Nonprofit Retail Sales Soaring As ‘Thrifting’ Picks Up Steam

Shoppers at one of Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore locations in Los Angeles might not know that the couch they are trying out could have been owned by actor Ed Begley, Jr. or commentator Lisa Ling. Both donated the complete contents of their homes to the ReStore.Then there are the awards shows and television programs where something is used once and it winds up at the ReStore.

Shoppers who visit the stores’ Instagram page often snap up items within an hour of posting, according to Erin Rank, president and CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.

Even though the U.S. economy seems to be doing well, with unemployment numbers low and the stock market rising, “thrifting” is chic again and nonprofits with retail operations are seeing 7 to 20 percent revenue spikes. In the case of the 905 ReStore locations nationally, gross revenue hit $485 million between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. That includes total sales, ancillary revenue and direct cash donations at the stores.

The ReStore and Goodwill are riding on the “thrifting” trend, and growing three times as fast as Lowe’s and Home Depot.

According to Habitat’s statistics, there were 2.7 million donations to its ReStore network during 2018, netting $123 million in profit.

It’s a big number but just a fraction of the $4.52 billion in retail revenue Goodwill Industries International brought in during 2018, including the $115 million brought in via shopgoodwill.com. The Salvation Army reported revenue from sales to the public during 2018 at $593,167,000.

The operations are expanding in brick and mortar and online. There were seven new ReStores opened during 2018. Goodwill Industries International opened six new stores during 2018 taking the total to 3,306 locations.

There were 29 new Goodwill stores opened so far during 2019 taking the total to 3,335 in the United States and Canada, according to Malini Wilkes, public relations and multimedia manager at Goodwill. She explained that the number can fluctuate so the organization classifies the 3,335 as an estimate.

A strong economy often puts more product on shelf and that attracts customers, said Mande Butler, senior director of special programs, for Habitat For Humanity.

While many people are looking for deals, “vintage is in,” said Rank. In fact, “most of our customers are home owners, landlords and individuals” looking for “unique treasures,” she said.

Business is brisk at shopgoodwill.com, with 300,000 transactions per month and the average sale being $30.18, according to Ryan Smith, senior director of online operations. Revenue increased 20 percent comparing $94.7 million for 2017 and $115 million for 2018, Smith said.

Visitors to shopgoodwill.com spend little more than 12 minutes on the site hitting 15 pages per visit. Industry average is two pages. “We have a lot of browsers, especially if you are a collector of a special niche,” said Ryan. They also spend more than twice online than at a retail location, $14.74 at the store and $30.18 online, according to statistics from Goodwill.

No matter the organization, online or in a store, the hot items are furniture, clothing, jewelry and electronics, Smith and Rank said. Merchandise has evolved since August 1999 when shopgoodwill.com was launched by the Goodwill of Orange County (California). “More or less, it’s rapidly changing to more of a commodity thrift market. There are definitely more treasure hunters,” said Ryan.

Television boosts sales at the ReStores, and not from advertising. Home improvement shows are the source of the sales. “If someone is doing a barn house restoration, we’ll get 20 calls that week for single pane windows you can hang on the wall, said Habitat’s Butler.

Designers at and viewers of shows such as “Property Brothers” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” shop in the ReStores in Los Angeles, said Rank, and in turn donate materials they remove from their renovations like cabinets and appliances. “We also have a very active Instagram community,” Rank said.

Cabinets are nice, but there have been more unusual donations. “The oddest thing we were ever donated was a lovely vase, which we shortly realized had someone’s ashes inside,” said Rank. The family did return to recover the ashes.

Another interesting donation you’d probably only find in Los Angeles was the offer of a helicopter from the 1980s TV show “Air-Wolf.” “A collector had purchased it and later offered it to us as a donation along with many other high-end items,” said Rank. “Ultimately we didn’t have a way to move it.”

Revenue growth in Los Angeles in in double digits. The year-over-year growth was 11 percent while in comparison, The Home Depot and Lowe’s plan for 3.5 percent to 4 percent year-over-year growth.

Professionals in ReStores have access to training. “Operational excellence is a thing we harp on,” said Melissa McNamara, senior research analyst of ReStore growth.

ReStore training is strung together with the national Habitat conference. “Over the past 10 years we have evolved virtual training resources,” said McNamara. “We know these folks are busy.”

The education takes into consideration the diversity of staff, not just generational but also learning style, she said. There is surveying to find successful models and the information is shared.

“If we see a ReStore struggling, we do reach out,” with hands-on consulting, McNamara said. Staff are also encouraged to support each other regionally.

While clothing, jewelry and furniture are the popular items, you never know what you’ll find. In 2006, an anonymous donor dropped off a watercolor by famed artist Frank Weston Benson. It sold at auction $165,002. Online bidding started at 10 bucks.