Goodwill Trunk Show Takes To The Road

April 15, 2007       Tom Pope      

Impulse buying. Picture an office worker grabbing a candy bar to go with a latte, then running to the lobby of his building and picking up a tie on a rack from Goodwill.

This new dimension in impulse buying is part of the “Traveling Trunk Show.” The Goodwill Retail Stores division of Goodwill of Greater Washington is placing displays of vintage fashions in office buildings, apartment complexes, and at special events.

“Rather than use traditional media to convince people to come to our stores, we decided on a different route,” said Brendan Hurley, vice president of marketing and communication for the nonprofit. “We’re taking our stores to high-traffic areas where tenants and guests can rummage through the racks.”

Goodwill came up with the idea last year from a function that was part of its annual gala. A series of retail racks stood in one area that allowed people who were not typically Goodwill shoppers to peer at the merchandise.

“You would think it was Black Friday after Thanksgiving,” he said. “We thought if we could convert new shoppers that way, we could have an impact by taking the merchandise to a different audience from our usual one.”

Goodwill is planning these events once a month for high-traffic locations in lobbies like Bank of America or apartment complexes along with events like The Cherry Blossom Festival. The merchandise focuses on clothing, shoes, and accessories that are being sold in some of the retail shops, although the emphasis could be seasonal.

To find the high traffic, Goodwill estimates needing 700 to 800 square feet with traffic of around 800 to 2,000 people during lunchtime. “We’d like to get 10 to 20 percent of those to purchase at our stores,” Hurley said. “Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best forms and we believe it’s like a testimonial where a friend recommends a product.”

While the concept could generate revenue because new expected shoppers would visit the Goodwill stores, the nonprofit sees the strategy as one to help build an audience.

The Trunk Show acts as the only form of marketing for the retail stores this year. The strategy emerges as part of a repositioning of the overall organization. All the Washington, D.C.-area stores have been redesigned to elicit a more inviting atmosphere with a contemporary focus. The staff appear wearing uniforms and more mission images stand out on the walls.

“The statements let you know how funds are spent to help the community,” he said. “We’ve re-branded our corporate image and now our retail operations.”

While the nonprofit has seen 9-percent growth during the past three years, the translation to sales has been slightly more than 3 percent. A new audience requires time to sample and return before a steady buying behavior begins. “We’re getting them in and retaining them,” he said.

Goodwill underwent two different market studies in 2004 and 2005 to obtain a profile of Goodwill shoppers. Goodwill has multiple market segments in the nine Washington, D.C.-area stores. The audience showed that 40 percent have household incomes of less than $25,000 a year, while around 25 percent have more than $70,000.

“We’re welcoming new shoppers, but targeting a demographic higher than the $25,000 figure,” Hurley said.

Can trying to obtain a higher economic audience succeed by going to lobbies and offices? “Many have the perception that the Goodwill merchandise is a grade above junk,” said Michael McGinley of McGinley Development in Indianapolis, Ind., who worked with a Goodwill in Ohio. “Goodwill changed a great deal from a place for people in trouble who couldn’t afford Pennys or Sears to a place that offers quality for the middle class.”

One example is McGinley’s son who went to a Goodwill store for dishes and furnishings when moving into his first home. In another example, “my daughter is a 32-year-old professional who enjoys Goodwill, so they are trying to open up to another clientele,” he said.

Both a high-traffic location and the usual marketing methods are needed for success, according to McGinley. He pointed out that the insurance company GEICO has gone to three different types of advertising armed with a strategy for each group.

“You still need a wide range of marketing on television to reach a broad appeal,” he said. “Offices in downtown with spaces in lobbies just reach hundreds of people.”

McGinley explained that a follow-up is necessary if you want customers to take the next step. At the event, have someone pass out a certificate for the next venue with a discount of 20 percent or $5 off, he recommended. That way, the customer sticks the information in a pocket and takes it to the retail store.

“Each shopper receives a coupon that we track back to see at one of our stores,” Hurley said. “That coupon of 20 percent off is good at any store in greater Washington and it mentions the Trunk Show.”

The promotional side includes giving customers a “Goodwill bag” with a mission statement and flier that explains how any purchase turns into jobs for the disabled. “We think it’s a unique concept, and it will have a tremendous impact on how shoppers in the Washington area will perceive Goodwill stores — a positive change of perception,” he said.

McGinley said that the strategy is similar to what Goodwill does on television. “They show a purple dress and mention that the item can be found at a Goodwill store,” he said. “Now they display that dress in a lobby filled with traffic.”

The strategy is easily translatable to museums, galleries and theaters that could display samples. “A museum could have a display at no extra cost that acts like a magnet to draw viewers to the museum,” he said. “A large lobby could hold 600 people to view the posters.”

The strategy appeals to Lisa Grider of Graham Pelton Consulting, Inc., based in Summit, N.J. “All nonprofits have to constantly evaluate how to expand the reach on donors and increase revenues,” she said. “This is a supplemental method to philanthropy and is a good way to draw additional consumers who might not walk into one of the stores.”

The strategy is an example of the, “push” approach to bring consumers to them instead of waiting. “This strategy comes from changes in technology during the past 10 years where tech has taught us to push information out for people to come to a Web site,” she said. “This is different from a Web-based example, but it still has the aspect of being proactive rather than passive.”

One caveat on high-traffic areas is the warning from Grider that the nonprofit probably wouldn’t want to be in a high- traffic area where other types of boutiques already exist in a retail setting. “The idea is to stand out,” she said. “Other public places, like train stations or malls, would be heavily retail oriented.”

While the strategy is attractive to Grider, she explained that nonprofits should integrate the work with the mission through a display or video to explain why the event is selling merchandise in the first place and where the revenue dollars go.

Hurley works directly with businesses, property managers and concierges to get things started. He explained that the process is simply obtaining the approval from the owners for the space. “Being a nonprofit, these events all support our mission,” he said. “This is no different from a fundraising effort.”

He’s arrived at the point where he actually has to say no to some interested parties. “Some places wanted the show for their own staff,” he said. “But we didn’t think it would reach enough people so we had to turn it down.”

Brendan’s goal is to make some money directly, but breaking even would not be a problem as long as he could boost the traffic growth pattern at the stores by 9 to 15 percent.

“The idea provides a break from the monotony of the work day for people in the location,” he said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to give back to the community and allow them to help themselves to quality goods.” NPT