Valdosta Daily Times

Business

April 7, 2013

Non-profit businesses make a community-wide impact

VALDOSTA — It sounds like an oxymoron at first: Non-profit business. A business not interested in making money?

Not quite.

While a non-profit business is still interested in making a profit, after all the bills are paid, the net profit is earmarked for a charitable cause.

Take what is probably the most well-known non-profit business in the world, Goodwill. Of the more than four billion dollars generated through its stores, Goodwill Industries estimates that 82 percent (roughly $3.2 billion) has gone directly to its various eduction and job training focused service programs. Its name has become synonymous with thrift stores, in the way that “Coke” is sometimes used as a catch all for sodas in general. Other non-profits follow their example.

“Goodwill and the Salvation Army invented the [non-profit] store model,” said Stuart Mullis, who serves as Executive Director for the Valdosta-Lowndes County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

When Habitat moved into its current location in 2005, an ex-mobile home manufacturing warehouse on Cypress Street, they decided to put their new 20,000 square feet of space to a good use, opening up the ReStore. A play on “restore,” the name also stands for other things: Recycle, Reinvent, Renew.

“We didn't expect it to be so big. We're a little off the beaten path, but...when you have bargains, people will find you.”

“We're helped by a lot of great, loyal, local businesses,” said Mullis. “Bigger businesses, too. We get donations from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target. Wal-Mart has been good to us, as well. It's a community-wide effort.”

While they don't sell clothes—any clothes that come their way are sent to area clothes closets—there's not much else that you couldn't run into at the ReStore.

“It really depends on what we've been getting in,” said Willis.

One day, they might be flush with mattresses, the next, tiles. After that, chairs or doors. After that, toilets.

“We actually sell a lot of toilets. We'll get in a shipment of 75 toilets, sell them for $40 apiece, and watch them fly off (our shelves) for three weeks.”

While the ReStore avoids clothing, the Repeat Boutique specializes in them.

Formed in 1998, the Repeat Boutique is a thrift store whose profits go to funding Options Now, a Christ-centered Life Choice Pregnancy Clinic. In early 2012, they outgrew their location and moved to Norman Drive, next to The Learning Tree and across the street from Wal-Mart.

Focusing on clothing and housewares, with a nice selection of children's toys, the Boutique runs donations through a triple inspection before they hit the sales floor. And things that aren't up to inspection can sometimes still be used.

“What God bestows on us, we make the best use we can,” said Robin DeRocco, general store manager for the Repeat Boutique. “If we can't use it, we pass it on to Mission Point, Southland Church, local homeless programs...and for the last year, we've been participating in ‘third world thrift,’ sending things to people in other countries who need them.”

The third world thrift amounts to 116,000-120,000 pounds of product a year being donated, which is just a fraction of the total amount the store processes each year.

“The more you give, the more God's gonna bless you,” said DeRocco.

The Boutique is run by an even split of paid employees and volunteers, with many volunteers lending their professional expertise, like Anne Baxter, a retired jewelry store manager who oversees the donated jewelry items.

While they focus on different things (Repeat Boutique does have a small tool/building supplies room), there are several similarities between ReStore and the Boutique, beyond both being non-profit retail stores.

Both use the Internet to check prices of things going out on the shelves to stay competitive.

Both work as extensions of their charities' missions, with ReStore offering building and home supplies at a more affordable price, and Options Now offering parenting classes that reward future parents with credits at the Repeat Boutique.

The stores also serve as marketing and outreach, with customers learning about the charities the stores fund through the store. Sometimes, customers walk out as future volunteers.

Both are also major cogs in their non-profits' fundraising efforts.

Mullis estimates that 30 percent of Habitat's budget comes from the ReStore. Repeat Boutique makes up, roughly, a quarter to a third of Options Now's funding.

If the ReStore hadn't been started almost a decade ago, that would be 45 less homes that would have been built with and for families who, without Habitat, may have never owned a home. On the economic side of things, that's millions of dollars of money spent locally on materials and building specialists (electricians, plumbers, etc) that would have never been, as well as taxes paid on the property.

If the Repeat Boutique hadn't  opened 15 years ago, that's a lot less future mothers, fathers and children helped, not to mention the jobs it creates.

And while it's not the first thing you might think of, both stores also make a huge impact on the environment. Without them, a large share of their donations would be headed towards a dump or a landfill. Over the years, that adds up to millions and millions of pounds of stuff: clothes, tiles, chairs, doors, mattresses, light fixtures, books.

All of which, now, gets to be reinvented, recycled, restored and renewed. And the profits go to charitable causes.

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