Habitat ReStore focuses on customer service

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — From July through December last year, the ReStore at Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County typically had four to five customers at any given time, and it grossed $50,000 to $55,000 a month.

In January, it had 20 to 25 customers at any given time, and grossed $102,000.

The main difference, in addition to the opening in January of a new store at a more convenient location that replaced a larger 14-year-old store 10 minutes away, has been customer service, says Dwayne Thompson, director of ReStore operations for Habitat Forsyth.

Located at 608 Coliseum Drive at the intersection with University Parkway, the new store totals 23,000 square feet, compared to 35,000 square feet at the old store at 339 Witt St.

The ReStore operates with a staff of nine people, as well as six volunteers each Tuesday through Friday, when it is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 40 volunteers on Saturdays, when it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thompson, who joined Habitat Forsyth in September after serving for six years as ReStore operations manager at Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, has instituted a battery of business practices that he says are designed to better serve customers.

Rather than static displays of donated items, for example, he stages those items in “vignettes” that change two to three times a week, “which gives the store a fresh look,” he says.

Those displays might include several set-ups for bedrooms, several for dining rooms, and several for living rooms.

In the old store, in comparison, “merchandise was just sitting wherever they put it until it sold,” Thompson says.

The store is designed to be customer-friendly, he says, with the cashier positioned just inside the front door to greet visitors

Staff and volunteers, wearing green shirts and blue vests, respectively, circulate throughout the story to assist customers.

And customers now can use 25 new shopping carts donated by Lowe’s, replacing old carts with broken wheels.

Large signs in English and Spanish label the store’s departments, which include flooring, appliances, plumbing, cabinets, furniture, books, home decor, and lighting.

A separate DIY Theater, for “Do It Yourself,” features volunteers each Wednesday morning who teach shoppers how to find new purposes for old items, such as making stained glass from old windows and crushed glass.

Thompson says the ReStore also has been more strategic and intentional about procurement, and now receives $60,000 worth of donated merchandise a month, with half of it generated through the new procurement process.

By reselling donated merchandise, the store also diverts 400 tons of household materials a year from landfills.

Thompson also has instituted a “customer-friendly” donation center to better coordinate information from donors and the pick-up of donated items.

“We’re focused on how we are serving the donors,” he says.

Corporate and private donors each account for half the donations to the ReStore, which in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, generated $300,000 in revenue for Habitat Forsyth.

Based on January sales, Thompson says, the ReStore expects to generate over $600,000 a year to support Habitat’s mission.

The store’s mission, he says, is to provide the revenue that will help Habitat serve at least 10 additional families a year.

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