ReRack finds niche buying and selling used, new racks

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ADAM WICKHAM - ReRack employee Stephanie Rapp helps a customer install a Yakima rack on his Honda Civic. ReRack stockpiles rack parts and sells used and new racks to Portland's outdoor-loving community.About five years ago, Bo Grayzel found just the bike rack he needed at a garage sale.

Or so he thought. When he tried to install it on his car, it wouldn’t fit his make and model.

The Northeast Portland software salesman knew someone else would find good use for it, though, so he posted it on Craigslist.

“Lo and behold, somebody bought it,” Grayzel says.

The experience got him wondering: Why is there no marketplace for used racks — for bikes, skis, kayaks, trailer hitches, cargo boxes, sports trailers and the like — to serve the needs of Portland’s outdoor-loving community?

So Grayzel went online again, combing Craigslist, eBay and other sites for all of the used rack pieces he could find. He started a business in his driveway, helping customers find the right rack pieces and installing them by appointment only.

A year later, a Small Business Administration grant — and a friendly nudge from his wife — moved him from his garage to a tiny space on Portland’s Northeast Sandy Boulevard.

That was 2008, and the business, called ReRack, has been on a roll ever since, operating as a kind of Powell’s Books for racks.

The business takes the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle to the extreme. People may now bring old racks and rack parts to trade or sell, rather than send them to the landfill.

“If people get a sale find, a lot of times the same pieces are missing. They get lost, fall off, or go bad,” Grayzel says. “This is a great way to reuse this stuff and add value with human labor.”

ReRack also enables customers to get more hauling capacity in their current car, alleviating the need to acquire a new, larger gas-guzzling vehicle.

The business, which has since moved into a larger, 5,000-square-foot space at Northeast Sandy and 22nd Avenue, is growing so much that Grayzel is working to secure a separate warehouse to house the overflowing stock, piled to the rafters in neat little boxes.

Once the extra space is secured, Grayzel plans to have a fleet of roof-top cargo boxes available to rent for motorists who want extra space while taking a trip. He and his 10 employees, including his 15-year-old son, also will have more space to work on their “projects” — a pile of rack parts on the warehouse floor like pick-up sticks, waiting to be matched up.

More floor space also will allow for staff to tend to a bin of old, rusty parts that require more TLC and room to repair.

“A lot of stuff we end up scrapping because we have no space (to rehab them),” Grayzel says. “We could soak the parts (frozen with rust) in a solvent bath; they’re functionally fine, but we just can’t get a bolt to come off.”

Re-use chic

ReRack’s bright green façade isn’t the only thing that sets it apart on Sandy Boulevard. “Reggie Rackington,” an artist’s rendition of a skier made from recycled rack parts, stands atop the roof, overlooking the parking lot where the custom-fitting magic happens.

The shop sign out front was rehabbed from a book store that was going out of business. The blue awning over the entrance also was repurposed, as were all of the shelving, desks, tables, chairs and other fixtures in the shop.

Grayzel is proud of taking his re-use mission to the extreme, and thinks he’s even been a beneficiary of the economic downturn.

As people downsize their cars for greater fuel efficiency as well as eco-mindedness, that fuels the rack industry. He hasn’t heard of any other business that specializes in used racks.

“You’ve got to be passionate about reuse,” he says. “It is way easier to just order the parts from the manufacturer, get two sets of everything.”

Beaverton-based Yakima and Sweden-based Thule, both industry leaders, have been making racks since the ‘70s.

Racks started getting more complicated in the ‘80s, when auto manufacturers went from “rain-gutter-style” roofs to smooth edges, which necessitated “fit kits” to customize racks to different vehicles.

ReRack stocks fit kits, clips, pieces large and small from Yakima and Thule as well as Japan-based Inno, Canada-based Swagman, Maine-based Malone and Bellingham, Wash.-based Softride.

“A lot of the magic of getting the rack on the car is the last little piece,” Grayzel says.

Grayzel admits it’s a risk that some of the older and more obscure parts just may never sell. “But if you want to be the Powell’s Books, you’ve got to have it 10 times over and five different ways,” he says. “I don’t want to say no to anybody.”

New niche

Besides, Grayzel says a new demographic has found his shop: vintage car buffs from around the country. “There are people who are car nuts; they go to car shows and restore old cars and need a vintage rack, like for their 1980 Ford Mustang.”

The Volkswagen folks are “absolutely rabid” about how their cars look, he says, and search far and wide for the perfect old-style fairing (a roof-top accessory that reduces drag and wind noise.)

A guy came in and said, ‘You’re selling (those pieces) way too cheap; you can sell them on eBay,” Grayzel says. For a while he resisted, then gave in last year and began selling the pieces on eBay to his captive audience.

The bulk of his everyday customers are actually Prius and Subaru owners, who like living the green outdoor lifestyle and have to make it work when they need to load the family up to go to the beach or mountains.

“Rather than buy a bigger or different vehicle, they buy a rack,” he says, noting that Memorial Day to Labor Day is peak season. It’s so busy that even with all hands on deck, the shop began a “take a number” system for the first time this summer.

Grayzel doesn’t expect it to slow down too much this winter, not as long as Portlanders continue wanting to tote their gear and family pets. Grayzel isn’t advocating that anyone “pull a Mitt Romney” by toting their dog in a rooftop kennel, but he sees customers facing a similar shortage of interior car space.

“Right before all the holidays, the Prius people show up,” he says. “They buy a rack, they buy a (cargo) box because they want their dog to be more comfortable in the car.”

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