A year in, thrift store seeks more local support
NATCHEZ — The good will of Miss-Lou residents has helped a thrift shop chain stay afloat in its first year of operation in Natchez, but company officials hope to see more local donations and purchases in year two.
Goodwill Industries of South Mississippi opened its store in Natchez last year, which at the time was its 13th in the region, in an 8,400-square-foot facility at the Morgantown Plaza on U.S. 61 North.
Opening a store in a community that was unfamiliar with the Goodwill name proved to be a slight deterrent for business in the first few months of operation, Goodwill Industries of South Mississippi Chief Executive Officer of Ron Russell said.
“We kind of expected that because it’s always harder to go into a new community where you have never been before,” Russell said. “Sometimes we open stores where there’s already one in a nearby community where people are familiar with the brand name and what we’re trying to do.
“What we’re finding out in Natchez is that it’s going to take us a little longer than we expected to do that.”
Getting the word out to the community about what items the store has and specific deals that week has become a top priority for Natchez store manager Suzen Schantz.
“We have a lot of regular customers coming in who are great, but we also still get new people in each day who have just heard about us,” Schantz said. “They’ll just walk in and say, ‘How long have you been here, because I had no idea.’
“That’s something I’m just not used to.”
Schantz compared previously worked at Goodwill stores in Gulfport, where residents flocked to the store every day.
“We would literally have people standing outside waiting for us to open up,” Schantz said. “I think the population has something to do with that, but I think if we can just get customers in the store and let them see what we have, we can change that here.”
Some of the items the staff works to keep organized and stocked each day aren’t coming from local residents, another significant difference from the company’s other stores in Mississippi.
The goal of each store, Russell said, is that the donations from the community to sustain and allow the store to continue operating on its own. Donations are low in Natchez.
Each week, a truck filled with donated goods brings the items to Natchez, where the seven store employees help unload and sort the items.
“Our goal is to make sure the Natchez store is properly stocked until we can get enough donations from local citizens to run the store,” Russell said. “It’s been getting better each month, but we’re still not there.”
In December, the company opened up a second location on U.S. 61 South near the Go Mart solely for drop-offs in hopes of increase the amount of donations.
Two employees man the drop-off location from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Schantz said the second location has helped increase donations.
“Everyone seems to like that we offer two locations on both sides of town — the main store and the drop-off,” Schantz said. “We’re just trying to make it as convenient as possible.”
Once donations are up, Russell said he hopes to see the store’s revenue increase past the $35,000 it collects each month.
“We really just want to reach that break even point, and we’re close to getting there,” he said. “It’s going to take a while of working and promoting the store, but we think Natchez is a great community.”
Russell said the company has a five-year lease on the building and soon plans to expand the operation to a third location in town, but not for used goods.
The location will be used to launch the company’s GED training program, which Schantz hopes will serve as a location residents can come to prepare and take their high school equivalency test.
“That’s part of our community outreach program and something we’re very excited about starting,” Schantz said. “We have a similar training program on the coast, and we’ve been very successful with that there.”
The job-training program was originally what piqued Russell’s interest in bringing the store to Natchez when he heard about industrial commitments that had been made to the area through Natchez Inc., the community’s economic development agency.
“Natchez used to be a real booming town back in the 70s, and we felt like those couple of big businesses who said they were coming were going to help turn it around,” Russell said. “We want to be a part of that and be a good partner in anyway we can with the city and residents.”
Goodwill’s main store hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Goodwill movement has its origins in 1902, when its founder — Edgar Helms — hired poor immigrants to learn to work by sorting clothing he had collected form the wealthier parts of Boston, and the clothes were sold to pay the workers. Goodwill Industries International is a nonprofit organization that is funded by its retail thrift stores.