Thursday, June 5, 2008

This company makes money on lost luggage

The company, Unclaimed Baggage, ( in Scottsboro, Alabama, where Bryan Owens, 44, is the CEO, began as a store started in 1970 by his retired father, Doyle. It may be one store, but what they sell brings in more than 1 million customers per year. Unclaimed Baggage is just what it suggests: a store selling airport luggage that has gone unclaimed. There is so much of it, the retail outlet has expanded over a city block and now attracts visitors from around the world. Owens, who bought the company from his father in 1996 and watched it grow 400 percent, says Unclaimed Baggage has exclusive long-term contracts with airlines around America, Asia and Europe, ensuring his store is the only one of its kind. It's also proof that the word "trash" should be used with wide latitude. Every year thousands and thousands of wayward suitcases end up in Scottsboro—specifically, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Once an airline has tried and failed to reunite suitcase and owner (a process that varies according to airline), it will compensate the owner and sell the suitcase—and all its contents—to the UBC, which buys suitcases by the truckload and hauls them to its 50,000-square-foot complex in Scottsboro. There the UBC staff sorts through the bags and puts their contents in a showroom (or some of them: others are given to charity, still others discarded), where they can be seen and bought by members of the public. But are people really interested in buying other people's, uh, lost stuff? "We'll have close to a million people come to the store this year," says Bryan Owens, the owner of the UBC, "from every state in America and thirty foreign countries. This is kind of the Mecca for lost bags." Owens's father started the UBC in 1970, with a rented old house, a borrowed old truck, and a $300 loan. Today the center gets nearly 7,000 new items every day, and Owens says that people can't seem to get enough. "It's a treasure hunt," he says. "Every day is like Christmas here—we never know what we're going to find. Just last week we found a twenty-eight-thousand-dollar tennis bracelet and a one-point-six-karat diamond ring. We've had a medicine-man stick adorned with a shrunken head, and a Nikon camera that was in the Space Shuttle. Back in the eighties we got a well-traveled Gucci suitcase that was packed with artifacts that dated back to 1500 B.C. And once we found a guidance system for an F-16 fighter jet, in a shockproof case from the Department of the U.S. Navy. It was labeled 'Handle With Extreme Caution—I Am Worth My Weight in Gold.'" The UBC sent that one back.

Spy glass galore

Thinking associatively about espionage, after the last post, I realized how (quietly) optically dependent the web culture has become. And I am not talking about eyeglasses. Several of my friends are into birdwatching. Our firm's president has a powerful telescope trained on the ships in the harbor. My girlfriend's husband has an array of laser finders and binoculars, and, of course, three or four interchangeable scopes for his pet rifle - a good reason that my girlfriend is a hunting widow for about three weeks out of a year. As a result of dust storms on Mars and other celestial phenomena, the guys at the office have bought telescopes, which save them from Monday night football and Skyping on the sly from their wives. To watch our chief paralegal's handicapped parking spot for him, we used opera binoculars. But that did not perform in the dark, and we went shopping for a night vision binocs. There was an additional incentive, which the guys whispered about, and it was a pencil skirt-wearer in the office suite facing our windows. Binocular section at Optics Planet has them - they are digital night vision, and they are great for us women making our way through the poorly lit parking lot. This one looks exotic, but I am sure sees well in the dark. is the web’s cornucopia of optics and hobby related products. On the lighter note, summer is here and my coworkers are considering the possibilities – all the fun that people can have with the optics. One-stop shopping at can equip someone with riflescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, night vision, telescopes, rangefinders, laser sights, flashlights, tripods, radar guns, digital camera binoculars. They also carry the industry’s best brands like Leupold, Nikon, EOTech, Burris, Bushnell, Celestron, Tasco, ATN, Bolle, Serengeti and Pelican. They also have an impressive selection of tactical gear (Leupold Riflescopes, Bushnell Rifle scopes, EOTech Sights, Burris Riflescopes and a fine selection of Blackhawk Tactical Gear). I learned a lot about night vision, and there is a lot more to learn just by browsing the site, about hobbies and gear for any trip. They offer Free UPS Shipping on most orders.