Goodwill and the Economy Co-Evolve

by Karen

Thomasville, GA Television Display

Thomasville, GA Television Display

As a long-time supporter of Goodwill, both as a donor and as a customer, I was glad to see some of the savvy marketing and new technology that they are using. I was shopping Goodwill and other thrift stores long before Shabby Chic was chic. Back when the economy was growing and conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while also recycling unwanted household items for that same good cause. The deals were better for a shopper when I was not in the majority and the demand was lower, but they are still good now, and given the same deal at Goodwill and an overstock store, I will give the business to Goodwill or another non-profit when I can.

Russ and I have been on a big Goodwill kick lately. We have opened an account with Etsy for some of our current crafts and plan to expand with time. We have seen a few crafts that are “green” using recycled items from thrift stores to become something else. We are looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less.

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

It has been a blast so far. We sought out the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find there in the Secret City? It was a nice store and there was a much larger Science Fiction book section than I have ever seen at any other Goodwill Otherwise there was not too terribly much to distinguish it from other locations.

We did find interesting differences in other Tennessee towns. We found some with new stock as well as the regular recycled donations. I asked if new stock was becoming typical and the storekeeper told me that all Goodwill stores in her district carried new stock, that employees went on buying trips and that some merchandise had come from “the shopping network.” This was news to me, though I did not find anything at this location that moved me to the point of purchase. There are a lot of shifts taking place in charity and overstock outlets as the current economic conditions have a larger segment of the population looking for discounts, bargains and other forms of frugal spending options. These shifts have some charity organizations scrambling to replace good that were once donated as seconds, but now have a market in discount stores. At the same time, the price gap in second hand and second quality stores closes in to reflect the greater demand. New marketing techniques in Goodwill are well timed to fit in this shifting marketplace.

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

The best store set up that I have seen since this renewed purpose to my old passion has taken hold was in Thomasville, Georgia, a part of the Big Bend (Florida) district. Shelves were custom made here to fit above the clothing racks so that while shopping for clothing, household items and nick knacks were right there calling for attention. In electronics, the televisions sets were running just as they would be in a retail outlet allowing comparison. The aisles all had end-caps with merchandise, just like a regular retail outlet. The video, music and other media had shelves custom fit to their size so that the display was easier to process visually and took less space than it would otherwise. I bought a white ceramic owl container because it reminded me a little bit of Woodsy Owl. When I went to the checkout and complimented the college student clerk on the set up as the best lay out I had ever seen at a Goodwill (or any other thrift store) he was really psyched. He spoke enthusiastically about the manager responsible for the set up. Apparently he puts these features in all of his Big Bend locations. The part I couldn’t tell just by looking is that this manager keeps track of what is selling and makes sure that there is a proportionate amount of display space dedicated to those items. I was already impressed before the clerk talking!

After returning home, I found some other interesting Goodwill news. I saw an internet link to some items that had been donated by the newest owner of a cabin that had once belonged to June and Johnny Cash. The claim to fame caught my attention, but it was also clear that there was no claim that the items had been owned by the Cash family. I followed the link until I saw a site with a set up that looked very much like ebay. There were categorized items with photographs. I did not know that I could shop at Goodwill on the internet! Fantastic!

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke is to soft drinks. That is, people often use those brand names as generic, even when they mean to refer to other brands. At seven years into their second century, they seem to be looking forward very well, maximizing their market niche and continuing to do good works. In an ever changing marketplace this is no small task. As fads come and go some things are worth keeping. I hope that after Shabby Chic and “Green” have peaked there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop at economical places where they can recycle while at the same time support a worthy cause. It just makes good sense to support institutions that meet multiple goals and needs the way that Goodwill and other thrift stores do… and when we figure out that amazing new art form, you’ll be sure to find out about it right here!

National Storytelling Festival, Day Two

by Karen

The first day of the story telling festival was the short program presented in sets of two stories per hour with half hour breaks between sets. It acquaints listeners with a variety of tellers. The second day is the long program where there is one story teller per hour, with half an hour break after every teller. On day two listeners can settle in with tellers they would like to know better. Some tellers tell a single long story, many tell two half hour stories. This is the big day. People who are attending only for a single day come for Saturday.

It is hard to decide where to go. All tellers are good, but we did discover some favorites on day one. An Irish teller, Niall de Búrca, was very animated on stage. One teller, Willie Claflin, used a puppet sometimes, but this weekend used music as the primary backdrop for his stories and his son Brian was with him for a special performance. They sang with the most beautiful harmony. Donald Davis told stories that made me think about my southern country roots. Many of the tellers have been featured on National Public Radio, but somehow I had missed those performances and most of these people were previously unknown to me.

