Once again, our open and collaborative sector has come together to help produce a really useful benchmarking tool. The 28th Charity Shops Survey is a vital piece of kit for any charity retailer, mapping the highs and lows of the year just gone and gathering thoughts and concerns for the future. 71 charities representing almost 6,500 shops completed the 2019 survey, published by Charity Finance.
At the Charity Retail Consultancy we use the survey a great deal, so thought we’d share our thoughts on what the latest edition can teach us:
Profits are up
Firstly – good news! Once again our sector sees profits up on last year. With an increase of 5.9% on 2018, growth has accelerated and is certainly a huge turnaround from 2016 when we saw an almost 12% fall in profits. We think that those poor figures a few years ago really made people sit up and think – and make radical changes to turn things around. The move to specialist shops, larger stores, selling online, cutting costs and driving income generators such as Gift Aid have all helped, despite some of the ever present challenges around stock and volunteer numbers.
Where charities are taking a more innovative approach there have been some fantastic results. For example, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland have a Community Hub, Boutique & Clearance model making sure their shops really reflect the needs of their local communities. They are one of the few charities growing their chain, increasing by 5 stores last year and were rewarded by a 31.4% growth in profit.
Lots of the highest profit growth was seen in hospice chains. We work with many hospices and see how they can increase engagement and support by telling their powerful and moving local stories through their shops. Always popular with donors and customers, making that extra effort to really show how the hospice helps the local community can bring supporters even closer to the cause and generate extra income via increased donations and volunteer numbers.
Pic: Martin House Children’s Hospice shop, Yeadon – showing messages and images from the hospice to tell their story on the high street
Shop numbers are down
For the second year in a row, shop numbers have fallen. We don’t see this as a negative thing – more the sector getting its house in order, really looking at how much each store contributes and closing those which don’t cut the mustard. Have you got shops in your chain which don’t make a profit or are marginal in their contribution? Sometimes it can be hard to walk away, but it’s important to ensure the charity is investing its money wisely. Our retail reviews help to identify the true profitability of each shop in the chain and if there is potential to do better – sometimes repositioning a store’s offer, improving processes or upskilling the team can make all the difference. However, if you’ve tried all that and the shop still can’t turn a profit, it could be time to make some tough decisions and invest the money elsewhere.
The other influencing factors on shops numbers declining are the rise of the superstore – opening fewer, large format stores – and a cautious approach to expansion whilst charities ensure their base offer is working as well as it can be.
Despite the 2 year decline, however, retailers are still optimistic about the future and 87% of charities operating between 26 and 100 shops said they planned to open new shops next year.
Recruiting volunteers is still hard work
Volunteers are the backbone of our sector – their gift of time, skills, enthusiasm and hard work keeps the wheels of over 11,000 charity shops turning each year. However, the number of volunteer hours per shop per week has fallen again after a brief peak last year.
Almost everyone is in the same boat – everyone wants and needs more volunteers and many of you are effectively competing for the same people’s time. So what to do? The most successful charity retailers know that in order to attract volunteers the whole organisation must genuinely embrace and celebrate everything they bring. We’ve blogged about volunteers and how best to recruit and retain them – and as volunteers ourselves, we have first-hand knowledge of what a ‘good’ volunteering experience looks like. The Consultancy can help you with volunteer recruitment, training, retention and reward – get in touch if you want to find out more.
Superstores are really profitable
For the first time this year, the survey looked specifically at results from those charities running large format superstores. Sue Ryder is the biggest player in this field at the moment, with 50 of these stores, primarily based on retail parks and trading from warehouse style units. The survey showed that profits from this type of store are nearly three times more than a ‘traditional’ shop at £1,604 per shop per week, despite higher staffing and running costs.
We have been working with several charities recently who are all looking at developing an out of town or superstore offer – there are some great examples out there to learn from, not least the brand new Oxfam superstore which has attracted national media coverage and was listed as one of the best new retail concept stores in the world by Insider trends.
Pic: Oxfam Superstore, Oxford
If you are considering expanding into this new type of retail offer and want some help and support with the process, the Charity Retail Consultancy can help you.
