The Columbus Dispatch

It’s happened to chains big and small. To discount stores like Kmart and Dollar Express. To apparel retailers like The Limited, to department stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney. Even to popular regional retailers like The Andersons.

The reasons can be varied, of course, but one thing remains the same: the need to sell all remaining merchandise.

That’s when liquidators are called in, and lots of things begin to change.

In a retail liquidation, the merchant typically transfers the operation of stores to a third party, who sells the inventory in a limited time period, usually two to three months. While management changes, store clerks typically remain in place.

The presence of professional liquidators is why going-out-of-business sales seem so remarkably similar, said Nathan Craig, assistant professor of management sciences at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“They bring their own signage, they do their own advertising — in newspapers, social media, even those people who spin the signs out front,” Craig said. “And, as the sale progresses, they use a similar price schedule across the stores.”

That’s when the percent-off increases every few weeks until nothing is left — or at least that’s what retailers hope.

There are a lot of liquidators in the field, but the dominant players are Gordon Bros. in Boston and Hilco Global in Chicago, Craig said.

In the case of hhgregg, smaller liquidation players Tiger Capital Group and Great American Group, both based in Boston, will sell off the merchandise as well as the furniture, fixtures and equipment in the retailer’s stores and distribution centers.

“There’s more going on behind the scenes than you would guess,” Craig said. “For instance, there are some legal concerns. You have to have the right permits to run this kind of sale … and you can’t perpetually have going-out-of-business sales.

“And, as the process goes on, they do a ‘collapsing’ of the store, moving fixtures and merchandise and so on to the front of the store,” he said. “This is something they talk about as being very, very important: maintaining the shopping environment. The store…