'Wild and Fascinating Business'
Owens Offers Bargains Galore at
Unclaimed Baggage Center
UBC buys the unclaimed items
after airlines have made every attempt to rejoin the bags with
their owners. The company collects and refurbishes nearly a million
articles a year.
Looking for a bargain on cameras,
jewelry, clothing, luggage, sports equipment, books, art treasures-or
practically anything else you could conceivably transport on
Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., may have what you're
looking for, at 50 to 80 percent below retail. If they don't
have it today, they may have it tomorrow. Their inventory changes
drastically every day.
"We put out about 7,000 new items each day," said Unclaimed
Baggage Center head Bryan Owens '81, a former Samford student
body president. "Because the contents of every bag is different,
it's like Christmas every day."
UBC is the nation's only center for selling unclaimed baggage,
a business that has captured the imagination-and money-of shoppers
worldwide. The store's merchandise comes from baggage that has
gone unclaimed by airline passengers, lost articles left on planes
or in airports, and unclaimed air cargo.
"There's not another company
like it," said Owens, who is president and chief executive
officer of Owens Company South, Inc., the parent company of UBC.
"It's a wild and fascinating business."
|President Bryan Owens '81 welcomes shoppers from every
state to the bargains at Scottsboro's Unclaimed Baggage Center.
The stock is displayed in a retail complex of about 50,000 square
feet that takes up an entire city block in downtown Scottsboro.
Once on display, the items are fair game for bargain hunters
who come from every state and 40 foreign nations, says Owens,
making it the second largest tourist draw in Alabama.
"Last year, UBC brought more than 800,000 people into Scottsboro
to shop," he said. In the center's guest services department,
the concierge desk fields calls from around the world, including
a recent caller from London, England, who had read about UBC
in The Times of London newspaper.
As the media discovers this unique business, increased public
fascination just seems to follow.
"A market research firm in Dallas suggests that they have
not seen such a cult-like following since the start of Starbucks
Coffee," said Owens.
Doyle and Sue Owens, Bryan's parents, started the business as
a part-time venture in 1970. They bought originally from bus
companies. But it soon became a full-time operation, and the
Owens incorporated the business in 1978.
On a typical day, Scottsboro shoppers who remember when the
business opened may drop by several times to view the ever-rotating
stock. Some Huntsville residents make the 45-minute drive twice
"People across the country will schedule a stop here as
part of a business or family trip," said Owens. "Many
of our guests come again and again."
Most of the inventory consists of the normal items people transport
in luggage, or articles such as computer equipment, sporting
goods and fine jewelry. But Owens and his staff occasionally
come across the unusual.
One was a full case of Egyptian artifacts that included an ancient
mummified falcon, burial mask and scarba from a pharaoh's tomb.
They also discovered a rare violin that dated to 1770 and an
original painting valued at $20,000 which was purchased for $60
Independent appraisers are called in to inspect many items, says
Owens. Jewelry items valued at over $1,000, for example, are
sent to an independent gemologist for appraisal.
This summer, one of the pricier items was a 40-carat emerald
that had been appraised at $29,500. The UBC price tag is half
Potential customers or those just curious can check out a sampling
of the inventory at Unclaimed Baggage Center Web site (www.unclaimedbaggage.com)
and online store, which offers a cross-section of what is on
the floor. U.S. News & World Report has listed it as one
of the hottest shopping sites on the Web, and Yahoo! ranks it
as one of its most visited sites.
Owens and his wife, Sharon, a graduate of Wheaton College who
has a master of business administration degree from the University
of North Carolina, have three sons ages eight, seven and five.
He recently was selected to participate in a Harvard Business
School owner/ president management program. Those enrolled study
finance, strategic marketing, information technology and negotiations
during intensive three-week sessions.
"It is a chance to make good contacts and will sharpen entrepreneurial
skills," he said.
Those skills already were surfacing during Owens' college days.
He served as SGA president during his junior year of 197980
and remembers it as a year of change.
"I'm a change agent, not a maintainer," he said. During
his presidency, the SGA constitution was rewritten and the school
sponsored its first series of secular concerts, including the
Little River Band and singers BJ Thomas and Amy Grant.
"God wired me up as an entrepreneur," said Owens. "I'm
in a fast lane business, and I've been blessed with a really
fun company to be the shepherd of."
How To Keep
Your Bag Out of Scottsboro
Bryan Owens of Unclaimed Baggage
Center suggests it is not the baggage that is lost, but the owner.
The baggage is actually in Scottsboro. To decrease chances of
your luggage getting lost or mishandled and winding up at the
UBC, Owens suggests this Top 10 list of tips:
10. Ensure that the bag is not
broken and that the zipper works.
9. Verify that your destination tag is correct.
8. Insure expensive items for more than the industry standard
7. Avoid special handling instructions.
6. Arrive early for check-in.
5. Provide legible ID both inside and outside your luggage.
4. Lock your bag.
3. Ensure that your luggage handle is working properly.
2. Be able to identify your contents.
1. Tip the Skycap!