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.