How important is branding to you?

As you know, I am a thrift shopper. I am also a thrift shop volunteer. I also work for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a charitable organization that uses Thrift Shops as a means to raise funds for its world-wide work, and so I have a unique opportunity to see from various angles,  some of the opportunities and challenges that organizations face as they run their shops.

The MCC Thrift Shop - with its distinctive logo - on South Fraser Way in Abbotsford

MCC is perhaps a unique organization. It’s over 90 years old and was begun as a grassroots movement by some folks in North America responding to famine in Russia in the 1920s. Its Thrift Shops were also begun at the community level as a way to raise funds for MCC’s work overseas. MCC has over 50 thrift shops in Canada and more in the United States and that grassroots sense of ownership is still very much alive today in each of these shops.

Unlike, say, Value Village, MCC Thrift Shops are not all exactly the same. There is some consistency in that they do have a standard logo and a website and they all agree that their purpose is to raise funds for MCC. They all have volunteers – but some also have paid staff (though all are largely volunteer based, not paid-staff based.)

The MCC Thrift Shop in Mission, BC

But each shop has its own ethos and there is often resistance to change or standardization. Even here in BC, where we have 9 shops, there are differences in how things are priced, how stores are laid out, what tags look like, and so on.

As a shopper, I sometimes lament this. There is some comfort in knowing that no matter where I go in North America, if I walk into a Value Village Store, I know exactly what to expect. Layout, image, pricing, tags, fitting rooms, staff aprons – everything is exactly the same from store to store. I sometimes wish our MCC Thrift Shops could be like that.

But you do lose something when that happens. I doubt that the employees of Value Village have the same sense of ownership that MCC Thrift Volunteers do. They will tell you that they know their community, they know what will work in their store and what will not. So if you suggest a certain change – say the idea of tags that advertise for you, like I wrote about in my last blog – they will tell you pretty quick whether or not they think that change will work. It might be too complicated for a constantly changing volunteer base to manage tags that you have to write prices on, for example. It is different managing a shop where your working staff is primarily volunteer and not paid.

But maybe that’s just an excuse. What do you think? Does standardization even matter to you as a thrift shopper? Do you prefer the Value Village model? Or do you like the quirkiness of smaller, volunteer based shops?

Am linking to Apron Thrift Girl and Thriftcore – check out what’s happening there too!

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14 Responses to How important is branding to you?

  1. Darcie Brown says:

    When I’m thrift shopping, I’m most interested in value. If the organization is a non-profit, like MCC, that does great things for the community, I will overlook a multitude of branding faux pas. I think it’s more important that I receive friendly and knowledgeable service from the staff whether they are volunteer or paid than have consistent or flashy branding. Branding would just be the icing on the thrift shop cake. I will happily eat cake without icing if it means more of my cents and dollars goes to help those in need.

  2. I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of each store. It is almost as if it is a representation of the area in which they are located. They seem to speak a bit to the Mennonite presence in each area. Value Village does not do this. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for this.

  3. Cindyloo says:

    Quirky is where it’s at.

  4. such great responses – thanks for your insight! do others have things to share?

  5. Laura says:

    The MCC thrift shops in Winnipeg try to respond to the communities they are in, making them each unique in their own way. This would be harder to accomplish if they had to follow tighter guidelines for how they operated. I like their uniqueness!

  6. sonja everson says:

    I love experiencing the unique shops on most days. But if I’m on a mission to find something (ie specific sports equipment for my kids) I love knowing ahead of time where to zoom in and look for it because I usually have to hit several different thrift shops before finding what I’m looking for. So, a branded shop does come in handy at those times. The downside to a branded store is that they’re usually pretty popular and either too expensive or everything has been picked over already. I’d love to know how many people have those ‘secret favourites’ that they try not to share with everybody 😉

  7. Megan says:

    Somehow I missed that you actually Work for MCC! I love it!

    I think branding makes it easier to up prices, because it often coincides with organization and dependability. The Goodwills in my city are very clean and organized, but a bit bland. The huge thrift stores are often the most expensive, while the smaller stores are more accessible. I like cheap and dirty, I admit. I like to dig. And to do that, I often have to hit the charity shops in strange parts of town, but it’s always worth it.

  8. angelika says:

    what a great conversation this has been! i wonder if wearing my communications hat (which includes marketing) made me lose my essential thrift treasure-hunt awareness. as a communicator, i’m always looking for ways for MCC to get its message out there: that there are people in need around the world to whom we are responding, and the public can help. my job sometimes includes creating pieces for our thrift shops that help them communicate that message – but not all thrift shops use the tools we create, which is sometimes frustrating. BUT if the tool doesn’t work in each shop, then it makes sense that it’s not used… the other thing running around my head is Steve Jobs’ comment that ‘people don’t know what they want’ (which is why Apple never does market research). so for example, if MCC created tags that shops could use to ‘advertise’ things like how many school kits are bought with a $5 purchase or the fact that we can always use more volunteers – maybe shoppers would appreciate that info but didn’t know they appreciated it because it wasn’t there before. know what i mean?

  9. Lady Demelza says:

    My idea of a real op shop is a crowded, dusty space with everything piled up all higgledy-piggledy. You have to spend a long time in there looking through every item, upending piles and trawling through clutter. There’s no room to swing a cat and no price tags on anything – the volunteers just make up prices on the spot, which can change depending on who you ask.
    If an oppy is clean, well-organised, spacious and colour-co-ordinated, I feel uncomfortable and I know that the prices are going to be higher than i’m willing to pay. I have to want a particular item pretty bad to buy it in a boutique-style oppy.
    p.s. In Australia a thrift shop is called an ‘op shop’ or an ‘oppy’. It’s short for ‘opportunity shop’. Australians like words that can be shortened to their first syllable.

  10. Lady Demelza says:

    That would be well worth it. We have excellent op shops in just about every town. It’s one of my own dreams to do a tour around Australia just to visit all the op shops on the way. In fact, larger cities all have op-shop tour services where they take you to all the oppies in a given area in a big bus filled with other mad op shop freaks. It’s becoming an industry unto itself. But the best one I have EVER found just happens to be, would you believe it, just around the corner from my house. EVERYTHING is just $1 – including heaps of posh designer label gear. Sshhh don’t tell everyone…

  11. Van says:

    Love this conversation. I’m quirky as hell and appreciate quirkiness in local yard sales, flea markets, boutiques, and vintage shops. For big chains like Salvation Army and Goodwill I appreciate standardization. Like you said, there’s a comfort that comes with that.

    For all shopping experiences, we wish easy price identification, clerk friendliness, and access to merchandise was universal… but digging for goods can be a fun part of the hunt, too! 🙂

    And thanks for linking me in this post!

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