Retail thinking benefits church thrift shop
When’s the last time your thrift shop had a revamp? The Thrifty Goose at St. Martin’s had a fresh start two years ago, and the results have been impressive.
The shop, which has a 50-year history, has a new purpose, a new look — and new reactions. Income from sales has increased significantly, and the shop is attracting new customers.
“The Thrifty Goose and its companion ministry, The Cloak, are important in two ways,” said the Rev. Mark Sutherland, rector. “The Thrifty Goose enables us to participate in the re-purposing of high-quality clothing, and The Cloak gives us a way to channel items not salable in the shop for outreach and support to the homeless.”
The changes began with the appointment of Brigit Timpson as manager. Timpson had extensive retail experience in New Zealand, including ownership of a consignment shop. She and the volunteer team she leads began bringing retail thinking to the Thrifty Goose.
“With the appointment of a manager who brings retail and thrift shop experience, our volunteers are becoming more skilled in assessing real value and pricing appropriately,” Sutherland said.
Timpson explained that after beginning her new role, she and the volunteer team looked through the existing merchandise and “discovered we had many high-quality items in our inventory.
“We started increasing prices for those items, and we started to ‘show off’ the appealing items with different merchandising techniques,” she said. The merchandising is immediately visible in the shop, with items hung on the walls, multi-tiered table displays and lots of manikins modeling clothes.
“We try to create a pleasant, attractive atmosphere that looks and smells inviting, and do this through sound, scent and attention to detail,” Timpson explained.
The team also discovered a new product category that’s creating strong sales: men’s clothing. They expanded the product selection significantly and displayed the clothes like in a high-end men’s store.
“We’re selling lots of men’s clothes,” Timpson said. “We also sell lots of vintage clothes — young adults and students especially like them.”
Selling through other channels also has been highly successful. The team uses eBay extensively; one set of china sold for $1,200 — in one day.
Timpson said the team has worked hard to build relationships with its customers: “We remember what they bought last time and ask them about it, and we find things we think they would like and would go with recent purchases — just like a boutique would do.”
The shop has outfitted people going to weddings with everything from shoes, to dresses, jewelry, coats and bags.
“People really trust our judgment and come to us first now, rather than to any other shop,” she said. “But what I think is really the key to our success,” she concluded, “is that we ‘start dressing rooms’ for people, we take their things on the counter for them and we act like we are Nordstrom’s!”
And through all the retail-related changes, St. Martin’s has continued to donate as much or more to people in need through The Cloak. Regular donations go to five shelters around the Providence area. The rejuvenated shop and continued commitment to outreach are providing a successful combination for the ministry of St. Martin’s.
“Perhaps of greatest significance in the operation is the wonderful evangelical opportunity provided by the Thrifty Goose ministry,” Sutherland noted. “It offers an invitation to members of the community to visit our campus and to experience our friendliness and the openness of our engagement with the wider community around us.”