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Say Yes To New Opportunities with BJ Breish

by | Jul 27, 2023

Episode Summary

Kyle Peyton and BJ Breish discuss how data can help you grow your resale business and help fund your organization’s mission.  Digging into the data grave BJ the insight he needed to make strategic choices about what, how, and where to sell more donations.

BJ talks about how rising housing costs in Bucks County Pennsylvania helped him expand the strategy for helping with building and improving homes with their ReStore program to help offset the costs of housing.

Key Insights

  • Your data can give you insight into how you may grow.
  • Make decisions based on the information you have.
  • Turning over your product may be more important than getting the most out of each piece.
  • Improving your technology can pay for itself.
  • Square-footage reports help you to know how to dedicate space for your store.

Episode Highlights

  • It was apparent that we needed some more operational oversight and more focus on our strategic goals and the strategy on how we were going to continue to grow the program.
  • The data really kind of helps drive some of those things. There’s a couple of key metrics that we use.
  • I could sell a $100 couch, you know, but it might take me three weeks to sell that $100 couch. How many 10 couches can I move in that same amount of space in that same amount of time?
  • I tell everybody who’s talking about ThriftCart or thinking about going to ThriftCart, you know, not to worry about the initial startup costs associated with, you know, purchasing the equipment and and the different things that you need in order to get going, because you’re probably going to have that cost offset very quickly within a matter of months with the roundup feature.
  • You know, you always need to be aware of how you’re allocating space on your sales floor and you know what that space is doing for you overall. 

Guest Bio

BJ Breish, director of Bucks County ReStore, leads the ReStore operation for the Pennsylvania reseller. He has worked to find new ways to help Bucks County residents to stretch housing opportunities in an expensive market.

Website: https://www.habitatbucks.org/restore/


[00:00:00] Kyle: My guest today is BJ Breish from Bucks County. Glad to have you on, my friend. Appreciate you doing this. 

[00:00:28] BJ: Happy to be here. Thanks Kyle. 

[00:00:30] Kyle: Excellent. Excellent. So yeah, let’s just start uh, Bucks County. What are you guys all about? How long have you guys been… just kind of run us through what Bucks County Habitat for Humanity is all about. 

[00:00:40] BJ: Bucks County, Pennsylvania. So we’re just north of Philadelphia. The affiliate’s been around since 1990. The ReStore started shortly thereafter. We started with one store. And it was probably, when I joined, which was about nine years ago, we were bringing in about $400,000 in gross revenue. You know, I saw a lot of opportunity to, to kind of take things from there and grow the program.

We were faced, at the time, with rising house costs just like everybody else. But this is a very expensive place to live in Pennsylvania. It is the second most expensive county in Pennsylvania to live. And the cost of homes just was continuing to rise astronomically. So we wanted to do everything that we could with our ReStore program to help offset, you know, that challenge and hopefully get to the point where we could build more homes.

You know, like I said, the affiliate’s been around since 1990. Since that time, we’ve built 127 homes. We’ve also very recently expanded our home repair program. We saw a need in our county where a lot of families and individuals were aging in place and wanted to continue to live in their homes.

So we would start to go in and do some, at first we were calling them a brush with kindness. They were minor repairs, but made a significant difference for individuals. Things like grab bars in showers to make them more accessible for folks to use. Things like handicap ramps for folks to get in and out of their house that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be able to and we started to do a lot of those different projects and graduated most recently to doing more critical home repairs where we’re actually fixing roofs and fixing major critical components of the home, like redoing all the windows and the doors and things of that nature which has been very important to us because we’ve also been plagued with, you know, all those climate change challenges, although not as significant as some parts of our nation. You know, we’ve been experiencing more of an uptick in things like tornadoes and such and dealing with a lot of floods and damages from those floods from the dangerous storms that we’ve been experiencing. So, you know, the critical home repair program has been a very important element of what we do.

And we’ve also been rehabbing homes because the cost to purchase homes in Bucks County has, like I said, it’s skyrocketed. So, you know, we’ve found ourselves in situations where it may be difficult to buy a plot of land and build a brand new home. But perhaps maybe we find a scenario where we’d be buying an existing home and being able to rehab it, turn it into a habitat home, and make it affordable for somebody actually live in. 

[00:03:18] Kyle: That’s awesome. I didn’t understand the… I didn’t know the scope, you know. I think a lot of people when they hear Habitat for Humanity just think you know, buying a plot of land, building a brand new home, you know, I didn’t know that the scope of, you know, the repairs and the remodels and I mean, that makes sense with with the cost of housing and being what it is. 

