For any small business owner, it can be a big decision to expand your office and buy new furniture and equipment—but it doesn’t have to be a big investment.

Once you’ve decided you need office furniture—because your business is growing, you’ve recently rented office space, or you’re taking on new employees—it’s time to figure out how much to spend on that furniture and how to acquire it.

For many business owners, used furniture is the way to go because it offers significant savings over new—up to 70 percent for some companies.

One way that many business owners have been picking up good deals on used office furniture is by participating in auctions. But head into an auction without a game plan and you can wind up overspending.

Here are five tips to help you with the process of buying used office furniture at an auction.

1. Give yourself time. Don’t wait until you are in desperate need to start checking out your options. As soon as you have an inkling that purchasing office furniture is in your future, find out what’s available and how much it will cost. Compare prices of new and used furniture. Check out warehouses, retailers, and big box stores, as well as auctions. Talk to furniture sellers, buyers, and fellow small business owners who have purchased furniture. Having a really solid idea of what works for you and how to get it before you need it will allow you to jump when the opportunity is right.

2. Go in with a budget. James LaGesse has 23 years of experience selling office furniture at auction as auctioneer and director of LaGesse Auctions in Fort Worth, Texas. He recommends coming in with an overall budget and not necessarily one that is itemized by product, which can be limiting. Make a priority list of items instead. But above all, says LaGesse, “always stick to your budget.”

3. Do your research. The only way to know whether or not you’re getting a good deal in the chaos of an auction is to do your research beforehand. Many auctions include a preview day, where potential buyers can come in, see the furniture, and ask questions about the products as well as the auction itself. Ask the staff what the items typically go for at auction. Compare furniture up for bid with similar items for sale. Make sure what is available will meet your needs.

“If you have the time, come in at the auction facility, walk it, and kick the tires, as they say,” LaGesse says. “Looking at pictures and descriptions are one thing, but seeing it in person is entirely different. Other than your rent, your furniture is going to be with you the longest. Think about comfort, utility, and then impression.”

4. Understand the rules and tempo of the auction. Each auction can have its own rules, so it’s important to research exactly how a particular auction will go. Is there a minimum bid to which the auctioneer must stick, or could he drop from the opening offer? Are there people bidding over the phone or online? How many people typically show up? Who is your biggest competition—other business owners or furniture dealers? Does the furniture sell in bulk or in individual pieces? Is there any reasoning behind the auction order? Have someone walk you through the auction—or better yet, go to one without bidding to get a hang of how it works before you’re ready to buy.

5. Keep your emotions in check. Bidding at an auction is often a much more emotional experience than simply purchasing a piece of furniture at a store. You are competing with other people in a short amount of time for a unique item that has an unknown price tag. Oftentimes, people get caught up in the excitement and bid away.

“A lot of people simply go with the flow and think, ‘If I just keep bidding, I’m going to make a deal because I’m at an auction,’” LaGesse says. But if you don’t stick to your budget and do your research, you might wind up paying as much for used furniture as you would for new.

Michelle Stoffel Huffman is a researcher and staff writer for Think Glink Inc. Prior to joining Think Glink, Michelle worked for the Chicago Tribune as a daily news reporter and community manager, covering local government, business, tax issues and crime. She now specializes in real estate industry news, consumer financial reporting and home design and decor. She is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.

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