Overall, the sector is in good shape. We have once again bucked the mainstream retail trend of declining sales from bricks and mortar and continue to bring a vibrant, profitable, cause related offer to high streets all over the country. The survey results tell a great story and look forward with confidence to next year.
If your charity has contributed to the survey this year – thank you. And if not, make sure you do next year. Deadline for completion is usually around July so make sure you’re on the list to receive the form – every charity that takes part receives a free copy of the results and the more that take part, the more comprehensive and valuable the data becomes.
For reviews, staff & volunteer training, feasibility studies and much more, contact us to see how The Charity Retail Consultancy can help improve your retail operation:
FB: The Charity Retail Consultancy
We know that this is such a busy time of year – Christmas is just around the corner, and many of you are facing key decisions in planning and budgeting for the next financial year. But you’re not alone – the Charity Retail Consultancy is your budgeting friend and we’ve developed 5 top tips to help with this crucial task.
Tip 1: Understand what a budget really is
It’s not about managing all costs to the last penny; a budget is a thoughtful plan that helps you stick to your strategy and spot and deal with areas for improvement by making better spending decisions.
Go into budgeting with a positive mindset; it never works well if you see it as a hurdle, so start the process with knowledge, hope, confidence and see your budget plans for what they are – a helpful business tool.
Tip 2: Be realistic
If you set budgets which others in your team and the wider charity see as unattainable, then that’s the likely outcome. So unless there are any major changes planned, develop your budget based on past results and future projections.
Start by recognising which costs are fixed and inevitable. Then look at lines that have fluctuated over the years (we suggest looking back over 5 years) and identify what caused this fluctuation. Was it one-offs, could costs have been better controlled or can high income lines be repeated?
Use your charity’s past information to develop a more concrete basis for establishing budget numbers. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious – the unrestricted income from a charity retail operation is vital to every charity, so aspire to be the best you can be, but ensure those predictions are based on strong foundations.
Tip 3: Be thorough
The more detailed your planning is, the more effective your budget will be. So plan when you will do your budgeting, give yourself plenty of time and ideally, lock yourself away and tell people not to disturb you apart from emergencies.
And remember you’re not alone – talk to colleagues in your team and in the wider charity. The Finance and IT teams for example might have knowledge and tips to help you, and your own team have more detailed knowledge than you in some areas – for example, you might not know that a shop manager is planning on retiring, but with that knowledge you can plan its impact on costs (such as recruitment and training) and income.
Tip 4: Share it
The retail budget shouldn’t be a secret. At The Charity Retail Consultancy we are big advocates of transparency and accountability, and we know there is a real difference in the success of those charities that share budgets and other important information with their teams and those that don’t. It’s not always easy or comfortable but a shared budget ultimately leads to greater trust, engagement, increased feedback and beneficial communication. The more you can empower and engage your employees, the better off your retail operation will be.
Tip 5: Talk to us!
The Charity Retail Consultancy helps charities deliver better budgets that are ambitious and achievable. We start with a conversation about where you want to go and what you want to achieve with the resources you have available, and then we offer guidance on the best ways forward. For example, your strategy might include having 3 volunteers per shift in every shop, so we can work with you to look at what that means in terms of numbers, develop a series of recruitment events, and run a bespoke training course for all staff. Many charities spend less than £20 per year on training each of their retail staff, leading to a loss of motivation and of skills to get the most from their shop and local team.
At The Charity Retail Consultancy we are an award winning, hugely experienced and passionate team who take pride in delivering bespoke and highly rated retail training, development and mentoring to charities across the UK.
We launched our #IHeartCharityShops campaign at the recent Charity Retail Association conference. Everyone we spoke to loved the idea and it was fantastic to see our badges popping up on delegates, speakers, suppliers and the CRA team over the 2 days.
Lots of people also told us why they love charity shops in our competition and we were overwhelmed by the responses. We’ve shared some of our favourites on Twitter so take a look at our feed and see if yours is there.
It was interesting to see several themes emerging from the replies – and we thought sharing these would give charity retailers some great things to talk about with teams and supporters.
#IHeartCharityShops because ….we are saving the world one T shirt at a time!