As a first time attendee, I was definitely in the minority. Some people have come every year since their first year of attendance and for a lucky few that meant they had been coming since 1973. Many more people have come as often as they could. The festival is a gracious celebration of story telling and all of the tellers encourage those in the audience to tell their own stories. Though story telling is a natural part of all our lives, this was my first serious look at it as an art form and I was fortunate to experience that at the Mecca for story telling. Many in the audience come to learn from the best how to perfect their craft. Some tellers weave the telling of lessons into their stories, all include the life lessons they have learned in some form, often with humor and it is almost always moving.

I learned that our own Kennesaw State University has a story telling group, The Kennesaw Tellers, naturally. They were in attendance, participating at workshops and volunteering, all while wearing t-shirts advertising the February Festival.

Through talking to different people during breaks I understood that story telling like many of my other interests does, to some extent, defy categorization. In some universities it is studied in the English department, in others it is listed as historic in nature, in other it is a performance art. Some story telling is therapeutic and some is not even labelled as story telling. For someone trying to find the correct department in a college, the search can be trying as was confirmed when I was looking for the best link to provide information about the KSU tellers. Even as an attendee who was interested in the subject, my definitions were narrower when I arrived than when I left. I recognized that my favorite pastors over the years were the ones who were gifted story tellers, whether telling the stories straight from the book or stories of their own creation. There were other connections. For example, I enjoyed the story telling through music, but I did not anticipate it. I had been thinking of ballads as songs and forgetting that they were also stories.

Our day had the perfect October ending, scary stories in the park and then “home” to warm our hands and our marshmallows by the camp fire.

National Story Telling, Festival Day 1

By Karen

I am writing about my first day at the National Story Telling Festival on battery power by flashlight, firelight and moonlight at my campsite picnic table beside the Nolichucky River in Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park. We chose this campground because it is closest to the festival, but the whitewater view out our tent window doesn’t hurt!

We started our morning by sleeping through the alarm, but we we able to get out nearly on time regardless. As we drove to our first day of story telling I was looking forward to hearing Kathryn Tucker Windham. She is the only story teller I was previously familiar with. I heard her tell ghost stories at Calico Fort, an art festival in Fort Deposit, AL when I was a child.

As we drove along the road into Jonesborough we passed a man driving a red truck. He was wearing a straw hat and eating what looked like a breakfast biscuit. He pinched off a piece for his dog, a happy, energetic mutt. After they were done eating he sped up a little and then he passed us. It was easy to appreciate small things like this and the mountain view with faint fog lifting over the river as we eased on in to town. We were glad that we had arrived early to check things out the day before, but the crowds were well managed not so bad as I feared. The streets were closed to vehicle traffic and open to walkers, official golf carts and handicapped scooters. Around every corner there was a beautiful home or church and a bake sale.

I enjoyed every story teller that I heard today, but of course I enjoyed the one teller I already knew the most, Kathryn Tucker Windham. A story, like a song, is better once you know what inspires it well. Mrs. Windham tells stories of a south where I grew up. She has known it longer. Her small town and her small town church were smaller than mine (a rare thing), but the sound was familiar just the same. Today she told a story of growing up in her church and the way she amused herself while sitting through sermons. It really took me back. I remember the musings that I wandered through as a child only half aware of the sermon. There were many similarities. We both knew a pair of sisters. In her church both were hard of hearing. In mine only one. We both knew who would sleep through the sermon. It is good to go home every now and then, and good to go with someone who’s been there in spirit.

For lunch we went a little further than most places, we walked a block away and up a hill to have soup and cornbread with homemade dessert at the Mustard Seed Meeting House. It was a delicious and friendly break.

This was the first time that I enjoyed story telling as a large scale formal performance and the event does cause one to explore the importance and value of story telling, as an art, as therapy as song, as history and culture. It is a defining part of our lives. My father is the primary teller in our family. He can get so excited that the tears roll down his face while he leads the room in laughter. Family stories remind us who we are. I think that story telling is where Russ’ Alabama family culture and mine overlap in the most comfortable of ways. Today was a pleasant new experience and a trip home at the same time. I look forward to the rest of the weekend.

Writing, Networking and Technology on the Road

by Karen

In the realm of potential future work, I’m in love with the idea of going off grid, taking off on the road and seeing what is out there. Research, writing, the “journey”. That is what my bliss would look like if I were to take that age old advice “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” I wouldn’t have a problem finding a question to pursue. I have so many questions to answer that narrowing things to one question, then narrowing that one question to a manageable scope would be the challenge.

