Mary Queen of Charity Shops – Final Thoughts

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After the first part of this 3 part series I wrote a post in which I hoped Mary Portas wasn’t going to make Charity Shopping a bland and unexciting experience.

Last night I saw the final installment of this, and, unsurprisingly, Mary achieved her stated aim of getting the Orpington shop to take £2000 a week. She also encouraged more people through the doors and got them to spend more per transaction. Apparently this increase has been sustained since Mary handed back the keys and Save the Children are rolling Marys ideas out to all it’s stores.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about the whole process and the show in general, which intensified after my original post. In one scene Mary claims people will buy a £150 designer jumper at 70% off the original price. In another she is selling £400 dresses for £40 (90% off, if your maths is as bad as mine). I have heard her ask for no donations that can’t be sold for at least £5 to her Living & Giving store, but also stating that they still sold things for £1-£2 in Orpington.

As I saw it there were 3 parts to her campaign.

PUBLICITY

Part of the campaign was to change the perception of Charity shops and the treasures you can find. This is a part where I felt Mary was invaluable. Her contacts made a Charity Shop stall at London Fashion week possible, something that may have not been achievable for a Charity working alone.

The TV series on it’s own has given much needed publicity to Charity Shops, though a commenter on my previous post expressed concern that it was also reinforcing the belief that Charity Shops were full of rubbish.

It is worth bearing in mind that Charity shops have showed a steady increase in their profits in 2007 and 2008.

Whilst all publicity is good publicity the economic situation in the UK was already contributing to a rise in the popularity of Charity Shops well before Mary Portas arrived on the scene.

DONATIONS

In my first review I mentioned that Charity Shops themselves weren’t being  very dynamic in chasing down the decent donations they so desperately need.

In the series Mary instigated a D Day “Donate, Don’t Dump” campaign where volunteers went into large businesses and took donations from staff. I think this is an amazing idea and it’s one I’d love to see being taken further.

People often DON’T think about giving their clothing to charity, and that’s a real shame.

Instead of hiring people to stand around in tabards harassing me to sign up to Direct Debits it would be fantastic to see charities setting up D Day stalls in shopping centres, colleges and other high traffic places frequented by people with money and wardrobes full of clothes they don’t wear.

It would be interesting, however, to see if donations from these sources continue to be as productive on the second or third visit, once the TV cameras have gone. Call me cynical, because I probably am!

THE SHOP

I think this is the area where I had my biggest issues.

Spending significant amounts of money on a shop redesign was as worrying to me as it evidently was to some of the volunteers and I found the new shop layout a little intimidating. Not only that, but I thought it had the potential to look dated quite quickly, requiring yet more outlay.

Most of the Charity Shops I visit have laminate wood flooring, bright lighting and off white walls. It’s simple, won’t date badly, easy to maintain and easy to shop in. The fact that Mary had to sweep the floor herself in the Orpington store even AFTER a Manager was hired indicates to me that one of my major concerns, the sustainability and transferability, of the ideas may have been justified.

I also felt that designating perfectly clean, serviceably donations as rubbish and refusing to allow them on the shop floor as they don’t fit in with the shops image seems to me to be rude to the person who took the trouble to donate and makes me a little sad.

Obviously you don’t keep your Wedgwood china in the back so you can keep your tiny china hedgehog on the shelf, but if there’s space, why not display it?

I’ve bought some terrible “tat” from Charity Shops in the past, as “window dressing” for photographs, as a joke gift or just because I, personally, thought it was cute. I’m unsure who made Mary Portas the arbiter of all that is tasteful and stylish.

I absolutely loved the idea of getting young local designers to sell their wares in store, but, as a profit share venture, I have to hope that the floor space is making as much profit for the store as it would if it were filled with donations. I also feel that transferability of this idea to other stores around the country may be limited ( I certainly know that my local Save the Children store barely has enough room for staff and customers, let alone a manned stall selling designer goods!)

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Overall the series has left me a little confused and wishing I had more information about certain things. Some of the costings don’t add up in my tiny muddled little brain as it seems on the surface that the Orpington shop has more than doubled it’s takings, but the costs involved in the shop refit and hiring of a Manager (which in my opinion may not have been necessary if the Area Manager wasn’t so wet, there, I said it!) haven’t really been taken into account in these figures. So it seems to the ultimate increase in profits may not be so impressive.

I’ve always sent clothing beyond repair to Charity Shops without a care in the world, knowing that they can still earn some money from selling it for rags.

I’ve had this confirmed by people who work in Charity Shops, but it seems Mary Portas wants me to stop doing this and put it in a recycling bin instead. The only bin near me is run by Oxfam, and whilst I support them, I personally have other Charities further up my list to donate to.

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I’d also like to have seen what Mary intended to do with donations that she just didn’t think were cool enough for her shop. I don’t like to think they were thrown away.

Always remember “One Persons Trash is Another’s Treasure”

I think there is without a shadow of a doubt a market for a more upscale style of the Charity Shop, like Mary’s “Living and Giving” shop in Westfield Mall. I just can’t see it being a sustainable business model for ALL Charity Shops, staffed by volunteers and without Marys contacts to get donations from Grazia and upscale designers.

FURTHER READING

Association of Charity Shops

Run your own D Day Donate

Donate to Living & Giving Shop

Living & Giving Shop Events

Professional Fundraising

Charity Finance

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Photos by libbyrosof, David Boyle, Hamed Saber
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