Goodwill stores are refashioning thrift-shop image

August 24, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

A Goodwill thrift store wasn't exactly Nicole Belcastro's ideal place for a shopping spree, so she was reluctant to join her mother on a recent trip.

But the 23-year-old, stay-at-home mom from Perry Hall had a different attitude after she nabbed a pair of black leather boots by Nine West for $4. At a nearby mall, she might have paid $100 for the same boots new.

"They have a lot of good deals," Belcastro said at a Goodwill store in Perry Hall in Baltimore County. "I was surprised, especially for a Goodwill. I didn't think they'd have anything except junk."

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake thinks it can change a lot more shoppers' minds. The nonprofit social services organization recently launched an advertising campaign to fashion itself as a discount clothier of choice at a time when discount clothiers in general, from Wal-Mart to Filene's Basement, are faring well.

Goodwill's new glossy advertisements, which began running in local publications this month, look like they might belong in Gentleman's Quarterly or Glamour. The promotions will also be displayed in Goodwill's 18 thrift stores, from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore.

"There's some people that still think we're strictly for poor people and won't venture into the stores," said Doug Hiob, senior vice president of retail operations for Goodwill of the Chesapeake. "This will help get their curiosity up and, hopefully, get them to come into the store."

In one spot, a photo of a Guess purse is accompanied with the phrase, "Snatched on Thursday at 4:12 p.m." Another, with a little more attitude than one might expect, features a funky lamp and the phrase, "It was here yesterday. Too bad you weren't." A third shows a bright green background, no item, and the words, "You didn't expect that suede jacket to sit around and wait for you, did you?"

The idea behind the campaign is to let people know that Goodwill has designer clothes at bargain prices, even though shoppers might have to do a little extra digging to find them, said John Patterson, senior vice president and co-creative director at MGH Advertising, the Owings Mills firm that created the campaign.

"There are a lot of women out there, 30-plus, who are very style-conscious but still budget-conscious," Patterson said. "They like to set aside a few hours a week and do the discount circuit to places like TJ Maxx and Marshall's. We want them to consider Goodwill in that mix."

A Methodist minister in Boston's South End, the Rev. Edgar J. Helms, started the job skills training program in 1902. The international organization encompasses more than 200 affiliates in a $1.8-billion operation. Proceeds from the retail stores pay for job training and employment programs. In Maryland, more than half of Goodwill of the Chesapeake's annual $23 million budget is generated through sales at its stores.

Of course, Goodwill isn't exactly Marshall's. To find that $15 Gucci suit at a Goodwill, you'll have to wade through hundreds of suits that have lived in other people's closets for some unknown period. You have to come back frequently because the good finds go quickly. And that "distressed denim" look actually is distressed denim: There's no denying that the jeans with their faded knees and tattered edges have been worn by someone else. At the Perry Hall store, sizes were mixed together in a disorderly hodgepodge.

"Buying through a Goodwill outlet is an adventure, which a lot of people like and a lot of people disdain," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group in Upper Montclair, N.J.

If you look hard enough, though, you can find what Patterson calls "hidden treasures."

"You're not going to have everything completely stocked and organized and at the high end," Patterson said of Goodwill. "But you will find hidden treasures every time you go."

At the Perry Hall store, Will Moore, 28, a plumber from White Marsh, showed off the Timberland boots he was wearing - a bargain he found for $2.50. The boots might cost $145 new.

Like many retailers, when Goodwill was first considering a new ad campaign, it wanted to target the teen market, with its disposable income and incessant hunger for clothes. But while teenagers often wear clothes that look as though they're hand-me-downs, they want to buy them new in trendy stores like Abercrombie & Fitch - and money, or their parents' money, isn't an object.

"They weren't really looking for bargains or willing to dig through stuff to find a name brand," said Marge Thomas, president of Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake. "They didn't want to be seen in a Goodwill store."

Goodwill decided instead to focus on women ages 30 to 45 with children and families.

The campaign is running in local community newspapers and other publications such as Baltimore, Parenting and Child magazines. Two radio spots will run on the soft adult station WLIF and talk news station WNAV, among others.

Veronica Brown, a 37-year-old lab technician, was in the Goodwill on Bel Air Road in Perry Hall just a few minutes before she spotted a size small, Tommy Girl T-shirt with the tags still on. She paid 99 cents for the shirt she bought for her daughter.

Brown said she shopped at Goodwill as a child but stopped when she was a teenager because it wasn't cool. She rediscovered the thrift store as an adult and shops there at least four times a week, because "you have to come a lot to get the deals." She knows some people turn their nose up at Goodwill, but that doesn't stop her: She reasons that she can afford to buy four shirts there for every one she gets at the mall.

"People will never know where I got it from unless I tell them," she said. "But I have no shame. I'll say I got it from Goodwill."

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