2017 Goodwill Summer Conference: 3 Key Takeaways

Alex Salai
Alex Salai
Marketing & Social Media Specialist

With 162 organizations overseeing more than 3,200 retail stores across the United States and Canada, Goodwill Industries is making notable strides in becoming increasingly tech savvy and innovative despite the challenging retail environment.

On August 1, 2017 Goodwill Industries hosted its International Summer Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. RetailNext was in attendance to share the success of our partnership with Goodwill Southern California, and to learn more about the expansive and unique business models that span Goodwill Industries. This is a breakdown of what we learned from the event in 3 key takeaways: the old, the new, the up and coming.

Goodwill is maximizing the efficiency of traditional store operations. 

Goodwill Industries, and thrift stores in general, have their own unique, yet prosperous methods of operating. Some tips and tricks utilized by Goodwill are recognizable by most retailers. In the same fashion of placing eggs and milk in the back of the grocery store, Goodwill displays home goods items on the far end of their space. This way, your eye may be caught by a vintage blouse on the rack when passing through the aisles. Thrift stores are not isolated from the traditional tactics of all retailers – store fixtures and merchandising are a key component to store performance, regardless of inventory. 

Another unique merchandising model universally utilized by Goodwill is “The Door to the Floor in 24,” meaning products go from the donation door to the sales floor within 24 hours. Most store managers recognize that if an item isn’t sold within the first three weeks, it probably won’t sell at all.

What may be a blessing and a curse, there’s no luxury of stocking inventory for variations of a product – what you see is what you get, and this allows for extremely fast turnaround. Maximizing efficiency is important, and this includes knowing who your customers are, what they’re shopping for, and how often they frequent your shop.

Goodwill continues to find novel ways to attract customers.

Goodwill Industries is different in that it is somewhat defensible against the tribulations of an ever-changing retail landscape. As noted by one of our attendees, account director Ankur Garg, “When the economy goes down, sales tend to increase. In a way, they’re recession resistant.” Conversely, the opposite tend to be true as well – when the economy goes up, and people are doing well financially, they tend to deemphasize the off-price sector. The key is to attract customers, regardless of season or state of the economy.

Where Goodwill really differentiate the most from traditional retail is in its various forms of vocational schools and training programs. RetailNext account director Lindsay Kelvie noted, “All the different chapters come up with such cool business ideas,” most notably referencing Edgar’s Grill, an experiential learning opportunity for culinary student at Helms College in Augusta, Georgia.

Career services and job training programs are in place to build skills and empower those looking to enter the workforce, and this in large part is the foundation of Goodwill Industries, making it a mission-driven organization. Chapters want to make the shopping experience more efficient. Thrift stores aren’t exempt from technological innovation, and success is possible through A/B testing and other forms of retail labs.

Goodwill has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Our conversations with Goodwill maintained a theme: despite the industry struggles, most chapters are vying for upgrades and updates to technology. Social media in particular is a heavy focus for spreading awareness of Goodwill and its products and good deeds.

Omnichannel in general is an aspiration – tailoring to customers no matter what the channel. Many are developing a heavier online presence to showcase their offerings. One chapter elaborated on the frequency of resellers coming into stores and scanning book barcodes for their value. If they found any with high worth, they’d buy a bulk of books at low prices, and resell them through Amazon for profit. Chapters realized they were just as capable, and began scanning books before putting them on display. Goodwill now has a very large presence on Amazon and eBay as resellers.

Additionally, Goodwill’s are beginning to move away from same store sales. Thrift stores are evolving like all of retail, and don’t want to solely rely on year-over-year brick-and-mortar store data to measure the results of the entire enterprise. Chapters want to understand traffic, staffing optimization, and conversion performance based on data. As a non-profit, Goodwill doesn’t always have the resources of standard retailers, yet it recognizes the importance and priority of implementing technology to increase performance.

You can expect big things for the future of Goodwill Industries across the country. And to see Goodwill Southern California’s current success with the help of RetailNext technology, enjoy the case study here.

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