– Lauren Gardner, Royal Trinity Hospice
Although charity shops have been doing great things for the environment for the last 100 years, we’ve not really shouted about it too much until now. The more urgent messages around climate change and the ‘Blue Planet effect’ have brought care for our environment to the fore recently and we are in a fantastic position to remind people of how brilliant charity shops are for the planet. The Charity Retail Association has produced a great quick reference guide to help us all tell the story: https://www.charityretail.org.uk/charity-shops-the-environment/ – why not download it and share it with all of your shops so your teams are briefed and ready to talk to their customers and donors about the difference they are making.
#IHeartCharityShops because ….they are the ultimate gift shops, full of kind gifts of time, talent and stuff!
– Lily Caswell, Florence Nightingale Hospice Charity
The charity retail sector now has 230,000 volunteers working in its shops – an absolute wealth of talent, skills, experience and diversity. Recognising the value and skills of our volunteers is vital – as is acknowledging their contribution and saying thank you. We love to promote and champion volunteers and volunteering at the Consultancy and have written several blogs on the subject. You can read them here: http://www.thecharityretailconsultancy.co.uk/blog/
3. Value for Money
#IHeartCharityShops because ….I would only be walking around in my underwear!!!
– Linda Ewen, Highland Hospice
We loved this comment from Linda – and it really does tell the story of how you can get great bargains charity shops. We all know the buzz of how it feels to bag a bargain – and our customers love it as much as we do. With financial pressures and uncertainty around Brexit, the UK public are thinking hard about how and where they spend their money – so letting them know what great deals they can get from your shops is a no brainer.
4. Shop Quirky
#IHeartCharityShops because….I can be an individual and not see myself walking down the street!
– Louise Broadstock, ValleyCIDS
We’ve all seen the change over recent years in how charity shops present themselves – we now embrace our differences, show how quirky and different we are – and our customers love it! We think that the sector started to realise we could do things differently after Jayne (then Head of Retail for Save the Children) worked with Mary Portas to develop the Mary’s Living & Giving brand. Since then, so much has changed and we’ve seen from the WOW! Awards how inventive and creative our sector really is. Combine this with a generation of people who all want to express their individuality and we can see a match made in heaven. Using social media platforms – especially Instagram – to show off your best pieces and help people see how charity shop shopping really does help to create a unique look – is a great idea. There is also an excellent Facebook group called Charity Retail Visual Merchandising and Display where shop teams share pictures of their windows and interiors, providing a wealth of ideas and inspiration. At the Consultancy we offer training and support around how to use social media to your advantage within your chains, so do get in touch if you want to know more.
#IHeartCharityShops because….communities need craziness, creativity, mixed cultures and caring people to spread the love!
– Samuel Cousins, Shelter
Samuel cleverly captures the importance of charity shops within their communities with his phrase. Being at the heart of our communities is vital for the sector – the relationship is a mutually beneficial one, giving and receiving on both sides. We provide opportunities for volunteering, employment, social interaction, great value goods, a buoyant high street – and as we heard in the conference sessions from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland – increasingly we are offering our charity’s services directly from our shops. In return, we receive goods, time, skills, energy, custom, publicity and a whole heap of love from those around us. Making your shops truly part of the community is great for everyone.
All in all, there were loads of brilliant reasons for people to say #IHeartCharityShops. Why not ask your customers, donors, staff and volunteers why they Heart them too and share their stories in your shop windows and on social media? Let’s keep it trending and let everyone know just how wonderful charity shops are.
At the recent Charity Retail Awards we were absolutely delighted to be named Supplier of the Year 2019 in the Small Business category.
As charity retailers ourselves with many years’ experience, we totally understand the thrills and challenges of running a charity shop chain, so to be recognised as a great resource for the sector ticks all our boxes. Our goal is to help everyone see how brilliant charity shops are – for the environment, for their charities, for the people who work in, donate to and shop in them, for their communities and for the high street.
That our small business can scoop such a prestigious award from the sector that we are so passionate about means the world to us and winning it will help us to have an even bigger voice to help spread the word.
