Charity is a fine thing if it’s meeting a gap where needs must be met and there are no other resources. But in the long term we need to support people into helping themselves.” – Annie Lennox

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a glamorously-attired lady at an event. Complimenting her coat, her eyes lit up, and with a grin she replied, “I know, it’s a Carla Zampatti. I got it for $25 at Lifeline, and it costs $600 new!”

She’s not alone. Thrift shops or ‘op shops’ are experiencing an exponential rise in regular clientele, and it’s not just thanks to the Macklemore’s somewhat engaging Thrift Shop lyrics.

Gone are the days when you entered a dimly lit, rack-laden store, filled with an uninspiring range. Charity-operated thrift shops are now becoming astute retailers in their own right. By capitalising on the bargain hunting consumer, charities with these secondhand retail outlets are making serious inroads into their donation targets, resulting in a far greater ability to help those in need.

Over the past few months, we’ve been working closely with Lifeline to help the charity revitalise its retail offering and place it solidly in the retail space.

By moving away from the traditional op shop status, Lifeline hopes the adoption of a more business-orientated retail approach will help lift retail sales and fund 200,000 more volunteer calls to help save lives.

Communicating figures like these to shoppers is also helping to drive item donations to the stores. It has become like a circle of life. I donate, I purchase, and by purchasing I am still donating. There’s a feel good aspect to the  item ‘purchase and release’ cycle.

Jane Hayden, CEO of Lifeline Australia told me, “Lifeline has also become a popular re-gifting station. It was time to harness these growing opportunities with a greater retail focus. Lifeline Centres raise a large proportion of funding through their retail activities.  A fitter retail operation will enable greater capability for the charity to provide essential crisis support and suicide prevention services”.

Coupled with operational changes in stores, we looked at the consumer drivers to get a greater understanding of the huge variety of customer. Even if their economic situation is favourable, customers shopping in these secondhand charity retailers use them as a way to stretch the dollars further. Indeed, there’s a thrill to the act of thrift shopping and customers are proud of the bargains they find.

Customers are seeking value and choice, and in some cases shop because they even enjoy a touch of competitive frugality with their friends. Teenagers are becoming regulars, snapping images of items and picture messaging friends for approval. New mums are sorting through baby gear, bringing in those outgrown as much as taking out items for the next stage of baby’s growth.

Purchases are most often planned. Son has a formal? Try the thrift shop for a suit. Looking for a new wetsuit? Try the op shop. Need a decent book (and not just Dan Brown)? Browse the Lifeline shelves.

What’s more, these outlets are also a veritable gold mine of local and overseas brands as well as retro and fancy dress destinations.

Happy fit retailing

Brian Walker

This Easter, Brian will be trading in his suit for hiking boots as he takes on the Kokoda Challenge in support of Lifeline. To show your support for this cause, visit http://lifelinekokoda2014.gofundraise.com.au/page/BWalker

First published by Inside Retail, April 16, 2014