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  • Giving the Gift of Time - Charity shop realities

Giving the Gift of Time - Charity shop realities

We all have our own perceptions of charity shops. Having now had the opportunity to spend some time visiting many of the Hospice's stores, here’s a rundown of the top 10 charity shop realities I've come across - some of which may surprise you…

1. Changing charity shop perceptions

Most of us have our own interpretation of what charity shops are like; perhaps tired, drab shops with second hand clothes that no one wants. What is so refreshing is that they are not all like this, and also not all the same. Thames Hospice has done a fantastic job of creating differentiated shops and offers to meet changing consumer tastes. From £1 shops - where, yes, everything is £1 (but customers still ask what the price is!) - to vintage shops where you can get great quality, iconic clothes which wouldn’t look out of place in a high street shop. And finally to boutique shops where you can get a Karen Millen dress for a fraction of its full price.
2. Challenging volunteering pre-conceptions

What comes to mind when you think of volunteering in a charity shop? The opportunity to get creative and merchandise your shop, to make sure it stands tall alongside other shops on the high street? Or even a chance to learn a new craft at the upcycling centre where volunteers breathe new life into furniture donations? What about increasing your understanding of stock or pricing, or ‘playing shop’ like we used to when we were little? No? Thought not.
3. Not your typical volunteer

The more charity shops diversify and offer different brands and shop formats, the more success they will have at attracting new types of volunteers. Earlier this week I met a student who volunteers at one of the vintage shops. She travels a fair distance to volunteer because she likes the clothes and era. The more this project can use these new, refreshing formats to tap into new groups of volunteers, the more variety and diversity we will bring into the shops.
4. Shoplifting

Sadly, charity shops are not immune from shoplifting. Whether it be in the shop once the donations have all been priced and sorted, or donation bags left outside whilst the shop is closed, donations being stolen is unfortunately the reality for
many shops.
5. Wouldn't exist without volunteers

In my first few weeks, I was fortunate to meet many volunteers who give up their time to support the Hospice. It could be said that volunteers are there to play a supplementary role, but the reality is, without volunteers, charity shops wouldn't exist. One lady I met had been volunteering for more than 20 year and is now 84 years old; what an amazing level of the dedication and commitment. Specialist volunteers also play a key role. For example, knowledge of books or records ensures we know whether something is worth £2 or £50.
6. Run on the bare minimum

Charity shops are built to run on a minimum operating model; this means that as soon as one thing isn’t in place, such as enough volunteers, the whole business model is put under pressure. Volunteers and paid staff have their hands full accepting donations, sorting, pricing, tagging, hanging, steaming, merchandising, all whilst being available for customers and serving on the till. For smaller shops with only one or two volunteers, when a volunteer fails to turn up, the shop manager can be on their own, making even toilet breaks and lunch breaks a ‘luxury’.
7. Sense of family and community

Each shop I've visited has spoken of their fellow volunteers and staff as family. There is a great sense of loyalty and teamwork, of fun and banter. Staff are full of admiration for volunteers who give up their own time, and value the enthusiasm and perspectives they bring. Shops are fully integrated into their local communities - becoming a real social hub and meeting point, with volunteers popping in for a catch up even on their days off. Thames Hospice's shops are much like the living and giving charity shops Mary Portas developed for Save the Children - also centred around the idea of a community hub to really help breathe life back into the high street, whilst benefiting a good cause.
8. Poor quality stock

Some shops are met with mountains of stock blocking the shop frontage on a Monday morning - much of which is not fit for resale. When closed over a Sunday, some people are using charity shops more as a dump than for donating good quality re-saleable goods. This amounts to not much more than fly tipping - under the label of donations. When combined with stealing, this can mean that by the time staff arrive, good quality stock has been stolen and only the stock worthy of the tip is left behind. Charities then spend their time and money disposing of stock, taking resources away for helping those needing end of life care. When combined with more councils asking for increasing sorting and potential charging around recycling, this is likely to become even more of a challenge for charity shops in the future.
9. Surprise stock

Unlike Waitrose or John Lewis, where so much focus is placed on getting the right stock to the right place at the right time, charity shops don’t have their stock all neatly packaged and ready to go. Charity shops rely on the public for their donations, without which they would be empty. This means that from one day to the next, they never know what donations to expect. So they have to be great at adapting to what they do have, and working with each other where they have gaps in stock, all whilst maintaining a high standard of merchandising.
10. Face a lot of competition

This may not come as a surprise, as you will have seen charity shops popping up on your local high street over the last few years. But with some shops surrounded by as many as eight other charity stores nearby - competition for donations, volunteers and customers has intensified. This means charities have to step up their game and respond if they are to stand out, both against other charity shops, but also to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against other high street shops.
You can read more from Marianne over the coming months, or via her website here. Why not follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Google+ while you're at it?