“It just goes to show that if you get the right donations and find the right place to sell them then you can raise good money.”
After joining our hospice just over three months ago, Katy Wort, our E-commerce Assistant and Assistant Shop Manager, shares her responsibilities within these roles and what a typical week might look like for her.
“I technically have two job titles at the moment – both roles are very varied with no two days the same and though they do interlink, they’re both very different.
I work once a week in one of our shops as an Assistant Shop Manager (unless I’m covering the Shop Manager).
A typical day in the shops would start with me arriving and turning on all the lights, ensuring that the tills are up and running, briefly checking my emails and just making sure that everything is in order. Then, I open up.
All of our customers are very different.
Some days I work alongside volunteers, and other days I work alone. I don’t actually mind being alone as there are always customers that are happy to have a chat.
That’s the beauty of working in a hospice; there are always so many people that are open to having a conversation, particularly our regulars that will often come in a few times a week to look for new bargains.
However, you also get the odd customer that just isn’t overly happy… usually this is if we’ve had to turn away a donation or if we won’t reduce our prices. It’s frustrating as there’s a reason why an item is priced at a certain amount. Plus, our prices are already so low, there’s really no need to haggle!
Throughout the day, I’ll be serving on the till, answering customer enquiries and sorting through donations.
I enjoy sorting clothes donations as that is what I’m most comfortable with – I think I’ve got a good eye for working out what is in good condition and find it easy to value and price up the items. I struggle more with the bric-a-brac as it’s a lot more subjective: something that I find cute or vintage and stylish may be considered only good for throwing away by someone else. For example, we have two new volunteers that have recently finished GCSE and A-Level exams and they’ll both look at something completely differently than some of our older volunteers.
I think it’s actually really nice as it means you get such a diverse range of things available in the shop – there are a lot of interesting items available and something to cater to everyone.
A lot of it is learning for me at the moment – I think I’ve covered the shop maybe four times so far so it’s all very new to me, but I’m really enjoying it.
I like keeping the shop nice and tidy and making it look nice, and I enjoy interacting with our customers and our volunteers. I think for the volunteers, as much as they like the actual volunteering, a lot of the motivation behind it is the social side. It’s nice for them to come in and talk to someone else.
We even get volunteers who come in in pairs and they enjoy being able to work with their friend and have a natter whilst they’re helping out.
I feel like I can build up a great relationship with both our volunteers and with our customers in charity retail, so I’m more likely to get people come back to the shop. It’s just a nice environment to be in really – a little bit stressful sometimes – but on the whole it’s pretty good.
The thing that surprises me the most is the number of items we receive that cannot be used.
People donate to charity shops because they think it’s a morally good thing to do and often they will donate bags of items that they’d typically take to the tip, but feel better bringing them to the shop. In reality, we will often have to dispose of them or send them to rag as we can’t sell things that are tatty or chipped or bobbling.
I visited the Rowfant House Warehouse when I first started and saw how much rag there was. A lot of the items there had a genuine reason as to why we couldn’t put them out, but there were a few items that we could definitely try to sell online.
That’s where my role selling the bundles and job lots of clothes comes in; to reduce the amount of rag, I’ve started making bundles of same size clothes that can be sold on eBay as a mystery bag.
We always date our tags for two weeks’ time, so if it’s not sold by that date then we would ordinarily send it to rag.
Because we have regular customers who come in all the time, we have to keep our stock fresh and new to make sales. Occasionally you may reduce the price slightly or leave it out for one more week if you think it might sell, but normally it would come off the shop floor after those two weeks and it would go to waste.
What the Shop Managers now do with those items of clothing is put them in a bag and send them to me in the Denvale store, where we sort them into same sizes and sell them as job lots online.
For rag, we make approximately 30p per kg, whereas selling them online we can make about £2 per kg – it doesn’t sound a lot, but on a larger scale it could make a lot of money for our hospice, and it’s better for the environment!
It’s a work in progress at the moment but if it is successful, this is something I’ll probably look to hand over to our volunteers.
The E-commerce role is mainly based at Denvale.
There’s only about four main staff (in addition to the volunteers and van drivers who occasionally pop up) who work out of the Denvale office, so it really depends on who is in as to what the atmosphere is like. It’s not hustle and bustle all the time in the same way as the shops and everyone is doing different things, so it’s quite nice that I’m sometimes there on my own and at other times all five of us are in.
We also have administration volunteers, which I think is quite surprising for a charity shop – I think you often associate volunteers with working on the shop floor and it’s actually really surprising to see the work that they do behind the scenes. They organise the furniture collections, they package up eBay orders, help with the Christmas Cards; it’s quite a different side of volunteering to see.
What I do at my desk also varies from day to day.
When I’m in, I usually respond to emails, I work on listings etc. I’m trying not to concentrate so much on Etsy and Depop at the moment as I’m trying to prioritise the re-launch of the Bridal Shop (researching other bridal stores or coming up with ideas), and making the clothing bundles, but if I’ve got a spare half an hour or I need a break, I’ll go and take photos of items to list on our online shops. It’s nice in the respect that I can chop and change.
Etsy is not something I’ve done a lot with before but it’s going well. We sell more vintage things on there as you’re not allowed to sell more modern items unless they’re handmade; they’re quite strict on that.
We had some dresses donated – approximately six of them – by a brand called Droopy and Brown and I’d never heard of them but I did some research and we’ve sold four of them now, each for about £100.
If we’d sold them in one of the stores, we might’ve made about £20. It just goes to show that if you get the right donations and find the right place to sell them then you can raise good money. It proves that everything we are doing with e-commerce is heading in the right direction.