Economy impacts ARCs

The ARC thrift stores respond to changing economic pressures.

by Dawn Marks –

Shoppers crowd into a Salvation Army thrift store during a grand opening event. [Photo by Dawn Marks]

The 24 Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) in the Western Territory are feeling the pressures of a downturned economy. Even as more customers are shopping in the family stores for affordable items, the ARCs are challenged with ever-rising business costs and an overall decline in donations. Clothing, furniture and household items are the mainstay of the donated items that are received by the ARCs and their resale in the family stores provide the primary source of funding for the centers—the Army’s effective ministry to men and women who have lost everything to drugs and alcohol.

Commenting on one positive aspect of the economic downturn for the ARCs, Major Jack Phillips (area coordinator for the San Francisco, Lytton Springs, Sacramento, and Stockton ARCs) reports: “When the economy takes a dip and folks are unable to spend at the high end stores, they shop more often at our stores and find the same items and quality for much lower prices.”

On the other hand, Phillips stressed that the ARCs are also challenged with unprecedented increases in operational expenses, particularly the cost of diesel fuel to run the ARCs’ donation trucks. “Our fuel costs have doubled in the last year. This has created a situation in which our centers, unfortunately, have had to reduce residential pick up service in some areas,” he said.

In response to the fuel costs, donors who call the ARCs centralized call center to schedule a truck pick up of small item donations are being encouraged to take them to their local Salvation Army collection sites when possible. The ARCs are trying to increase the number of donation drop off sites in their service areas.

Economic factors also affect the types, quality and quantity of donations. The consumer housing drop, delayed home renovation projects, a decrease in new item purchases and even slow tourism (in some areas) have significant impacts on the ARCs.

The centers are reporting a decline in the quantity and quality of furniture and large appliance donations. Their response to this situation is to do the most good with the donations that are available. To that end, ARCs are increasing the clothing collections in their stores to sustain sales income.

Rafael Escalera (business administrator for the Honolulu ARC) reports: “We put out only top quality clothing items for sale in our stores at the lowest prices in Hawaii, and customers are responding.” Clothing sales are up 46 percent at the four Honolulu family store locations compared with same store sales last year. Sales of small appliances and household items are also up (along with clothing) throughout the territory, an indication that more people are relying on The Salvation Army family stores to purchase their basic necessities this year.

As part of an overall effort in the Western Territory to upgrade the family stores, three new “superstores” recently opened in Calif.: in Van Nuys, Gilroy, and downtown San Francisco. These bright, spacious stores have a greater selection of merchandise and plentiful parking. The Gilroy location also offers a drive-through donation service with a staffed attendant to unload donations and give receipts, without donors having to leave their car. It’s all about improving the ARC donor and customer experience.

In the midst of this tough economic climate, Salvation Army Family Store Manager Wayne Collins (San Raphael, Calif.), like many other family store managers throughout the territory, has taken a customer service approach to promote donations and maintain the sales income that is needed to run the ARC. To that end, he instructed his on-site donation attendant to invite donors to come in to shop, offering them a 10 percent discount on their first purchase. Collins said not every donor responds to the offer, but he still thinks it’s worth a try: “As I always like to say, they come in for ‘hello’ and they leave with a ‘good-buy’!”

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