Auburn-based Thrift Books leading the pack online

Hector Rivas stands amidst the Thrift Books warehouse

These days everybody is feeling the pinch of the troubled economy.

With prices for many goods and services rising, far outpacing wages, it has become a struggle for many to afford the basic necessities, let alone find enough cash to buy items not necessary for survival, like books and entertainment.

But there is good news for the cost-conscious bookworm, said Hector Rivas, chief executive officer for Thrift Books, an Auburn-based, Internet used book seller.

Sitting in his office in the Auburn warehouse – one of four the company operates – Rivas explained one of the reasons his company is thriving in these tough financial times.

“A lot of customers are price sensitive right now, and they’re looking for bargains,” Rivas said. “Because of that, we have a great Web site for them and great products for them.

“Everyone asks me (what we offer that other companies don’t) and I tell them it’s price,” he adds. “Hands down it’s price. You can get a New York Times bestseller delivered to your home anywhere in the U.S. for under four bucks. Within a week we’re lowering our prices even cheaper. Most of our inventory sells for a penny a book. Then it’s just three bucks and change for shipping.”

Rivas first came onboard Thrift Books in 2003, shortly after founders Jason Meyer and Auburn High School graduate Daryl Butcher started the company.

“The original founders met at a church function, and the idea was to start selling used books on Amazon,” Rivas said. “So unlike a traditional brick-and-mortar store, where they had their business and decided to sell on Amazon, they built around selling on Amazon from the beginning.”

Rivas, who had previous sales experience while putting himself through college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said he soon found himself in charge of procuring books for the fledging enterprise.

“We get our books from a lot of different places,” he said. “We partner with a lot of different libraries. We work with traditional brick and mortar stores like Half Price Books. We also get them from thrift stores. We work with probably 70 or 80 different organizations.

“We negotiate at a higher level, and they send them to us by the truckload,” he added. “It’s not unusual for us to buy up to 2 million books in a single month.”

Originally the company operated out of a storage unit in Kirkland, but soon found itself needing to expand.

“It was four guys and a couple thousand books to start with,” Rivas said.

Soon the company moved to a new space on Mercer Street in Seattle.

“Ironically, the building that we had on Mercer Amazon is ripping down and building their new headquarters there,” he said. “They’re putting that on top of our old building.”

Soon the company outgrew the 24,000 square feet of space in Seattle and found a new 67,000-square-foot home in Auburn.

“We hold about a million books in this warehouse,” Rivas said.

In addition, the company maintains four other warehouses, in Detroit, Portland and Atlanta.

“Each of those holds a million books as well,” Rivas said.

Although statistics are not available regarding used book sales on the Internet, Rivas said that he believes Thrift Books is the largest purveyor of used books online.

“I believe we are the largest distributor of used books on the Internet in the world,” he said. “There is not a company online (selling used books) exclusively that is bigger than us.”

Currently, the company employs almost 200 people nationwide, including the more-than-60 people who work at the Auburn warehouse and corporate headquarters.

And although the company still does the majority of its business through Amazon.com and eBay, Rivas said he hopes that a revamped customer service philosophy will spread the good word about the company’s Web site at www.thriftbooks.com.

“We’ve got a liberal customer service policy that we modeled on Nordstrom,” he said. “Some people may take advantage of that, but I think it’s worth it in the long run.”

Despite the current hunker-down mentality prevalent in many businesses, Rivas said growth is the key word at Thrift Books.

“We’d like to get up to 10 warehouses and 10 million books online,” he said. “Honestly, when a customer thinks of used books, we’d like it to be synonymous with Thrift Books. We’d like for that name to be the first thing that comes to mind.”

Visit Thrift Books at www.thriftbooks.com


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