The Mennonite Central Committee thrift shop in Harrisonburg, Va., is doing so much business it is investing in a $3.8 million expansion.
Deb King is general manager of Gift and Thrift Shop Inc., an organization that includes not only the Gift and Thrift store but also Booksavers of Virginia and Artisans’ Hope, a fair-trade store.
King said the thrift shop saw a 9.2 percent increase in revenue in 2015.
“We almost hit the million-dollar mark in sales for the first time,” she said. “We were so close, I think within a thousand dollars.”
Across North America, MCC received $15.4 million from thrift shops in 2015, a 6.8 percent increase from the previous year. That followed a 1 percent increase, to $14.4 million, in 2014.
There are more than 50 MCC thrift shops in the U.S. and more than 50 in Canada.
“In the U.S., about a third of our annual support comes from thrift shops,” said Brad Fair, MCC U.S. associate director of donor relations. “It’s a great foundation of support that helps us stay consistent when there can be variations in donations from individuals and churches.”
Giving to a good cause
King said Gift and Thrift saw a noticeable increase in not only the quantity of donated items but in their quality.
“I think people would say that the economy is improving slightly,” she said.
One of her theories is that as the economy improves, people are more likely to replace their home goods.
“After the economy crashed in 2007-2008, we got almost the same number of donations but they were not as good quality,” she said.
However, the store’s year-over-year sales increases from the past several years show no clear trend. At times they have varied widely. For example, 2012 sales were down 3.4 percent from 2011, but 2011 sales were up 19.6 percent from 2010.
King said another reason business has gone well is that Gift and Thrift (along with Booksavers of Virginia and Artisans’ Hope) is the only MCC thrift shop in Virginia. The store has a reputation of caring for the donated items it receives.
“We’ve had people tell us they donate to us because they know we will take care of it,” King said.
King remembers, years ago, experiencing dry periods in the springtime when there weren’t as many donations. But that’s no longer the case.
“Rarely do we have any empty space in our receiving area,” she said. “We think we’re getting more efficient at processing.”
Room to grow
The expansion will add about 8,000 square feet for Gift and Thrift to sell more items.
“We wanted to find a way to be able to sell more clothing,” King said. “We were running out of space in retail to sell it. We didn’t want to store a lot of it.”
King said the store was sending up to two-thirds of the clothing it received to be baled. The store was making only 6 to 7 cents per pound of baled clothing, versus around 50 cents per pound it could have made from floor sales.
“We’re basically losing money because we don’t have a space to put that stuff out there for the public to buy,” King said.
The expansion will also provide more space to process furniture.
“We have barely enough room for furniture processing, so we wanted to expand that so we could say yes to people who ask us to pick up their furniture,” King said.
The store layout will change to provide a more direct line from processing retail, add climate control to the dock and warehouse, and enlarge the break room to accommodate all staff members and volunteers.
Work has begun on installing solar panels on the roof. King said the goal was to use solar power as the main electric source.
“The amount of panels we’re planning to put up should take care of about two-thirds of our electrical energy,” she said. She hopes to add more panels later.
King hopes the expansion will draw more visitors, not just to donate and to buy but to feel part of a community.
“We’re hoping to make this space . . . more of a community destination for people to hang out and get to know each other and feel like they’re part of something,” she said.
King is co-founder of the (L)earn-a-Bike program, which provides community service opportunities for juvenile offenders. The program is housed in the Gift and Thrift administrative offices. King dreams of seeing more “social enterprises” grow around the store — “almost like a fair-trade center locally, creating our own little cohort,” she said.
For now, her focus is on increasing business.
“As long as the economy doesn’t flop, I don’t expect this to stop,” she said.