Part One in a series.
In a trendy Reisterstown Road boutique, price tags sway in the breeze just inside the front door boasting brand names: A BCBG dress, an Ann Taylor skirt, DKNY jeans. Business is booming on Thursday afternoon like no one’s heard the word "recession" at this million-dollar-a-year store that just happens to be... Goodwill.
During the same decade that sales diminished for most retailers, Goodwill Industries International, Inc., more than doubled its revenue to become a $2.69 billion industry.
For a nonprofit associated with second-hand goods, sites like Owings Mills have adopted a first-hand strategy:The store is organized with meticulous attention to the color wheel, divided into sections and staged like a department store so designer merchandise (tags still attached) meets the shopper at the front door.
“A friend turned me on to it. I thought, ‘no way’…that stereotype about people’s old stuff,” said Reisterstown-area college student, Rachel Markus, perusing the racks in the junior’s section. “It’s a fifth the price, and I really just like unique clothes…A leather jacket. Cool old tees.”
Store Manager Dave Bartfeld, 33, manages to glow with pride through his sunburn that he received taking donations all day. He grew up in a retail family, and maintains his Goodwill with the same careful eye.
“I’d sell it all if I could, but we try to keep the racks really neat and organized so it doesn’t look junky,” he said.
What made Goodwill a good idea in 1902 Boston is still true for modern shoppers, as better goods are donated in wealthier areas. Bartfeld said local residents often donate upscale goods with tags still on them, which take up several racks in the front of the store. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Owings Mills’ nearly $68,000 median household income towers over the nation’s $51,400 statistic. Goodwill does market analysis like any retailer when deciding where to open a store.
“The only difference being we look at the retail market and the donation market,” said Ursula Villar, marketing and development director at Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake.
"Locavores" will be happy to know it’s local donations they see on the sales floor. "Recessionistas" will like that items transition off the floor every month, with the majority selling in just 10 days, according to Lauren Lawson-Zilai, media relations manager for Goodwill International. Environmentally-friendly companies like Levi’s have even gone so far as to encourage donation to Goodwill right on its care labels under the instructions. The second time around, they’re less than $5 a pair, a tenth the price when purchased new at the mall.
“They go through them so quickly,” said budget analyst Keta Bell, 42, hunting the kids’ section for her 5-year-old son. “Little boys on their knees in the dirt.”
Those wary of second-hand goods might not know clothing too damaged for the sales floor is recycled into cleaning cloths for industrial buyers or sold in bulk to salvage brokers, Lawson-Zilai said. The nonprofit also has partnerships with companies like Target, Bartfeld said, which donates its unsold merchandise.
For some, the thrill of a great find drives unlikely shoppers to Goodwill, and regulars have an edge.
Steve Mednick, a Reisterstown psychotherapist and record collector, got a tip from Bartfeld that a closing record store donated a cache of classic vinyl. Mednick bargained further with Bartfeld over a Supremes Greatest Hits, missing one album but with artistic inserts intact.
“Periodically you can find some treasures, and while I’m here, I’ll look at other things as well,” said Mednick. “It’s investigative and therapeutic, a walk down memory lane, all while contributing to a worthwhile organization.”
Goodwill is a nonprofit, after all. According to Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, the charity helped more than 8,000 locals in need of assistance because of physical, mental, or other social barriers, placing 2,000 people in jobs last year. Eighty-four percent of Goodwill’s revenues go directly into employment and training programs, said Lawson-Zilai.
In a tough economy, Owings Mills Goodwill offers a selfless way to be selfish. Shoppers get deals, quality merchandise and the thrill of the hunt, all while sustaining local jobs and recycling. If you’re still not sold on a second-hand item, check out the seams, buttons and zippers, and on how to shop the Owings Mills Goodwill like a pro in next week’s Goodwill story.