Thank you to everyone who voted for us – Jayne & Vicki
We’ve been around a bit…..we’ve seen our fair share of Conferences. So, we thought we’d help you to get the very most from your trip to Nottingham this year by sharing our Top 10 Conference Tips:
- Get there early and stay ‘til the end.
There’s so much to see and do that it’s foolish to leave early. If you can, make sure you get there as soon as you can and don’t leave before the last session – you never know what you might miss if you do!
Some of the best things to come out of the conference might not be from a formal session or workshop. We are a sector which loves to share – meeting and chatting with fellow charity retailers will give you some great new contacts and ideas to take back to your shops.
- Go to all the sessions you can
If you’re lucky and there’s more than one of you from your organisation going to conference, make sure you all go to different sessions so you can cover as much information as possible – then make sure you build in time when you get home to share everything you’ve learned with each other. If you’re there on your own, go to a wide range of subjects to give yourself the broadest view.
- Visit the Exhibition
We know we’re a bit biased, but honestly – some of the suppliers to our sector are the bee’s knees. They are there to help you do the best you can with your chain, so make time to visit all the stands and see what they can do for you. And whilst we’re on the subject…..
- Enjoy the freebies!
Most of the suppliers will have great little giveaways on their stands – from chocolates to bags, highlighter pens to mini dustbins, they have it all! We’re doing our bit and bringing our I Y Charity Shops badges with us, so make sure you visit us at Stand 50 to get yours.
- Vote in the WOW! Awards
There really is some first rate talent in our sector and the WOW! Awards are a chance to see the best of it in action. It’s great to be recognised for your good work, so voting supports your sector colleagues – and it gives you lots of great ideas to take back and try in your own shops too.
- Stay hydrated and eat your lunch
It’s a full on experience at Conference, and often really hot too – so keeping refreshed will keep you at peak condition to make sure you make the most of it – especially on Day 2 after a late night partying at the Awards dinner.
- Bring your business cards – then don’t forget you’ve got them
To save time, make sure you have your business cards with you and then share them with the new people you meet, whether that be sector colleagues or suppliers. Make sure you get theirs too – then take some time when you’re back in the office to add them to your contacts.
- . Remember the notes are available afterwards
Don’t feel you have to scribble everything down during all the sessions – more often than not, the lovely team at the CRA will make them available on their website after the event. This means you can concentrate on what’s going on, instead of worrying about what you might have missed
- Have fun!
It’s a brilliant event and the one time in our year we can all get together and have a really good catch up. Enjoy the sessions, the networking, the Exhibition – and of course the Awards dinner. We’ll see you on the dance floor……
It’s all over the news today. Oxfam is reeling from the results of the long awaited Charity Commission’s investigation. The report demands a continued global expectation of improved safeguarding and that any allegations of child sexual abuse are more thoroughly investigated. Oxfam says it is changing and working better to improve the people it serves. Here at the Charity Retail Consultancy we are saddened by what has happened in Oxfam’s name, and we stand by those who are bringing about the changes in behaviours and expectations of all stakeholders.
In the UK we expect our charities to be exemplary at all times, and when they’re not, we are quick to criticise and even to withdraw support. We’re feeling solidarity with all charity workers today, and especially (because we know this particular sector well) to the shop workers.
Blimey, it’s tough in retail. When all around you the high street is struggling and the pressure to generate more income is ever increasing, the last thing you need is even more regulations. But the Charity Commission’s Oxfam report will undoubtedly place greater expectations on UK charity shop staff to improve safeguarding and controls. Whether it’s more DBS checks, enhanced safeguarding training, changes to induction training or to the types of volunteers a charity shop can welcome, the outcome is that there will be a greater emphasis on controls and procedures.
We totally agree that all of this is essential to protect the charities’ people. Bring it on. But spare a thought for the hard working and relatively lowly paid shop manager who has to introduce and manage all of this, on top of everything else they have to do to run a charity shop. So how do we ensure it happens and is done well and in the positive spirit it is intended? It’s about providing real support for the teambut maybe it’s worth taking another look at income targets. To retain and to continue to motivate our best people, charity retailers might need to expect less in the tills. Reducing the income budget, by say 5%, to reflect the additional workload that any enhanced checks and new styles of local leadership will generate might be a sensible way forwards. If a charity’s people are supported and protected, it can deliver a realistic budget in the face of increasing challenges, and it will continue to inspire, give hope and build trust.
