Opportunity knocks for North Coast op shops

ECONOMIC downturns are not considered good for business. But there are exceptions.

Charity shops are booming, with the St Vincent de Paul Society reporting an increase of 9 per cent over the past 12 months in sales across its 28 Vinnies stores between Tweed Heads and Laurieton.

These numbers are in stark contrast to the retail sales figures for June, released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

All industries, except household goods, retailing (+0.8 per cent) and hospitality, which remained static, had a sales decline in June 2008.

The largest decreases were in department stores (-5.2 per cent), and clothing and soft good retailing (-5 per cent).

The president of the St Vincent de Paul Society's Lismore Diocesan Centre, Gwen King, said although shop managers had noticed an increase in trading, the actual figures were surprising.

“We were expecting to make a little more, but this is one of the biggest increases we've experienced,” she said.

“The way the economy is at the moment people are hurting, so more people are buying their clothes at Vinnies shops rather then spending up on new things.

“We only sell high quality clothing, so they're getting good garments.”

President of the St Vincent de Paul Society's Lismore Diocesan Council, Kevin Walsh, described Vinnies as the greenest business in town.

“In the past 12 months, we've sent 944 tonnes of lower-quality clothing to South Africa and we've also supplied local industry with 112 tonnes of rags,” he said.

“Nothing goes to waste.”

In the last year Vinnies has revamped its North Coast shops – they now all have air-conditioning – and one store manager boasted that customers sometimes forgot they were not in a regular clothing shop.

Vinnies was also the first stop for university students setting up house with cut-price quality crockery and cutlery.

Mrs King said the stigma of 10 years ago – when people were uncomfortable about shopping in an opportunity shop – was gone.

“Nowadays people pop in for all sorts of things,” she said. “We sell retro clothing and fancy dress, and we get a lot of support from local schools who organise social events instructing students that they are required to shop at second-hand shops for their outfits.”

She said fishermen often came in to buy a parka and a pair of boots for $10 a piece, which would cost at least $50 in a regular shop.

Mr Walsh also attributed the sales boom to the growing 'green consciousness'.

“People don't want to contribute to landfill any more than they have to. We give them an alternative to buying new clothing and everyone wins. We're the ultimate in recycling,” he said.

Money raised by Vinnies sales goes directly to welfare work in the community, helping people with day-to-day living needs. They help with food vouchers, clothing, food and blankets for people in need.

“St Vincent de Paul is all about helping people,” Mrs King summed up.



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