So when you guys are doing these repairs, so is that those operations I’m assuming are, you know, obviously funded by grants, but then also through the business of the ReStore, is that how that gets funded? 

[00:03:44] BJ: Yeah. So, I mean, we would like to get to a point where the ReStore program is sort of covering the expenses of all the other programs, right. You know, kind of like the operational oversight because it is a sustainable source of revenue. So it gives our leadership and our affiliate more confidence in expanding those different things, whether it’s adding more folks on construction. You know, like I said, when I started and we were doing a brush with kindness, that was all done by one team.

And we’ve actually expanded to have our own home repair director and home repair program as a completely separate entity that can go out and, you know, tackle these larger project and so the ReStore being a sustainable funding source to help, you know, make sure that those costs are covered has enabled us to do those things.

Now, we’re getting into some really exciting things, because instead of being reactive and you know, and just trying to provide opportunities, affordable opportunities throughout the county, we’re taking a proactive approach and doing more advocacy. It’s one of the things that we’re really excited to do going into this fiscal year, which just started in July, is really ramp up the advocacy and collaborating with other nonprofit organizations in the community to trying to bring together all of these, these different conversations and these, these silos of programs that we’ve all created to kind of help in these critical areas throughout our county and kind of bring them all together, you know, create, you know, Advocacy task force to start trying to implement real change that’s lasting and can help kind of tackle some of these larger problems that we’ve been seeing. 

[00:05:16] Kyle: That’s amazing. I mean, I’ve kind of just started to get into the nonprofit and understand, you know, everything you guys do, but what you guys are doing with advocacy and, you know, the good that you guys do in the community is absolutely amazing. So kudos to you guys. I mean, you guys are doing good work there. 

So I kind of wanted to take this and pivot a little bit. I know you said you’ve been with the ReStore, with the affiliate for nine years. So, yeah, for the listeners, kind of explain what your role is. What do you do? What is your operational oversight?

[00:05:42] BJ: That’s a great question. Well, I started nine years ago as a ReStore manager. You know, we maybe had two employees in addition to myself, and we were bringing about $400,000. We knew we wanted to grow the program. So shortly thereafter, we did expand into another part of our county with a second location.

Once we had two stores up and running, it was apparent that we needed some more operational oversight and more focus on our strategic goals and the strategy on how we were going to continue to grow the program. So I moved away from store management and we developed a director you know, position, which essentially I continue to carry to today and has really kind of turned into Again, focusing on the strategic elements about as to how we’re going to grow the program and provide sort of a level of service to the management team on the front lines, running the day-to-day operation, making sure that the stores have what they need in order to be successful day-today.

So I might find myself on the back of a trailer unloading donations one day. And another day, you know, going through the numbers and, you know, looking at, you know, what I like to call the low hanging fruit, you know, opportunities to continue to expand the program, whether it’s, you know, things like switching our P. O. S. System to ThriftCart, looking at e-commerce and there’s different things. So, you know, we’ve been implementing a lot of different changes in that regard and seeing a lot of success. 

[00:07:03] Kyle: Oh, that’s… so essentially a jack of all trades. You’re doing everything and anything that you can to grow the affiliate.

[00:07:08] BJ: We all do. I mean, that’s a fun part about it. You know, I mean, I always say it takes all kinds of people to run the world that we’re all familiar with living in. And some folks are, you know, they’re comfortable and they’re satisfied with that sort of routine. You know, they kind of know exactly where their lane is and they kind of stay in it.

But yeah. That’s not really what kind of keeps me going. You know, I’m gonna keep my foot on the gas and, you know, see what I can do, kind of next person and, you know, we’re always, you know, trying new things and getting creative and you know, I never quite know what the day’s gonna bring, you know?

This is my first podcast, by the way, so that’s new, you know, and it’s fun trying Yeah. 

[00:07:42] Kyle: First for everything, right? 

[00:07:43] BJ: And so when you reached out and you were like, Hey, you wanna do this podcast? I was like, yeah, sure. You know, let’s give it a try, you know? 

[00:07:49] Kyle: Yeah. I mean, let’s get on the pod and let’s just shoot the breeze, man. The nice thing I’ve noticed is like, there’s so much knowledge and there’s so much expertise within this, like, you know, small segment, like thrift is kind of its own weird animal and especially ReStore thrift. 

So kind of moving forward, as I understand it, you guys were able to open a new store. So that would make the third location for you guys, right? 

[00:08:10] BJ: Yeah. So like I shared earlier, we opened the second store and then most recently about three months ago, we opened our third location. And this one covers the rest of our county. So there was an area that, you know, our county is very long so it takes a long time to get from one side to the other.

