As a long-time supporter of thrift stores and Goodwill, both as a donor of stuff 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 conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while 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. Most have important causes, but I do that even when I don’t care about the particular cause. It keeps things out of the landfill.
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 are looking for things to up-cycle. We are always looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less. I want it to truly be an UP cycle.
It has been a blast so far. We looked for the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find 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. I had this image of buying trips, just like the end buyers for high end department stores make. As fun as the image was, I don’t get very excited about new goods in a second hand store and I didn’t 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 goods 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.
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! I rarely buy because shipping and handling fees move most items out of my price range, but I do go back every now and then to look for something hard to find.
Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke 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. They encourage customers to share their purchases and use the information to find out about trends and see what they could have priced higher. Of course, I prefer lower prices, but I also understand that these stores have a primary goal of serving their charity. These techniques are part of the reason Goodwill has lasted and some other stores have not.
I hope after the current wave ofShabby Chic and “Green” peak there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop 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.