Department stores struggle to buy merchandise, but Marden’s has too much merchandise

WATERVILLE, Maine – Iconic off-price empire Marden’s Surplus and Salvage is seeing more inventory than ever before despite supply chain disruptions hurting retailers nationwide.

The family business hit its highest inventory level three months ago, said chairman Ham Marden, whose father, Harold “Mickey” Marden, founded the company in 1964.

“Crazy high,” he said, “to the point where we’re struggling to find room to unload more trailers. In our little world of Marden, there is no shortage of inventory.

Marden’s in Waterville, one of 14 stores in Maine, is pictured Thursday. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

The store’s glut stands out in a retail landscape where businesses struggle to find merchandise. But it’s also a function of Marden’s unique business model — what others might see as bad news could be an opportunity for the Maine-based retailer.

Marden’s has 14 discount stores statewide and approximately 670 employees. It sells everything from clothes and shoes to flooring and furniture.

It acquires inventory through excess inventory and store closures, bankruptcies, natural disasters, and a number of other transactions. For example, Mark Hutchins, assistant manager of the Waterville store and nephew of Marden, spent two weeks packing items from four stores in Louisiana after a hurricane hit the area.

A trailer carrying goods to a big-box retailer overturned and the business refused the damaged load, Hutchins said. “So we bought the whole trailer,” he said, noting that usually only the boxes are damaged.

On Thursday, boxes full of clothes fill the Marden’s storeroom in Waterville. Credit: Valérie Royzman / BDN

Although Marden’s operates differently from discount stores such as Burlington Stores Inc. and TJ Maxx, supply chain bottlenecks have also proven to be a boon for these apparel sellers, according to a Wall Street Journal report more early this year.

“We continue to answer the phone,” Marden said. “There is always a glitch, a bubble or a catastrophe somewhere in the economy. We must be able to react. This is what we do. We react to situations and we can buy a major deal with a Zoom meeting or a phone call. »

Although Marden’s is doing well with its inventory, the company is not immune to supply chain issues that make the logistics of running a business difficult.

Marden struggled to buy furniture, for example, for about 10 months. Then it gradually became easier to acquire it. And suddenly, about three months ago, the company had more furniture than it knew what to do with, Marden said.

Mark Hutchins, a Marden family member and assistant manager of the Waterville store, looks at boxes of Halloween clothing and costumes that arrived from the Winslow warehouse on Thursday. Credit: Valérie Royzman / BDN

When purchasing merchandise from a department store in the Maryland area, there was a shortage of pallets. Marden had to ship empty pallets from Maine to pack the store. Before the pandemic, that was never an issue and a plan could be put together in hours, Marden said.

“Now nothing is easy,” he said. “Moving stuff is a horror show.”

Like businesses around the world, big and small, Marden’s is operating with about 150 fewer employees, many of whom have left for various reasons during the pandemic. The Waterville store has 78 employees, including staff and management, Hutchins said.