’s standards.

3 – You Get What You Get, and You Work Around It

“We’d be much better off if the mezzanine went all the way to the back wall.”

 “Well, the used mezzanine we’re buying doesn’t. Make it work.”

 “But that’s eleven feet. Times the 40’ width, that’s 440 sq. feet. That’s a lot of space to just waste. At the least, we could put a few offices up there, freeing up more space down here, and…”

 “You won’t be needing an office if you keep this up.”

 “Right, one refurbished mezzanine, coming right up!”

Sadly, similar conversations happen all the time. Refurbished racking is already built, and comes one way. You fit your operations around it, and if it falls short (or goes long), you work around that.

In warehouses where shaving minutes and seconds can markedly affect the bottom line, any inefficiency costs you money. Warehouse flow is usually disrupted for the worse with used racking, because it doesn’t conform to your operations. A shelf is a shelf is a shelf, until it goes a foot too long, and the pallet jack cannot efficiently turn around. Then it’s a complete “45-seconds wasted over and over” money sink that will annoy everyone as long as it stands. And since nobody wants to get fired, nobody says “boy, we really goofed in buying that, didn’t we?”

The Grand Finale – Money

There’s only one reason to buy refurbished warehouse racking – money. Plain and simple. It’s perceived to be cheaper.

But is it? Based on what I’ve already written, I think for most professional applications, no, it is not. Especially if you have to hire anyone to really check the specs, get it to code, or work around inefficiencies.

Heck, depending on the manufacturer, it may not even be cheaper head to head. Manufacturer-direct pricing from true racking manufacturers cut out the middleman, and can deliver new warehouse racking, built precisely to both code and your unique spec, at a better price than refurbished.