Charities have the potential to build communities and improve everyone’s way of life like no other sector. Let’s remember that and do this properly.
The Charity Retail Consultancy can support your charity through change and to secure improvements. Visit our website for more information or get in touch via email:
My journey in the world of charity retail began with volunteering for St Luke’s Hospice, Sheffield in their very first shop. It was 1983, I was 16 and I spent my Saturday mornings sorting clothes and learning about retail. Fast forward a few years and having got my Retail Marketing degree I decided commercial retail was not for me and volunteered at my local Oxfam shop. I learned so much there about people management, merchandising, customer service, how to be part of a team. That role set me off into a now 30 year career in the sector – and in that cyclical way life has sometimes, I’m now volunteering for Oxfam again – in rural Scotland this time, where I’ve just relocated.
I am loving it. I’ve met new friends and neighbours; learned where my bus goes from and to in order to get there (‘local’ in these parts equates to 20 miles away); been taught the till by another brilliant volunteer; been trusted to remerchandise the accessories department on my second week; been thanked by the Oxfam GB team via Twitter as well as by the lovely shop manager. I left my shift there this week with a big grin on my face, feeling good about myself and much more integrated into my new community.
All this has reminded me once again, how vital volunteers are for our sector – and how by giving them a great volunteering experience, they can be the best ambassadors for our charities AND feel fabulous about themselves too. It is easy as charity retail leaders for us to feel frustrated by not having enough volunteers, or worried about safeguarding, or caught up in the nitty gritty of our daily work – but by genuinely holding volunteers and the wonderful array of skills, stories and experience they bring to our organisations at the very centre of everything we do, we can harness amazing benefits.
Every volunteer journey begins before the potential volunteer identifies themselves to us. Everything we do needs to demonstrate how we value and support those who help us. Once the initial contact is made – either because we have proactively gone out and recruited, or the volunteer has taken the initiative unprompted by us – we need to ensure we give them the best experience possible, by listening, supporting, being clear with our expectations and abundant with our gratitude and praise. Every person who volunteers brings with them a lifetime of experiences – however long or short at that stage – and it is up to us as leaders to make the most of that amazing gift.
I believe my life is richer for having spent so much of it around volunteers – and about to be even richer for being one again. What a privilege it is for us to be part of this sector – let’s all remember how much the volunteers we know and those we are yet to meet make it that way, and make sure we give them the volunteering experience they desire and deserve.
The Charity Retail Consultancy can support you in ensuring your volunteers have the best journey possible. We offer training and support to charity retailers in volunteer recruitment, induction, development & reward. A recent charity retail volunteer recruitment and retention training day scored 93% from delegates’ feedback. Visit our website for more information or to get in touch email:
Future proofing your charity retail operation
I’ve been working with and talking to many charities with retail operations recently, and there’s quite a list of challenges they’re facing. These include:
- Falling profits
- Rising costs
- A slump on the high street
- Customers’ falling disposable income
- Post-Brexit drop in confidence
But it’s not all doom and gloom – In 2025 brick-and-mortar stores are still projected to deliver 85% of UK sales. But if you want to ensure that your charity is still generating a strong profit and profile from its high street presence, you must think differently. If you can adapt to the changing environment, this can be a very exciting moment in retail history. Here’s my 5 tips to stay ahead of the curve in charity retail:
- Online development
There’s no denying that if you’re going to stay ahead of the pack, you need a strong digital presence. A strong digital presence enhances the traditional shop experience, and vice versa. Look at Cancer Research UK – all shops are encouraged to have a social media presence. And about half of Oxfam’s 620 stores sell clothes online. As a result, these sales were up 33% at Christmas and it hopes to double its online sales to reach 5% of the business in just 3 years.
