Junk talks, snark sells

The University’s ReUse Program Warehouse has a sassy and successful approach to peddling excess on Facebook.

Thom Q. Johnson

When the University of Minnesota doesn’t want something anymore, it’s sent to a warehouse on Southeast Como Avenue. It’s like that basement room where all the Christmas tree decorations and old mattresses are kept, but in a house that belongs to a land-grant university with a student population of more than 50,000.

This massive collection of tables and chairs, lab equipment, A/V supplies, musical instruments and staplers is called the ReUse Program Warehouse, and it boasts one of the University’s most successful Facebook pages.

The page has about four times the number of likes as the College of Liberal Arts page and about half the following of the University’s basketball and football teams.

The ReUse Warehouse’s Facebook harnesses a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” brand of sarcastic humor to advertise its wares. The warm everyman tone compares complex pieces of lab equipment to Wall-E’s brother and imagines users buying chairs to help facilitate a cult meeting or buying fake plants to form a jungle in their house.

The page started in 2010, when Stacey White became manager of the ReUse Program and turned to social networking as a way to grow the program’s profile on campus.

“At that time, we really didn’t have a way to share our inventory with customers,” she said. “Facebook seemed like a good way to communicate what we had with a photo and a caption.”

White handed page administration over to a guy who worked in the office and let him do his thing. That guy, Chris Lynch, a business analyst for the University’s Disbursement Services, naturally let his sense of humor soak into the job.

“I’d walk around the warehouse and take 20 to 60 photos and just sit down and try to make up stories about them,” he said. These stories included a box of lead pipes with the caption “Colonel Mustard, we’re watching you” and an old futon labeled a “Venus couch trap.”

The items are resold to other University campuses. But once a week and on the first Saturday of every month, the general public is invited to come in and buy items from the collection.

“To reach that kind of audience, you have to make it something that people would want to look at on their own time,” Lynch said. “On one hand, I do wonder how we get away with it sometimes, but on the other, it’s been really successful for us.”

The humor that Lynch initiated has since become institutionalized within the ReUse Program. Potential employees are screened for wit, and their posts are analyzed each week to see what kinds of jokes are getting the biggest reaction, White said.

“The reality is that it’s a business medium. It’s as important as answering the phone or answering email,” she said. “We can have a snarky and fun and sarcastic satire tone, but we still need to provide good customer service.”

 

What: University of Minnesota ReUse Program
Where: ReUse Program Warehouse, 883 29th Ave. SE, Minneapolis
When: Public hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursdays and 12-4 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month. Facebook posts are updated each Wednesday.