Business is booming for Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota.
The nonprofit has opened eight thrift stores in the past two years, including four in the north-metro area. In March, it celebrated grand openings in Fridley, Chanhassen and Maple Grove.
It’s an ambitious expansion for the nonprofit that provides work training. Goodwill now operates 29 stores in the Twin Cities area.
“This goes back to a very deliberate, long-term expansion plan that went into effect seven years ago,” said Goodwill’s director of marketing Lisa Ritter. “We worked in partnership with our board of directors and really looked at the retail landscape.”
Goodwill’s 2012 retail revenue topped $57 million, compared with $38.4 million two years earlier. It isn’t just lean times driving thrift-store sales. The average Goodwill shopper is a woman 36 to 44 years of age with a median household income of $52,000, according to the nonprofit’s market research.
Ritter said Goodwill sees four categories of shoppers: treasure hunters, budget-conscious shoppers, environmentally sensitive shoppers and those who donate and then turn around and shop.
The charity’s mission also attracts customers.
“There are others who know the dollars that are raised in our stores help fund our programs to prepare people for work,” Ritter said.
Goodwill provides job training in a variety of fields, including automotive service, banking, construction, customer service, medical office and retail. Its retail operations employ about 1,300.
Increasing the number of locations is just one part of the operation’s growth strategy. It has developed a broad marketing campaign that includes television spots and glossy newspaper inserts.
It’s also selling some new merchandise at its stores. The nonprofit purchases overstock from national retailers. It’s often seasonal items, such as makeup kits for Halloween or decorative items for Christmas. About 10 percent of items on the shelves are now new products.
Fridley’s Goodwill store had its “soft opening” in November. Goodwill occupied a big-box storefront at 5660 Main St. NE. that used to be PetSmart. The location includes the store and a drive-through for donations.
“It worked out very well for them in terms of location and the size,” said Scott Hickok, Fridley’s community development director. “We don’t have a special process for a store like Goodwill. They are a retailer, and they went into a retail space that was properly zoned.”
Other new metro locations include Blaine, Forest Lake and a second store in Roseville.
Forest Lake’s Goodwill opened in February 2012.
“They built a very attractive building. It had a lot of green elements to it. It’s a sustainable design,” said Doug Borglund, Forest Lake community development director. “They did a nice job with their site.”
But one community is wrestling with questions about thrift stores. Burnsville, which has 17 secondhand stores, is studying whether they should be more closely regulated.
When Goodwill opened in Minnetonka in 2010, some residents voiced concerns about traffic and commotion. Minnetonka City Planner Loren Gordon said since Goodwill opened, there have been only a few complaints about traffic and donations left after hours.
“Every city is unique. We have to look at the community. Yes, there have been some bumps in the road with some of our new stores,” Ritter said. “Once we are able to present what our new stores look like, the jobs and the affordable retail opportunities we offer, they embrace the opportunity.”