And we were covered our lower part of our county, closer to the city. We covered the central part of our county, but we really weren’t present in our upper part. And this store solves that for us. So, I’d like to think that you’re probably anywhere in our county now within about a 15 mile radius of the ReStore. It’s pretty cool. 

[00:08:43] Kyle: Oh, wow. Yeah, that’s fantastic. So let’s kind of talk about the day to day of the ReStore. I know you’ve kind of been in the director role. I know you have some managers, but managing, you know, a ReStore, what are some of the challenges that are unique to ReStores, but unique to thrift and maybe Habitat, you know, that people aren’t aware of?

[00:09:00] BJ: That’s a good question. And I think it depends on where the program’s at. You know, my challenges when we were a $400,000 operation are different than my challenges today. You know, we’re just closing up the fiscal year. We did about 4. 6 million last year in sales. So they’re different challenges.

Some of the fun or the more fun challenges, I should say are the ones that kind of have us rewriting what’s next, right? The best practices of ReStore. You know, we’re at the point with our program that in order for us to grow, we kind of have to look outside the box and see what’s next. We’ve picked all the low hanging fruit. We’ve implemented all of the best practices. And so it’s a fun place to be. But it can be a challenge depending on what affiliate you come from. 

[00:09:46] Kyle: Well, let’s, if you don’t mind giving the listeners that what are some of those best practices that you got, you say, low hanging fruit, what are some of those things that you guys implement there that, you know, people listening could, you know, perhaps latch on to and implement at their own store?

[00:09:58] BJ: That’s a good question. I mean, you know, when we, when we look at the data, right? And the data really kind of helps drive some of those things. There’s a couple of key metrics that we use that’s pulled from an annual report that’s provided by Habitat for Humanity International. And what they’ll do is each year, they’ll collect data throughout the ReStore network, which last I checked was over 900 stores.

And maybe 700, 750 of them report in their data and so that they take that data and they kind of boil it all down and they come up with just kind of like key metrics like here’s where you should be at in terms of payroll to grow sales. And here’s where your sales per square foot should be. And here’s what your occupancy costs should be at. And so we kind of use those and sort of guiding principles to try to decision make and try to determine, what do we need to implement? How many people do we need to hire? You know, what kind of roles do those people need to fill and what should we expect in terms of performance out of our store?

And that kind of helps us sort of, you know, get a baseline. And if we’re outside of those parameters, you know, or we’re not achieving, I should say, for the most part of those parameters, and we know kind of where to look in terms of finding our low hanging fruit. 

But once you get to the point where you’re like, okay, well, now I’m exceeding. I’ll give you an example, Kyle. In the industry, most recently, I heard the term $44 a square foot thrown around. So, you know, technically we see about $44 a square foot out of our facilities, but when you’re operating stores and you’re doing $80 a square foot on a regular basis, those rules don’t apply anymore. If you want to see growth, you have to get a lot more creative, you know. It’s not as easy as saying, okay, well, if I’m doing $30 a square foot, I know I have room to grow and, you know, I can implement some of these other best practices, whether it’s, you know, the way that the store is being merchandised.

A lot of times, honestly, it’s just throughput and how quickly you’re turning inventory over. You know, yeah. Early on, I learned that it’s all about turning the dollar, right? I mean, I see some programs falling into the trap of trying to squeeze as much money out of a particular item, right?

As they can when the reality is that, you know, it’s really, it’s a numbers game about, you know, turning the dollar more frequently. So, you know, I could sell $100 couch, you know, but it might take me three weeks to sell that $100 couch. How many 10 couches can I move in that same amount of space in that same amount of time?

And the answer is often you can turn a lot more, you know, if you focus on volume. And so, you know, one of the early things that we did was we deregulated our pricing policies. You know, when I walked in, it was like, you know, if only one or two people on the team were allowed to price, you know, and oh, that person doesn’t work on Wednesdays. So nothing gets priced on Wednesdays. You know, the volunteers just move the merchandise around in the back and organize it. So it’s ready for the person to come in and price it. And, you know, we just, you know, one day we went out, we bought a whole bunch of cheap pricing guns, Oh, And we handed them to everybody. And we said, just put a price on these things. It doesn’t matter if it’s the right price, if it’s the wrong price, just get a price on it, get the item to the floor because you’re not going to sell anything that’s sitting in the back room. Overnight, we saw a 30% increase in sales, you know, so to us focusing on getting more product, getting more donations in the door and moving it, you know, as quickly as it’s coming in, it’s going out the door has been our key to success.

