Goodwill attempts to remake image

November 27, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

Naw, it can't be true. It'll never happen.

But can it be? Has it happened?

Is Goodwill hip?

If it isn't soon, at least a little bit, it won't be for lack of trying.

The Baltimore affiliate of the international chain of nonprofit thrift stores is trying to spruce up its image with a new print and radio advertising campaign that Goodwill hopes will lure a new generation of customers to its stores.

"We're looking to add to [Goodwill's] existing base with a younger target audience, one much more likely to have children and that has the ability to shop elsewhere," said Alistair J. M. Russell, vice president for client services at Cornerstone, the Baltimore ad agency that devised ads for the local chapter.

The campaign is built around the slogan, "She Looks Like She Just Walked Out of the Goodwill." While those may be fighting words to some, the pitch is built on the faith that a few ad dollars can show people who normally don't shop at Goodwill that they can find fashionable clothes at bargain prices.

Ads feature wardrobes

Each of the three print ads Goodwill is rotating in community papers, mostly weeklies, highlights a sharp-looking woman or a pair of young girls decked out in $7 and $24 worth of clothes that a costume designer found at Goodwill.

"Goodwill doesn't have the time or money to do a soft-sell image campaign for three years," Mr. Russell said, explaining the unsubtle ad pitch which begins: "Sure, we know what you think about Goodwill."

"The traditional perception of Goodwill stores is, at best, low-priced, because that is what they push," Mr. Russell said. "But if you don't push quality of merchandise and selection, low price almost becomes a negative."

Baltimore Goodwill Industries Inc. spokesman Dan Driscoll said that Goodwill, while still inexpensive, is selling more clothes of higher quality and in better condition.

The charity has focused on upgrading its stock by attracting better donations. It is locating its collection trailers in more affluent neighborhoods, forging alliances with suburban recycling programs and coordinating donation drives with major companies. It also has upgraded systems to screen out worn-out clothes and get inventory to stores faster.

"There is more merchandise all the time that we can put into our boutique section," Mr. Driscoll said, fingering a Jos. A. Bank tie that he bought at Goodwill for 50 cents. "We're moving away from the rag & bag."

Last step in upgrade

The ad campaign is one of the last steps of a Goodwill upgrade that began several years ago. In addition to getting better merchandise, Goodwill also has moved many of its stores to fewer low-end locations and renovated others.

"The direction is going to a more fresh, more sparky, more au courant, more hip kind of look, but not to the extreme that it becomes totally focused on that image kind of niche," Mr. Driscoll said. "We don't want to offend current customers."

The money from the stores goes to a good cause, Mr. Driscoll said. Goodwill is best known for its stores, but they are a means to the end of supporting employment, training and job support services to disabled or economically disadvantaged people. Mr. Driscoll said the 16 Baltimore-area stores support programs for 500 to 600 Marylanders annually, plus provide jobs directly for about 450 people, many of them disabled either physically, mentally or emotionally.

The Baltimore chapter is one of nearly 200 nationwide. The local chapters are independent, but they contribute money to Bethesda-based Goodwill Industries International to pay for research and other services that assist all chapters.

"Our whole purpose is jobs," Mr. Driscoll said. "It's to help people who are on the fringes get into the mainstream of work."

Mr. Russell said Goodwill hopes the ad campaign, which is running on WMIX-FM and WXYV-FM, in addition to the community newspapers, will lure shoppers who might otherwise shop at other value-price retailers and whose worries about the economy leave them open to Goodwill's message.

"They're all basically going after the same shopper," Mr. Russell said. "The challenge for us is to get Goodwill into their zone of consideration, because in large part they have not been."

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