Why charity retailers should be seen as retailers

Kate Barron, director of ReThink Retail speaks to Talk Retail about how the high street charity shop is a retailer in their own right.

Organisations such as the Royal British Legion, the RSPB and Help for Heroes, to name just a few, all have significant trading arms that provide both quality items for consumers and valuable job opportunities for retail professionals. So with this in mind, why aren’t these outfits more widely recognised as retailers in their own right and what roles are available for jobseekers at charities?

As we’re all aware, many traditional retailers suffered greatly from the credit-crunch and its knock on effects and charities were able to step into the empty retail space at greatly discounted rates as a result. According to figures from last year, the sector now provides almost £290m in sales per year to the UK economy as well as creating paid roles for 17,000 professionals and volunteering opportunities for as many 200,000 people. These outlets now have dedicated retail offerings with ranges of branded clothes and merchandise that move quickly off the shelves. However there still appears to be a lack of recognition of these outlets as actual retailers, but why is this the case?

It’s the historical, and often incorrect, the perception that charity retail is all about second hand goods.

Helen Beebe, managing director, at Help for Heroes Trading Ltd. explains: “Whilst many charities raise a lot of money from their retail outlets, the majority sell donated goods through shops in sub-prime locations and are therefore not viewed as direct competition to mainstream retailers. Help for Heroes Trading Ltd. is different in that we sell new, branded merchandise from our website and from shops in some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres, sitting alongside many of the country’s biggest retailers.”

Things have begun to change in the past few years to address this misleading perception. Charities have realised that if they want to be successful, they have to approach retail in the same way as out-and-out retailers and utilise branding, marketing and merchandising strategies effectively. As a result of this drive, charity retail can now provide similar career opportunities to ones in the traditional sector.

Organisations are now on the lookout for professionals with buying, design and marketing experience who can aid them in tackling the multi-channel retail market. Charities have realised that in order to effectively engage with their target audiences, they need to make the most of social media and other channels, and this requires specialist talent. They also require professionals who can help them take advantage of their ability to use emotion and stories to sell products.

Some of the best performing charity retailers are already taking this approach to skills requirements and candidate attraction, as Beebe explains: “Help for Heroes Trading Ltd. is structured in much the same way as any other high street retailer and so the opportunities are very similar.”

“As well as learning the ropes within a chosen, specialist area of retail, individuals will benefit from the strong understanding of what the charity does and who and how it helps, not to mention having a lot of fun getting involved in fund-raising events with colleagues.”

To anyone considering a career in retail, the charity sector now certainly provides an attractive option. Many firms such as Help for Heroes and VANDAshop have impressive retail offerings that feature designer ranges and can compete with traditional firms in terms of financial results. For professionals, the skills gained at a charity are also highly transferrable and will appeal to employers should they wish to secure a new role.

There is also the more direct benefit of working in a sector that is doing real good and benefitting millions of peoples’ lives. Perhaps most importantly for aspiring professionals, the charity retail sector can now provide a career rather than just a job or volunteering opportunity. Major firms have dedicated retail career paths and can provide valuable opportunities for career development. So for anyone looking for their next retail role, remember to consider the charity sector.

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