[00:13:10] Kyle: Let’s talk about that because, I mean, ReStores in particular are so donation centric. So what is kind of, how do you guys use ThriftCart for, like, the donation process? How do you guys gather your donations? 

[00:13:23] BJ: Well, we use all the Thriftcart modules. And one of the ways we gather donations is through doing free donation pickup. So we offer a free pickup service in our county and we accept donation drop offs, but no employment necessary on our back docks. And in either situation you’re going to be integrated to some degree with the ThriftCart platform and that helps us collect data and helps us kind of make decisions behind the scenes strategically.

I’ll give you an example of that: with our truck scheduling all of that, thanks to ThriftCart, is actually very user friendly because customers can go onto our website and they can do that. They don’t even need to make a phone call. They can just do that right from the website and the module will kind of walk them through step by step.

And it’s customizable, which is nice, right? So, Working with ThriftCart tech support, I believe I worked with um, shout out to Corbin, by the way, Kyle. Corbin’s amazing. He’s awesome. Don’t don’t lose him. But you know, working with Corbin along the way, working with Michael. Michael’s been great too. You know, he was really beneficial in terms of customizing the dashboards and stuff for us. As a matter of fact, I got to reach out to him. I have a question for him about, I want a new report and I think Michael can do it because it was funny. We were talking about, Oh, well, it’d be nice to have this report. And I was like, Oh, don’t worry. Michael can handle it. Cause I know, you know, if I come up with a crazy idea, chances are Michael can figure out a way to make it happen. 

[00:14:44] Kyle: And there’s a good chance he’s probably already done. 

[00:14:46] BJ: Probably. Yeah. 

[00:14:48] Kyle: Throw out what you’re looking for on that report. I mean, that might be interesting to some of the users, might be, or the listeners might be after.

[00:14:53] BJ: Okay, cool. so we recently noticed an interesting trend and we’re not sure why it’s happening. And that is through the roundups, right? And the roundups, by the way, are awesome. And I tell everybody who’s talking about ThriftCart or thinking about going to ThriftCart, you know, not to worry about the initial startup costs associated with, you know, purchasing the equipment and and the different things that you need in order to get going, because you’re probably going to have that cost offset very quickly within a matter of months with the roundup feature.

This past fiscal year, we saw over $20,000 just in roundups. I mean, that’s amazing. When you think about nickels and dimes, right? But one of the anomalies that we just noticed in looking at that data is that two of our stores, which are relatively comparable when you compare in terms of, like, transaction count, one of them is about 50% less in roundups than the other.

And so I first thought, okay, well, maybe, you know, I mean, different parts of the county, maybe the individuals coming from that other part of the county just have to be a little bit more generous and then the other folks in the other part of the county and they’re electing to round up more frequently, it could be.

That could be the case, but it also occurred to me that because we’re using ThriftCart and ThriftCart Pay, the roundup. When you’re prompted to round up, it’s on a separate tablet, as you know, you know, instead of it going to the credit card terminal and you just using the credit card terminal, like when we had World Pay, you have a separate tablet for the roundup prompt and if there’s an issue, which by the way, It’s been working great. So there hasn’t been any issues with using that extra tablet, but if there’s an issue with that tablet, there’s a, I’m going to call it a fail safe that Michael put on the system, which is essentially a link that you can bypass the roundup prompt and you can go right to the credit card terminal.

And I’m wondering if maybe somebody is just, I don’t know, to expedite the line, maybe. You know what I mean? So I want to ask Michael if there’s any way that he can pull a report on how many times somebody’s hitting that bypass around a prompt, just so it’s something that I can monitor to see if it’s something that’s happening on a frequent basis or not.

[00:16:59] Kyle: Yeah, I know. I know within the system and within the reporting. I know there’s a lot of reports that are centric to, you know, percentage of roundup per transaction. So yeah, no, I definitely think that would be something that Michael could program. 

So then kind of talking like we’re like on the basis of reporting, I know you have your metrics and your KPIs, you know, from Habitat. What kind of reporting did you guys customize within ThriftCart that’s helped your business? 

[00:17:22] BJ: Well, we use the sale per square foot which has been very helpful. And, you know, I know that actually is a relatively new feature. Maybe we’re going back a year at this point, and along the way, there were several iterations, and I appreciate Michael and Corbin taking my feedback on, you know, because I had some suggestions on how that might be, you know, more customized and beneficial as well, which has been great. You know, and that’s really kind of one of the great things about the reporting in general, right?

I mean, it’s not. It’s not just you get what you get on the surface, right? And which available it can be customized to what you’re trying to achieve, which is also important when you talk about things like scalability and, you know, we have to look outside the box now. So I have to look beyond the KPIs and the best practices.