2. In store experience
Even the online giant Amazon is opening bricks and mortar stores because they know that a unique store experience gives shoppers a compelling reason to engage with and revisit the brand. John Lewis has a Customer Experience director and Waitrose is hosting yoga classes in some of its stores. It’s essential that charity retailers design and use the sales areas for experiences as well as for displaying products. Build stories not just stores!
Charities have some incredible brands and identities, so get these into your sales areas and bring the shopping experience to life. Martin House Children’s Hospice has done this brilliantly by adding the artwork used in the hospice onto the shop walls. Customers love the stronger association and will be increasingly buying into a brand as well as just purchasing a product.
3. Personalisation and the Retail Revolution
Three-quarters of customers want personalized shopping experiences as a more personalised experience makes customers feel good and keeps them coming back. Some commercial retailers use data-driven insights from customers’ purchases to deliver bespoke and unique customer experiences. Click2Fit is an American online fashion retailer that uses thousands of rules developed by personal shoppers to select each customer’s perfect items. After a few minutes creating a profile, the virtual personal shopper picks out clothing to fit and flatter you from styles that suit your lifestyle and budget.
The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are creating a Retail Revolution to support this further. This might involve robots picking and packing to reduce customer costs, automated till points to speed up shopping (debatable!) or door counters that connect and predict footfall to your phone along with weather apps to decide the number of staff needed to give customers the best service.
4. Environmental impact
Charity retailers reuse or recycle 95% of items donated to their shops, making the sector the greenest on the High Street. But this is not a well-known fact. In recent weeks, the grocer Iceland captured media headlines by declaring it will be the first UK retailer to abolish plastic packaging, and Wagamama announced it is ditching plastic straws. Charity retailers must seize the moment and start making the headlines – come on, who’s going to be the first to abolish plastic carrier bags?
5. Community: Growing loyalty
Retailers know that they must nurture customer loyalty and inject heart and soul into their business. Sonos studios in London is doing this by creating “a unique, acoustically tunable space where anyone can go to hear music as it should sound; where artists can experiment and share new ideas; a connecting point for a global network of musicians and makers.” It’s not a shop and you can’t buy Sonos products. It’s all about developing the brand’s relationship with its customers. When I developed the youth-led charity retail brand Goodstock, we knew it needed a unique identity and had to directly appeal to its customer base, so we added events and experiences such as a popup nail bar, stylists, a DJ spot, youth markets and a yoga class –hey Waitrose, charity retail got there first!
Two weeks ago I presented a plenary session to the Hospice UK retail conference on youth volunteering. Statistics recently released show that only 13% of the volunteers are under 25, lower than it was five years ago. But according to the BBC, there’s been a 52% increase in youth volunteering in that time. So why are young people choosing not to volunteer in charity shops?
Working with a youth charity, we commissioned some research into why young people don’t volunteer in charity shops and we had some interesting responses. A key one was that it’s not cool to shop or volunteer in a charity shop – the look and feel of the shop, the stock and the people don’t reflect young people and the shops they prefer. This is connected to a fear of rejection – some young people don’t feel they will be welcomed or accepted. On top of this, they may feel they can’t commit the hours the shop might want them to work, and they think they won’t get anything back, such as formal recognition for their work.
So how do we change this?
- Firstly, you need to create roles that young people will be interested in, such as visual merchandising volunteer, events planner and social media champion.
- Make sure you reflect young people in your publications, newsletters and any imagery in volunteer materials.
- Start holding joining and exit interviews to find out why young people come and go so you can identify ways to improve recruitment and retention.
- Think about where you advertise volunteer vacancies. Do you use colleges and universities, and social media?
- If you don’t offer training for your shop managers on equality and diversity, then start doing this now. All of your team need to understand why it’s important to recruit and retain volunteers from diverse backgrounds, so it’s essential they value young volunteers as much as you do.
- Get involved in youth volunteering campaigns – join in BBC Radio 1’s pledge to get young people volunteering 1 million hours http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0387cft
And why should you do all of this? Young people will safeguard your charity’s future, they have a vast amount to give – time and skills, they’re experts in new technology, video creation, social media, they bring a fresh and youthful dynamic to your shop and like attracts like – they bring more young volunteers, young customers and young donors to further increase the reach and value of your charity.