Every Monday and Thursday a truck brings goods from Target to the new Goodwill facility in Hampton.
Serious thrift store shoppers know that when the items with pink tags hit the retail floor, they won't last long.
"This will sell today," says Darick Bell, as he prices a bouquet of silk flowers. Each flower stem costs $10.95, according to Target's UPC code. Bell marks them down by 50 percent.
That's the process that most goods go through in Goodwill's warehouse. On a recent weekday morning, I spent a few hours working alongside employees in the thrift store's backroom.
Thrift store shopping has gained ground on the Peninsula in the last five years, with the Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula opening three new stores and various privately owned shops, like Village Thrift in Newport News and Hampton or Budget Thrift in Newport News, popping up new locations.
Goodwill has added a number of new stores on the Peninsula. Its focus is shifting from the now-established Central Virginia area, which includes the Richmond and Mechanicsville territory, to the Hampton Roads region, says Martha Murdock, director of retail operations.
The new Hampton location, housed in a former Target building on Saville Row, includes a retail location, an outlet store and a large warehouse operation that manages salvage and trash items.
I chose this store for our work-day study because we could follow the entire life of a donation at the facility. Operations at other thrift stores follow a similar process, although pricing models vary.
How it works
When a donation is dropped off, employees sort it into category bins. Some broken or damaged items immediately go into salvage bins.
I started the morning sorting clothes with a young woman named Jazz, who asked that her last name not be used. Jazz, who is working on her master's degree at Norfolk State University, explained that any clothing items with a stain, tear or other defect are tossed into the "bail bin." Of the large blue container we worked from, roughly 40 percent of clothes were bailed. Jazz had a particular aversion to underwear and socks and automatically marked most of them as bail items.
Clothes in the bail bins are run through a machine that packs them into a compact square which is then sold to vendors who often take them overseas.
The goal, she says, is to put items on the retail floor that customers will buy. If it is in a condition that she wouldn't wear, she bails it.
If a clothing donation remains unsold, it also goes into the bail pile.
After sorting, I moved onto pricing the clothes. Gail Jones trained me in this area, explaining everything from colored tags to sanitizing comforters.
The group in the textiles department works from a standardized pricing list. A T-shirt, for example, could cost anywhere from $3.99 to $5.99, depending on the condition, its brand and whether it carries a popular logo or affiliation. A Redskins T-shirt will be priced higher, for example.
Every week, every tag is marked with the color of the week. Items on the floor rotate about every three weeks to keep the inventory looking fresh. When a new tag color is chosen for the week, those items are marked down by an additional 50 percent.
Employees like Jones use discretion on pricing most items. If they aren't sure what to do, they get input from their co-workers, Jones says.
In addition to donations from the public, Goodwill has a partnership with Target to get new items that did not sell in the retail store.
"Goodwill can purchase from Target overstock or open packaged items that do not sell in Target stores," says Danielle Cronin, a spokeswoman for Goodwill. "So we purchase at a percentage of the lowest marked price the items that are deemed 'salvage' by Target. From there, Goodwill prices and sells this product accordingly to generate revenues."
Because Goodwill pays for Target merchandise, it is never discounted from the price Goodwill marks on it the first time. Unsold items from Target overstock are documented, and Goodwill uses the value as credit to purchase more Target overstock.
Since clothing items follow a particular pricing model, there are times pieces will be priced slightly higher at Goodwill than their lowest marked Clearance price at Target. Target stickers are, however, removed.
For home goods, the pricing process is a bit different.
Bell says he prices items at about 50 percent of their listed UPC price. If he isn't sure what an item normally costs, he scans the product's barcode and looks it up on his smartphone. In other cases, he collaborates with co-workers.
On this particular morning, Bell was working on a pallet from the Target store at Peninsula Town Center in Hampton. The Goodwill store in Hampton receives one or two pallets twice a week. The rest of the store's merchandise is donated.
"You want to get it right the first time so it will sell," he says. "Customers will tell you if you get it wrong. They're in here with their smartphones, too. They know what things cost."
A toy truck, in from Target, was priced at $16, for example. The box was open, but all of the pieces were included.
Bell said $8 was still too high for the toy, and he marked it at $6.50.
A small filing cabinet from Target, originally priced at $65, came in with a dent on the side. Bell hammered out the dent, put the cabinet together and priced it at $30, just a bit lower than 50 percent off, because the small dent was still visible.
By the pound
Once priced, goods are placed onto a wire rack. Each rolling unit must contain $143 of priced products.
The items that don't sell in the Goodwill retail store come back to the warehouse and are placed into blue bins that will be carted onto the outlet center where everything is sold by the pound.
Bins stay on the floor for about a day, maybe a day-and-a-half, and then they are brought back into the warehouse. The clothes are packaged for the salvage vendors and the home goods — everything but clothing — are dumped for trash.
"The goal is to take and use it somehow, not to go in the trash," Murdock says. "We have lots of partnerships, like the Free Foundation for medical adaptive equipment, and Shared Knowledge for textbooks, to keep items out of the trash."
Paitsel can be reached at 247-4737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to shop
Here are the thrift stores open on the Peninsula:
Goodwill, 1911 Saville Row, Hampton
Goodwill, 12638 Jefferson Ave., Newport News
Goodwill, 5234 George Washington Highway, Yorktown
Goodwill, 6540 Hampton Roads Parkway, Suite 101, Suffolk
Goodwill, 1260 Richmond Road, Williamsburg
Goodwill Media Store (Contains books, movies and other entertainment media). 3201 Bridge Road, Suffolk
Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.), 4209 W. Mercury Blvd., Hampton
D.A.V., 15265 Warwick Blvd., Newport News
D.A.V., 1937 South Church St., Smithfield
D.A.V., 440 Merrimac Trail, Williamsburg
D.A.V., 6899 Main St., Gloucester
Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) Thrift Store, 4111 West Mercury Blvd., Hampton
CHKD, 11049 Warwick Blvd., Newport News
CHKD, 14346 Warwick Blvd., Newport News
CHKD, 1288 Smithfield Plaza, Route 10, Smithfield
Family Thrift, 3314 W. Mercury Blvd., Hampton
Peninsula Rescue Mission, 6200 Jefferson Ave., Newport News
Little Blessings Thrift Store, 28 Harpersville Road, Newport News
Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store, 12621 Warwick Blvd., Newport News
Boys and Girls Club, 4827 George Washington Memorial Highway, Yorktown
Village Thrift, 12436 Warwick Blvd., Newport News
Parish Thrift Shop, 487 Wythe Creek Road, Poquoson
Bargain Box, 222 Dare Road, Yorktown
Want to know more about how thrift stores turn your donation into profit for your favorite charity? In coming weeks, look for a Daily Press investigation about area thrift stores, how they operate and how they support the charities they purport to serve. You also can keep up with the series at dailypress.com/shopping.