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Green Flags in a Pre

Jul 31, 2023Jul 31, 2023

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

Buying pre-owned lab equipment can be challenging. With the sheer number of vendors, it’s difficult to discern which ones can be trusted. Trustworthy equipment vendors will put effort into the presentation and buying experience. This effort communicates competence and technical skill above that of the average reseller. Markers of such effort may include detailed descriptions, high-quality photos, positive reviews, and including useful accessories with the product.

Many vendors use templated product descriptions to simplify operations on their end—it’s much faster to churn out copy-pasted descriptions than write unique copy for each product. As a consequence, each product has very shallow information concerning the tests and service performed, e.g., “Tested to power on and function without error.”

Take note when you find a pre-owned equipment vendor with more detailed testing and service descriptions.

If they can tell you the exact temperature a ULT freezer held at, or if a spectrophotometer yielded results consistent with a specified standard, then they are likely to be more trustworthy and technically skilled than the average vendor.

Working with vendors who signal transparency and effort through the presentation of their work is an effective way to minimize risk.

Regardless of how detailed a description is, a used equipment listing is nothing without high-quality photos. High-quality photos indicate transparency—the vendor is making no effort to hide cosmetic blemishes or functional damage. Such pictures will be well-lit, in focus, capture every side of the unit, and have a resolution high enough that you can zoom in and inspect the unit. Ideally, there will be close-up shots of any cosmetic flaws as well.

Low-quality photos—such as a fuzzy picture of an incubator sitting on a pallet in a dim warehouse, for instance—indicate that the seller has no technical expertise to properly evaluate and support the equipment. Otherwise, they would try to communicate that expertise. These vendors don’t specialize in flipping scientific equipment; they’re only buying it in hopes of reselling with minimal effort.

After finding a promising vendor, visit their website and look for testimonials. Word-of-mouth goes a long way in the reseller community. Having a selection of positive reviews on display is a green flag. Note that the reviews should not be anonymous—it’s easy to fake anonymous reviews.

Some vendors also list reputable customers they’ve sold to before, such as universities, government agencies, or high-profile research organizations. As a general rule, vendors who regularly work with clients of this caliber offer a smooth purchasing experience and technical expertise for post-sales support.

Pre-owned equipment vendors want repeat customers. One way they curry the favor of buyers is to include useful accessories with equipment. For instance, some vendors include vacuum pumps, manifolds, and tubing with every freeze dryer rather than selling them separately. Others include rotors and buckets with centrifuges. By offering package deals, vendors communicate that they understand your needs and aim to be a one-stop shop for all your lab equipment purchases.

The used equipment market can be a minefield. Working with vendors who signal transparency and effort through the presentation of their work is an effective way to minimize risk. Keeping these traits in mind as you shop will help you separate trustworthy vendors from those looking to make a quick buck.