Online sales turn a profit for the ARCs.Don’t judge a book by its cover, just scan the ISBN.
At one time, large cardboard boxes full of discarded books sat on the floor of Salvation Army thrift stores, gathering dust and offering pages of narrative and information for a mere 25 to 50 cents.
Today, 10 Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) in the West scan donated books and post those worth a dollar or more on popular websites like amazon.com, alibris.com, half.com and abebooks. com. Three additional centers send sellable books to neighboring ARCs to post online.
Along with the sale of donated clothing and goods, the profit from the online book sales helps the Western Territory operate 22 ARCs that assist men and women recovering from addictions. Total online book sales from fiscal year 2009 (October 1 to September 30) amounted to nearly $3.8 million. In the first nine months of fiscal year 2010, gross sales equaled nearly $2.8 million.
Econgo Books began at the Sacramento, California, ARC in 2008 as a vision of then administrator Captain Eric Wilkerson, who is now the administrator in Portland, Oregon, which operates its own online book sales program. Econgo Books generated just over $385,000 of sales in its first year and now sells roughly 8,000 books per month via the Internet.
Supervisor James Parrish uploads 400 new books a day to be sold online. Four ARC beneficiaries help in the process: two of the men sort through roughly 5,000 incoming books a day using a handheld PDA to scan the ISBN and display its worth according to Mediascouter. Books worth a dollar or more move on to two more men who check for markings and process the books, posting comments on any wear- and-tear for potential readers. They generate an online listing for the book and a SKU (stock keeping unit) number. The book is then placed on a virtual bookshelf. Parrish applies a pricing strategy to all the books before uploading them to the websites.
“This has been an experience that I am really proud of,” said Parrish, who built the online book sales program in Sacramento. “I know the money goes to a good cause and I’m working with the hardest working gentlemen.
“The key is to keep up with quality control,” Parrish said. “One bad comment out of 100 will hurt you.”
On Amazon, the group is rated “high,” with over 35,000 items currently for sale.
If a book is not sold online after 90 days, it is flushed out, but Parrish said no book is ever thrown into a landfill. For those that are not sold or posted online, some are sent to the stores, others are sold in bulk for $20-50 per 1,000 pounds, and some are sold to paper mills.
Operating out of the Anaheim, California, ARC since 2006, Elistics completes fulfillment of 450-600 orders a day and monitors an 80,000-piece online inventory with nine female beneficiaries and one employed supervisor.
“I’m here because I’m a recovering addict,” said Carmen Gonzalez, online book sales supervisor in Anaheim. “I graduated in 2003, but took on this job two years ago because I feel like I have to give back. I stay here because I have to help these women. We don’t just work here; we also talk because I’ve been where they are. I want to help.”
In addition to books, about 15 percent of the 80,000-piece inventory is comprised of media including records, compact discs and DVDs.
In fiscal year 2009, Elistics sold over $900,000 of items—putting it in the number one slot out of the ARCs that sell books and media online.
The thousands of books discarded each day are not only finding new readers, but are helping The Salvation Army change lives.