Good Deals for a Great Cause but California Habitat Chapter Stumbles With Retail Store

You can find all the building materials you need to construct or renovate a home at ReStore, the  Stockton, CA store recently opened by the San Jaoquin County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. That is, if you can find it. Racks of wallpaper, piles of tile and sinks plunked near the cash register clutter this downtown store, vastly outnumbering the far too few customers.

Habitat for Humanity boasts over 200 ReStore outlets nationwide and in Canada, all offering great prices with profits going to Habitat. Goods are donated by local businesses and builders, and many of these outlets are thriving. But despite this win-win shopping opportunity, there are far fewer sales in Stockton than Habitat leaders had hoped for, and this ReStore is struggling to stay open.

According to the The Record, the regional newspaper, local Habitat for Humanity officials say part of the problem is many residents don’t know it exists. The store occupies less than 3,000 square feet of space inside a warehouse at 2050 E. Fremont St. Not exactly inviting. And if that wasn’t challenging  enough, ReStore closed for a few months last year  due to roof leaks, and because there weren’t enough volunteer staffers, say Marilyn Field, the chapter’s president.

The Restore concept is a great one and I’m confident, now that Field and her peers have identified the issues, that they can make it a long-term success. Here are a few tips drawn from ReStore Stockton’s experience:

  1. Any earned income venture, especially one as public as a retail operation, requires the same careful planning as any business. Don’t rush to open or launch before you know where your budget and staff are coming from, what you are going to be offering (make sure its unique or better than the competition in some way), have a realistic time frame and a contingency plan for all kinds of unexpected possibilities. Then, have the entire plan reviewed by several business experts. Remember, you can only launch once.
  2. Promotion is the third of the big threes, following product or service design, and pricing. Since the store is in a warehouse, it’s no surprise that street traffic is minimal. And it sounds as though the store is hard to find even for those who seek it out. Make it easy for your prospective customers. Put the word out to builders in the region, as well as plumbers, electricians, interior designers and others in the build/restore field. Have an early morning launch breakfast to get them into the store. And, make it easy for customers to find you. If your store or office is buried deep inside a building, hang signs on the front door of the building, and down the street (if permitted). You’re trying to build loyal customers. Don’t frustrate those who are trying to find you.
  3. If you’re serious about a retail operation, then consider hiring professional(s) with retail experience. There are several second-hand stores in Manhattan that generate a lot of revenue for their nonprofits (which include the NYC Opera and Housing Works). They excel in offering interesting merchandise that’s well-priced (although not a bargain), and are 100% professional from their compelling window displays, to their strategies for generating interest in (and $ from) high-profile goods.

ReStore Stockton, now that you see where the holes are, it sounds as if you’re on the right track. Nonprofits everywhere can benefit from your experience.

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Nancy Schwartz on January 23, 2006 in Earned Income/Ventures, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments
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