And, you know, I’m going to need to start looking at some unique things. So it’s nice to know that I can customize reports. But we use that one because it’s just really easy to kind of input, you input your, your square foot by department and it easily spits out a report for you.

Obviously then we’re using the category options. So we have ThriftCart customized. So that even though we don’t inventory everything that’s on our floor, because it is donated and it would be tedious on the front end, we’re inventory on the back end, meaning that at the point of sale when somebody’s purchasing something, I know if they purchased a piece of furniture, a housewares item, clothing, you know, whatever it is that they order so that I can track the sales by department, by square foot. Obviously we’re using all the reporting features that are available through the truck modules. We’re using a report, which I think the region was actually, because I also do a regional call for ReStores and a lot of folks are really interested in this. So this might be interesting to folks out there listening on this call. We use a report to track our donation drop offs by zip code which has always been something that we’ve had to do by paper, you know, rely on volunteers to do that.

And now thanks to ThriftCart, I mean, actually a lot of folks were surprised to hear about that feature and to hear that it was available. And I was trying to explain to them how it works where, you know, you guys got each store their own phone number and that phone number is a phone number that anybody can text into to receive an electronic donation receipt.

And not only does that allow us to track all the zip codes for the electronic donation receipts at the donation doc, but it’s actually eliminated our need altogether to have paper donation receipts because if they’re getting it on the truck, the system automatically sends them a donation receipt when we mark that stop completed, and if they’re dropping it off at the dock and they want a donation receipt, they just text a number and they get their donation receipt.

I was spending probably, it was over $1,000 between two stores. Just to print paper receipts, and that cost has completely been eliminated. 

[00:19:58] Kyle: Saving money and saving trees. 

[00:19:59] BJ: Yeah, it’s been great. Yeah. So those are probably the primary ones that we use. And obviously, you know, the daily sales I like to think we have pretty strong cash control policies in place as well.

So, we lean into the fact that ThriftCart is very customizable, almost to a fault because every time I have to set up a new user, You know, I have to select, you know, what they have access to and what they don’t have on their permissions, but it’s very easy to kind of manage that, right.

Which is helpful so that, you know, only certain people are doing certain things like returns and stuff like that. So you can keep your cash controls in place. But we’re doing daily reconciliations and it’s easy to pull reports and things like that. So, yeah, I mean, those are the main modules that we’ve been using and they’ve been really helpful.

[00:21:47] Kyle: I did want to ask, as you brought up the, you know, square footage report. So when you were initially utilizing that report, did it lead down the path of reallocating space in the store, or is the space in the store always stayed the same? Because one of the things I would think if I was using that report is okay, if I’m generating, you know, a really high amount of dollars per square foot in a certain category, you know, it makes sense to expand it. So did that reporting lead to any changes in layout or merchandising or anything? 

[00:21:58] BJ: It’s definitely kind of, honed in on some areas of opportunity, right? I mean, if you have one section of your store doing 20 a square foot and another section doing 120 a square foot, you know, you can decrease the size of the one or eliminate it completely and you increase the size of the other, right. And so it’s allowed us to make very quick decisions and the decisions are based on data. So we have done that and we actually do that constantly on where it’s a constant you know, because things change. I mean, you know, things change very rapidly. It does, you know, I guess you could say it’s one of the challenges of thrift, but I think it’s something that keeps things interesting.

You know, you always need to be aware of how you’re allocating space on your sales floor and you know what that space is doing for you overall. I like to call it keeping your finger on the pulse of the business. Using the sales per square foot by department allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of the business.

We don’t rely on it solely because I do encourage the management teams to, you know, have their eyes on, you know, the departments of the store and make sure that they’re keeping tabs on things physically, but. It has allowed us to make important strategic decisions in terms of how we’re allocating our space.

You know, it’s also a great motivator. And I say that because, you know, there’s certain people that tend to navigate to doing certain tasks in our stores. You know, you might have an employee that, you know, loves running the register, or you might have somebody that completely dedicates her time to just pumping furniture out to the floor or, you know, housewares for that matter.

And so when you can go back to them and you can say, Hey, look what your department did. You know, look what you were able to do. And imagine, you know, if you were able to increase the performance of your department, you know, what your capabilities are, what your potential is in order to do that. So when the employees see that and they see how their performance rates, you know, and compare it to other departments, I think it motivates them to want to do better. And I actually have people asking me now, like, Hey, can I see, you know, can I see what, you know, this department did? Can I see what that department did? You know? 