Is that the practical advice to follow, though? I have many things that could be my bliss and most of them bring no money. While some consider it a superior attitude to value intangibles above money, there is the practical side. Money is necessary to sustenance. I can clearly see both sides and how life could digress into a slow painful death if the right balance is not struck. So for the time being, I remain on a tight rope seeking solutions.

I write to you now from a mini-test and I am learning a lot. I am on a three week adventure. The motivating event is The International Story Telling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. This is a place that is both worthy of blogging, as well as a place to better learn the craft of story telling and writing, and the price is low compared with other learning opportunities of similar quality. Before arriving at the festival, I had confirmation that it was a good decision. It seemed a bit of a push as I was trying to decide whether of not to come. Part of my tight rope experience is that I am devoting equal time to both of the directions that I might go. I am spending time blogging, writing, and seeking education on writing skills. At the same time I am devoting a lot of time toward seeking more traditional employment. I was afraid that in coming here, I would not be able to do justice to the search for employment.

In a technologically connected world those connections seem more like a lifeline than anything else. Reading books like “What Would Google Do?” has given me a few ideas, but a lot of my search has been on the internet. The job front has been a challenge and anything that appears to be fun rather than work might be seen as frivolous to friends, relatives or potential employers, but mostly to my worst critic, myself.

What I have found so far is that the trip has been better for my job search than I could have thought possible, and even though I brought laptop and phone, it has been harder to keep up with the writing than I expected. On the employment front, I am meeting people because I am out and about. Meeting people is always networking on some level, whether you are making connections on a human level or whether you have specific things in common, those connections make us richer. I’ve been really surprised how easy it has been to network on the road.

Many of my favorite people live somewhere else and I only see them rarely, so I had always had distance connections, but now my connections can have employment relevance. I am willing to move, so anything I learn has potential. I just underestimated exactly how much that was true. In REI in Franklin, Tennessee, I was looking at the clearance shoe rack and mentioning to Russ how much I’d like to find work that allowed me to wear what I wanted to work. Three of us who were trying on shoes at the same time had strange fitting problems and we struck up a conversation that ended in a stranger telling me that she had close friends in my home town, asking for my professional information and offering to pass it onto her friends.

The following day as we headed west toward the story telling festival, we saw Oakridge, TN and decided to visit the historic landmark. We pulled up at the facility and asked about the visitor center, looking for the science Museum. The woman we asked mistook us for people seeking employment and ended up telling us that there was potential for stimulus jobs and where to find the listings. This was interesting on two levels. First, the obvious interest in new sources for job listings, but second, it is interesting to see that stimulus money is actually going somewhere. For someone who has lost employment directly due to the downturn, it seems like there would be a better likelihood of finding something else through stimulus spending. After all, part of the stated intention of that funding is to preserve or replace lost or at risk jobs. In Atlanta, the stimulus jobs that I have found are for police officers. I don’t really qualify for an enforcement job, so that cuts me out. We were laughing optimistically and saying that if we keep this up, surely we would both be employed before the vacation was done.

Conversely, the writing has been unexpectedly inconvenient. The challenges to writing are primarily technological. My laptop is equipped with wireless, but I am not equipped with any frills in my phone package. We are focusing on parks and more remote locations. Most people who take off for the great outdoors will know that remoteness is not usually an issue in phone signal, but as someone who has spent her time on the road with people who were more connected, I have never needed to overcome connectivity issues for myself. I have a basic service plan with testing blocked and that means I need to learn the ropes about finding connection spots (as well as recharging issues, we are car camping). I love my Camry, but car camping is not the most convenient way to do it.

I now sit at Books A Million writing this, but do not have connectivity because I apparently need to be a member to enjoy the privilege of connecting here. There are no stores near my home, so the membership fee is not useful past today. If I had personal connectivity, I could avoid these complications. I also could have taken care of travel needs in a more organized manner and it would have allowed me time to visit a prehistoric archeological site with a new museum, a great blog subject and I would have two blogs to write here before I seek a place where I can connect to upload those blogs. Spending more time finding that spot may limit opportunities further. Some of the things you do don’t turn out to be blog worthy, so missing an opportunity matters and as those missed chances add up it clearly becomes worth it to purchase a personal connection to the internet.

So, in taking this trip to pursue some of my writing goals, I am, in fact, closer to my employment goals, and for budgetary reasons, challenged in my writing goals. My own personal feasibility study is proving very fruitful.