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The future of Family Stores

Posted May 3, 2018

Last month, the latest Salvation Army Family Store opened in Gisborne. The ribbon was cut by Territorial Commander Commissioner Andy Westrupp as the town clock chimed. Customers lined the streets beforehand, and spilled through the doors as they opened. The crowds did not ease up throughout the day, and the store stayed open late to meet demand.

The Gisborne Family Store was re-opened after earthquake strengthening, while a new Family Store dedicated to furniture and appliances opened across the road. Our Community loves the Family Store, say Gisborne Corps officers Captains Christine and David McEwen. ‘It’s a place where a lot of people congregate. It’s a refuge for many people, and for some people that’s their church,’ says Christine.

The local Family Store is often the bridge between the community and Salvation Army services. A client with Salvation Army Education and Employment, came to Gisborne’s Community Ministries as she didn’t have warm clothing for her outdoor work. A social work assessment found she hadn’t eaten that day, so was provided with a food parcel, as well as free clothing. ‘We were able to do so much more for her through our wrap-around services than she came to us for,’ says Christine. ‘We see that time and time again.’

The front door

Gisborne is an example of the special place Family Stores have within the community. In the retail sector, Family Stores are an astonishingly big player—with 134 stores, it has the biggest, non-food, retail footprint in New Zealand by number of stores. A survey found that 99 per cent of people are aware of The Salvation Army when prompted, 90 per cent are aware of Family Stores and 74 per cent have shopped at or donated to one.

Family Stores evolved out of the jumble sales early Salvation Army officers held to raise money—from that, they came up with an innovative way to raise funds, which also helped the community by providing employment. This proved so successful that nowadays the general public often equates The Salvation Army with our stores.

‘Our stores are the front door to The Salvation Army in many communities—more people recognise the Army because of our stores than any other individual thing we do. But actually, The Salvation Army is not about stores,’ says National Family Store Manager Gareth Marshall. ‘The stores are a function that fund the mission. Because of our success in the community, the local corps and our stores need to work together to connect people to The Salvation Army.’

The new Family Store Strategic Plan aims to build on the huge presence of Family Stores around the country, in order to serve the wider mission of The Salvation Army in the 21st Century.

A primary focus of the Strategic Plan is how Family Stores and other Salvation Army services can work together. Family Stores gave away over $450,000 stock to Community Ministries clients last year—and this targeted, wrap-around service is how Family Stores can best serve the community, rather than on an ad-hoc basis—just like the Gisborne Community Ministries client.

The Family Store is also a great untapped mission field: Family Stores are the only connection to church or Christianity for many of the over 600 staff and 1500 volunteers. ‘These people know the customers by name, know their children—there is a huge mission in chaplaincy to Family Stores. Instead of expecting our customers to come to the corps, the corps should be going to them,’ says Gareth.

Funding the mission

Local Salvation Army centres heavily rely on the money raised through Family Stores —with 90 per cent of those funds staying within the local community. This means that half of the 120,000 people helped by The Salvation Army last year, did so with money raised from Family Stores. ‘First and foremost we are there to fund the mission,’ says Gareth. ‘The Salvation Army can’t do what we do without the hard work and contribution of Family Store staff and volunteers. And our mission is funding the mission.’

The important work of local corps like Gisborne would not exist without Family Store funding. This is true of every community where The Salvation Army has a presence in New Zealand.

Kapiti has the busiest Family Store in New Zealand. Even though Kapiti is a small corps, because of the Family Store’s success, they have been able to employ a youth worker and a community worker. ‘So that small corps is able to do so much more in the community, because of the resourcing it gets from the Family Store,’ says Gareth.

This is why it is essential that Family Stores evolve to stay relevant in the modern marketplace. Gareth says that Kapiti’s success is not because they get better stock, but because they are very efficient in getting the right stock on the shelves. ‘We are more like a restaurant than a retailer,’ says Gareth. ‘Our success depends on strong processes in the back. Best practice for our stores is being grateful for every donation, efficiently extracting the nuggets of gold, and getting those nuggets of gold out into the stores as quickly as possible because we know that there are customers there waiting to buy it.’

Family Stores are no longer about buying cheap goods. ‘There is no longer a need for low cost goods, because we can’t compete with mass markets like The Warehouse or Kmart, which sell t-shirts for $5. What we provide are nuggets of gold for people who want to find those treasures.’

Up to 80 per cent of people who shop in Family Stores also donate to Family Stores. The market is no longer people in need of ‘charity’, but the ‘middle-class who are still doing it tough, and looking for good quality goods at a reasonable price,’ says Gareth.

It is the market that sets the price in Family Stores, simply because ‘if products are over-priced, the goods don’t sell and we will lower the price’. However, the majority of goods that go into a Family Store sell within the week—‘which shows us that for the most part we get it right.’

Family Stores also provide an antidote to the throw-away consumerism of other large chain stores. ‘When you shop at a Family Store it’s good for you, good for the community, and good for the environment,’ says Gareth. Over 16,000 tonnes of goods are saved from landfills each year by Family Stores.

Other innovations the Strategic Plan hope to achieve is innovating with being able to donate online and making the donor experience more convenient.

‘I’m driven by the fact that in 10 years’ time we are still successfully funding the mission of The Salvation Army so that we can keep helping people. I’m not held to what that model looks like, just that we keep evolving to meet the market,’ says Gareth. ‘It’s such a good win-win model: our mission is to care for people, and we do that best by providing the resource so that The Salvation Army can accomplish that mission.’