Yvonne joined our Trading Team last year as a Shop Manager in our East Grinstead store. Here, she shares her journey from Debenhams into charity retail and her experience as part of St Catherine’s Hospice.
“I worked in Debenhams for twenty four years in their Croydon branch as a floor supervisor, but was unfortunately made redundant last May as a result of store closures. From there, I began working temporarily as a paid Sunday shop assistant for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), but a second lockdown meant I could only stay on with them as a volunteer.
Whilst I was working and volunteering at the BHF, I used to get involved in everything.
It’s very similar here – I’m constantly on the go. I’m always in early making sure that the shop is full up, that I’ve cleared through some of the donations and have priced all the items. On days where the vans come round I sort everything into bags so that they’re ready to go. Throughout the day, I’ll then be working on the shop floor, sorting donations, answering the phone, actioning returns etc.
I love everything about the job; it’s nice to be able to do a combination of different things as I like to keep myself busy. I also love spending time with the customers and my volunteers.
There’s definitely a difference in the customers between commercial stores and charity shops.
The customers are much nicer. They’re more friendly and enjoy a chat; they don’t just come in because they’ve had a bad day or because they’re looking to complain. It’s really nice to actually interact with them and I’ve already identified a few regulars.
I’ve made a few changes to the store since I started.
I’ve managed to get two nice, new mannequins from a shop up the road which make a wonderful impact in the window and I’ve tried to give the place more of a boutique feel; less like a charity shop and more like a general retail store. I think it’s really helped to improve the look of the shop. I’ve also made the menswear department bigger and I’ve opened up the area a bit more by adding shelves, which has helped to make it more accessible for people in wheelchairs or those with pushchairs than it was before.
Both the volunteers and some of our customers have noticed the difference, which is always great to hear.
I just got really into it. I was really focussed on the fact that the shop is a vital way of making money for our hospice and that one way of supporting that was by making it more appealing for customers when they walk in. I really enjoy merchandising; it was something I used to do at Debenhams and just feel I have a flair for it.
Our busiest day for donations is often Monday.
You have to be quite brutal sometimes with donated items. I tend to look for clothing items that aren’t too bobbled – we do have equipment to remove bobbles which I use on higher quality items as I know that people will still buy it if I can restore it. I also try to find items that are a good make as we can charge a little bit more for them, helping us to raise more money.
We also get a lot of vintage donations in the store which I save to send over to Katy, our E-commerce Assistant, and I always send items that I know we can’t sell here to one of the other stores.
Each of the stores have a different capacity and a different audience, so it’s really nice to know that we have the ability to not just dispose of an item but actually put it in one of the stores where it’s more likely to be sold.
I always used to shop in charity shops – I think you can find such good bargains.
Even when I worked at Debenhams, I used to buy most of my clothes, bags and shoes from charity shops. They’re always presentable and clean and I knew I could get so much more for my money.
I like branded items and can often find preloved designer items at a much lower price – for example, I once found a Chloe handbag amongst the donations which we sent off to verify that it was definitely real, and then I bought it myself!
I think the hospice is amazing.
We need to spread the word more and tell people about what we’re doing – a lot of those who donate to us have a connection to the hospice, but I also want to engage those who come to us purely to buy.
I’m looking forward to getting more customers in and continuing to make changes to the shop to make it better for our volunteers and customers.
Our charity shops are a vital way to raise funds for St Catherine’s Hospice: Find your nearest charity shop