[00:23:53] Kyle: Yeah. I never thought of it that way. The old adage, like, You can’t tell if you’re winning if no one keeps score.

Right. So I didn’t think of utilizing ThriftCart that way, but no, that’s fascinating. Thanks for kind of walking through the process and helping us understand how you utilize ThriftCart. I kind of wanted to pivot for a second. I know you said, you know, thrift is changing all the time, but are there any, I guess, trends that you’re seeing going forward? Like, you know, you’ve got to make changes. You’ve got to be on the edge of things. What are you keeping your pulse on, you know, in terms of changes or innovations or trends in the industry that you’re aware of? 

[00:24:26] BJ: That’s a good question. I think donations have been interesting. And again, when we talk about generating sales, it all comes back to how many donations or how much I should say how much product you’re getting into the store because another thing that I would say is innovative and changing quite rapidly are two other things. And that’s e-commerce and purchased product and what role purchased product has to play in the stores. And we’ve been seeing a lot of stores get very interested in purchased product and its place in our business.

You know, just to put that into perspective, I mean, I said, you know, 4. 6 million in sales last year. Over a million dollars of those sales was actually in purchase goods, you know, product that we actually purchased in and sold in our stores. And when you’re looking for a POS system. You know, and you’re looking at those sort of, like, higher level, like, what’s the next step? Even if you’re not looking into things like purchased product sales, if you’re a $400,000 operation right now, you need to be thinking about, you know, 10 years from now, you know, I want to be doing $4.6 million, like, you know, like, like Bucks County. And there are certain platforms, I’ll use Clover as an example, because we came from Clover to ThriftCart, that, that don’t have the robustness and they don’t have the tools and they don’t have the scalability and the features that would allow you to kind of grow into something like that they might say they do, but it was our experience that it just wasn’t working well as we were growing our business. 

And so that’s always something to keep in mind. And that’s another great thing about ThriftCart is that you have these different modules and you can, you don’t need to start all of this at once, right? And you grow into it. But purchased product has become more prevalent in the resource program. And I think it kind of started during Covid because you know… 

[00:26:04] Kyle: There were no donations, right? 

[00:26:05] BJ: There were no donations. It was hard to get product and things right up. So what do you put on the shelf, right? And so we got creative and we got purchased product in and, you know, I kind of went through. You had a bunch of questions that you know, you might ask on the call. One of them was about, you know, competition, right? And, you know, I thought that might come up and, you know, I can’t ignore the fact that, you know, when it comes to donations, when it comes to product, there’s competition in the nonprofit space, right? There’s other nonprofit thrift stores out there and to some degree, you could say that we’re all sort of competing for that donation. But at the same time, you know, there’s a lot of parallels and there’s a lot of symbiosis within that, that I think that, you know, it’s been my tact rather to actually work together across the network, even outside of the ReStore network, but just across the nonprofit thrift sector in general and work with the other stores because we all kind of specialize in something, right? When you think Habitat for Humanity, you think building materials and, you know, we have a lot of furniture and stuff like that, but, you know, clothing doesn’t necessarily come to mind. But there are other nonprofit thrift stores and just in our network and beyond that would, you know, specialize more specifically on those types of things. So it’s finding a way to be the most convenient program for your donors. Right. And so I try to get in the psyche of a donor, right? And I say this as a guy that currently is driving around with a truck full of donations and it’s probably been in the back of my car for like two months now and I come to the first store every single day.

So like, what’s stopping me right from, you know, dropping off those donations. Well, you know, I happen to know that, you know, we don’t sell clothing and the clothing that I have in my car I know can, you know, do better at this other location and that sort of thing. So I try to do the best I can, but, you know, we’re at the same time, we’re always trying to find a way to make it as convenient for the donor, right?

You know, if the donor wants to drop off three bags of clothes and two bags of housewares, I want to put the housewares on my shelves. It may not necessarily want the clothing. But how can I make it all come together to be as convenient as possible and try to get those donations? So that’s been a challenge in our industry and I think that whoever ends up being more successful with trying to find ways to say yes, as opposed to saying no. That’s who’s going to win, right? I mean, if you talked about the competition, you know, and you talked about it from a competitive level, whoever finds a way to say yes wins, period, whether it’s things that are getting dropped off at the door, whether it’s working with corporate donors, right. Who have, you know, you get a phone call and say, Hey, I have 20 tractor trailer loads of tile. Well, in the past I would have said no, right, cause I had one store. I didn’t have a forklift. I don’t have loading docs. You know, some cases, it used to just be me driving the truck, you know, out there picking stuff up. And so I would say no to that, but we’ve kind of changed in tact. We said we need to say yes to these things because if we don’t say yes, somebody else is going to come along. 

