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.
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.)
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?