So we’ve been really focused on that and I think the best way to do that is together, right? Regardless of whether it’s in the ReStore network or outside the ReStore network, it’s coming together. It’s recognizing that, you know, all ships in the harbor will rise. If we start to say yes to these things, and you could take a trailer, I could take a trailer, she could take a trailer, he could take a trailer, you know, then we all win in the end. And the corporations or the individuals know that regardless of where they go, they’re going to be, you know, served and they’re going to get their donations taken care of, that’s what it comes down to. 

[00:29:24] Kyle: That’s a fascinating point. I hadn’t thought of that. And now looking back at it, I remember a conversation at one of the symposiums that we did and kind of to your point, it’s like, Oh, well I’m going to take the clothes, but I created a partnership with the local Goodwill, right? So, you know, I’ll take the clothes cause I get the appliances and you know what, they come over once a month and pick up the clothes I don’t want, you know? So to your point, everybody, if you’re all working together, everybody wins. 

[00:29:48] BJ: Kyle, if I said, let me write you a check for $15,000 in four months, would you say no?

[00:29:54] Kyle: Absolutely not. 

[00:29:55] BJ: Right. So my point is over the past four months, collecting clothing, saying yes to clothing and literally doing nothing but throwing it on the back of a trailer, we have created a partnership with another organization who has written us two checks totaling $15,000 that goes right back to Habitat mission.

[00:30:15] Kyle: Right back to Habitat, right back to building houses. 

[00:30:18] BJ: Before then we were saying no, sorry we don’t take clothing right and so now. I’m kicking myself. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years, right? And over the past four months, I’ve made $15,000 by saying yes. That’s the only change we made, right? So, and also it’s hard to quantify, right? But there’s a lot of other value because chances are it’s a lot more than $15,000 that we realized over that time because they know we take clothing. Then they’re going to give us the other things to and they’re going to give us a house. Otherwise it would have gone somewhere else. So always find a way to say yes. 

I’ll give you another quick example of that. We accept electronic waste, including televisions. Old TVs, you know, like you can’t put them in your residential trash, right? You can’t put them in your commercial trash. You can’t, you just can’t do it. And it was a lot of work. It was months and months of work to understand state law and understand the different organizations that were responsibly recycling this material. But we worked it out and we created a partnership where now we accept TVs.

Actually the first day I put it out there on. So it was just social media. But hey, we’re now taking TVs. No exaggeration. We had to shut down a state highway. The police got involved. It was this big thing because the line of traffic was so long for this service that we had to shut it down early and I had to put out an apology and everything because it was just overwhelming. I had not realized the demand for the service in our community. 

But again, it’s just, it was going back to that concept where You know, the ReStore. First of all, anytime we’re trying to grow the ReStore, we’re always looking at it from the perspective of yes, we’re here to generate revenue to support habitat for humanity. That’s our primary. That’s why we exist. But if we can do that at the same time as providing additional services for the community. Why the heck wouldn’t we do it, right? And we’re already doing wonderful environmental things for the community simply by existing. So I’m going to continue to pile on to that as much as I can.

And if I take TVs, if you’re going to go through the effort of lugging this, you know, 100 pounds, you know, 65 inch, you know, old TV out of your basement. 

[00:32:32] Kyle: That’s so heavy. Yes. 

[00:32:33] BJ: To put in your car and bring it to the store, chances are you’re going to take a moment to go through your house and you’re going to get a couple other bags and boxes.

[00:32:41] Kyle: And what else? Yeah. What else can I bring? 

[00:32:44] BJ: Chances are also good that once you do come to our store, and you weren’t originally going to come to our store, but once you do come to our store and I unload your car, you’re gonna park your car, you’re gonna come in, you go buy something. And that’s exactly, so we tracked that for a couple months, and that’s exactly what we saw and we increased our sales significantly. Year over year, we saw about a 16, 17% increase year over year in sales. And we’re aggressive in terms of our growth. Looking forward, I do have the new store, but fiscal year 2024. We’re looking at 29% year over year. You just don’t see that. You don’t see that in regular retail but we’re doing it. And it’s by looking at things like this, being innovative, finding partners, networking.

I’m going to beat you to another question you had on your list and that was, how do you find vendors? How do you find, you know, vendors and stuff like that? I don’t call them vendors. I don’t look at you Kyle or ThriftCart as a vendor either. I look at them as partnerships, you know. I’m not going to do a podcast for a vendor. I’m going to do a podcast for a partner because, you know, we’re going to partner together. We’re going to work together and we’re going to grow, you know, what we’re doing here in Bucks County. But we’re also going to grow what’s going on in New Jersey and Delaware and Philadelphia and maybe even across the country. You know, I go to the large ReStore symposium, I talk about these concepts. I talk about these things because that’s the other thing, you know, Even though we’re the Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County ReStore, and we’re focused on affordable housing in Bucks County, I live in Montgomery County, which is a county over. You know, when I cross county lines, it’s not like, I don’t care about affordable housing anymore, you know. That’s what I do at work. No. We’re passionate about this. We care about affordable housing. So we’re gonna, you know, I like to think that. You know, in finding partners, in building the program and developing new best practices and helping other affiliates, our reach hopefully is so large and so difficult to quantify that we may never know. And that’s okay, you know, because we’re on a mission and, you know, we’re, we got our foot on the gas and we’re going to keep it going. 

[00:34:51] Kyle: Those are some words of wisdom there. So I hope everybody listening, you guys like rewind this and replay those last 10 minutes, because that was absolute ReStore and thrift gold right there. Just say yes, guys, say yes. That’s such, it’s such a simple concept, but I think at times you get blinders on in your business model and, you know, you’re so focused on, you know, metrics or things like that, you don’t take a step back to realize by, you know, taking TVs, I mean, you shut down a freeway. That’s insane. Did you guys ever quantify that? Like, by taking TVs, what did that do to sales? Are you guys able to figure that out? 

[00:35:24] BJ: We can. We have all the data, right? And now but we’re actually tracking how much weight in TVs we’re recycling through the recycling plant that we’re working with that we’re partnering with, and it just, it has so much future potential.

I actually created, I work with another organization that had a grant and, you know, we went through a process of actually developing our own business plan. Specifically on e waste recycling, and it’s fascinating, and I can sit here and do a whole other podcast on this for you with Kyle, but there are, you know, I estimated, you know, based on obviously facts, data, information, business study by experts in the field that to start within a year, we could probably generate an additional 3 million in net proceeds. It’s after expenses, just in electronic waste recycling, and this is job creating. This is revenue generating. This is supporting habitat and it goes back to supporting our core business, which is getting more donations and supporting habitat for humanity. And so, obviously, that’s again, you know, we’re looking outside the box.

We’re looking real high level. Like, what is the next phase of evolution for the ReStore program, with some of these concepts, but there is untapped potential like significantly, and it’s all about saying yes, and it’s looking at those hard to reach areas and because we all have them. We all have those things we say no to and it’s, no matter where you go, no matter what store, no matter what nonprofit or store you look at that accepts donations, they all have the same. “No, I can’t take entertainment centers. No, I can’t take China hutches. No, if you’re a ReStore, you don’t take clothing.” 

You know, whatever’s on that list of no, take that list of no and just one step at a time, you know, working through it and find a way to say yes to those items and find a way to turn that around and go positive and it’s gonna pay off. 

As far as quantifying and tracking it, that’s easy to do because we have a ThriftCart. We have our sales reports. We can look back. We can see our traffic counts. We can see how many transactions are going through. I know exactly when I started the program. Because we shut down a freeway, what I’m doing is I’m actually using another service called Eventbrite, which is a free event scheduling, it’s free if you don’t charge your customer. So like you can use Eventbrite for like, concert tickets and different things. But We’re not selling anything, we’re just opening tickets up to folks. And I can use that for free. And I open up like, I think we have 10 tickets per day that we open up and people can sign up to drop off their television. We don’t police it. That’s the big secret. So like if there’s anybody in the community that hears this podcast, the secret’s out. You can come with your TV and you don’t need a ticket because it’s not like we’re checking somebody too, but we don’t want to shut down the freeway. We want to kind of put some controls in place to kind of make sure that we’re not, you know, inundating our team with that responsibility. But it works out really well. And I can see how many people have elected to accept one of those tickets and how many people came that day and all those great things. 

[00:38:23] Kyle: I mean, everybody listening. This is gold right here. I mean, to wrap this up BJ, I mean, thank you so much for your time. This has been an absolute pleasure. I learned a lot as well. I, that’s why I love doing this is because, you know, I’ve talked to, you know, a couple other affiliates, a couple other nonprofits, and every time I do this everybody does things a little bit different, right? But you know, the knowledge is transferable all over the place. So everybody listening guys, I think that we can wrap this up and say, just say yes. Say yes to those donations. Say yes to everything. And that’s going to expand your business model. So, that’s a wrap on this edition of thrifty business. BJ, my man. Thank you so much. We’ll be in touch and take care.