Unveiling the Magic: Behind The Scenes of Charity Shop Retail

Alex, founder of Luxe Leopard Lifestyle, is our guest blogger for Sustainable September

Unveiling the Magic: Behind The Scenes of Charity Shop Retail

This month, as part of Sustainable September, we are delighted to introduce you to Alex, founder of Luxe Leopard Lifestyle and author of this blog, full of fascinating insights into our Retail operation, gained through Alex’s recent visit to our Retail & Trading Hub in Berkhamsted.

“I’m so excited to be able to share with you an amazing experience I had recently visiting Bainbridge House, which is the Distribution Centre for Rennie Grove Peace Hospice Care, located in Berkhamsted. They took me behind the scenes to learn the process behind the items you find in store and online on eBay, and the hard work that happens outside of the charity shops. It was a truly fascinating morning, where I learnt a lot more about the incredible volunteers and staff who make the whole network of stock for charity shops and online, run as smoothly as possible.

A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse

This blog offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into the remarkable processes of sorting, recycling, and selling fashion and all other donations at Rennie Grove Peace charity distribution centre. If you haven’t heard of Rennie Grove Peace before, they are a charity providing care and support for adults and children with a progressive life-limiting illness, and those who care for them, in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Expertise of Staff & Volunteers

This centre thrives on the expertise of volunteers and staff with specialist skills and it’s amazing to hear that the Eommerce manager and two Ecommerce Co-ordinators, both have shop floor experience, so they understand both sides of the coin! I learnt that the logistics side of the charity couldn’t happen without the dedicated 20-25 volunteer drivers who do a very important (and often physical!) job, redistributing stock to stores and back. With the breadth of experience of these volunteers, they could make up a board of directors! So the charity feel very lucky to have this kind of support. It enables these retirees who have lived a busy professional life, to stay active and feel they are making a difference.

With an online presence on platforms like eBay, voluntary experts decipher the potential value of fashion and other items that once graced the shop floor. Ranging from high-end pieces to high street collections, each item finds its rightful place, allowing the charity to make money online from items which may not sell in bricks and mortar stores.

One of the stand out donations for Ecommerce Manager, Sarah, was a Victoria Beckham coat worth £1000! They’ve also had watches from the likes of Chanel and Cartier, I spotted an Anya Hindmarch bag on my visit and a pair of beautiful Church’s shoes (below).

Fashion’s Role in Unprecedented Times

During the COVID-19 pandemic, fashion emerged as a beacon of hope for the charity. Operating throughout the crisis, this distribution centre tapped into the massive potential of fashion donations from closed stores, breathing life into their ongoing efforts. The fashion section flourished, providing second-hand shopping opportunities to the public during challenging times and much needed income for the charity, who were unable to open their physical stores.

Moving forward to 2023, they now have a dedicated area for fashion, with hanging storage space, a photography room and light boxes. This enables them to create professional images and keep everything in good condition and organised, for eBay. Fashion makes up 27% of their online sales, so it is the most important category for them. The team dedicate 2 days a week specifically to fashion listings, but if they had more man power, they would love this to be 5 days a week. Below you can find some of my favourite pieces photographed in the fashion photography room.

From Donations to Listings: The Art of Sorting

Amid the chaos of incoming donations, Sarah runs a tight ship, sorting and organising. Every item is carefully evaluated for quality, cleanliness, and suitability. Through meticulous categorisation, donations for clothing are also organised by coloured bags – red for the ‘revalued’ stores which tend to be items which have already been on the shop floor for 2-3 weeks and have been through a culling process. These Revalued shops are some of the charities most popular, with people travelling from outside the local area to visit them, as everything is £2. They are the last point in the chain before recycling. Then you have green bags for Spring Summer stock, blue for Autumn and Winter and yellow for online and Boutique shops. September is the time for season change over at the shops when seasonal items such as boots, coats and cold weather items get introduced.

The fun lies in the challenge of smart sorting, a constant learning process that keeps the volunteers engaged and motivated. The staff at Bainbridge House get a real kick out of the unusual and surprise donations which they don’t necessarily understand the value of on first look! The thrill of these finds for eBay can become a bit of an addiction! While fashion trends like Barbie become guiding stars for successful listings. Below you can find a few of my favourite nostalgic finds from my visit!

The eBay Enigma: Unravelling Online Success

eBay takes centre stage as the primary selling platform at Bainbridge House, where each item’s listing is a masterpiece of research and dedication. The volunteers devote their time to curating compelling listings, considering trends and brand reputation. Templates and tools streamline the process, while Google Lens and market research guide their efforts. Volunteers also take on the role of eBay specialists, delving into musical instruments and memorabilia, armed with the knowledge to answer buyers’ questions.

Rennie Grove Peace’s eBay auctions become events to anticipate, with regulars eagerly awaiting the Sunday evening launch at 8pm. With beautiful purple tissue paper and stickers for the fashion packaging, over 200 parcels are sent out weekly, fulfilling orders with precision to ensure they maintain their feedback rating of 99%+.

Sustainability and Innovation

The distribution centre champions sustainability through recycling and repurposing. Unsellable items are sold to their rag company, Choice, and Rennie Grove Peace earn money for the weight of the stock, approximately £150-£200 a week from Bainbridge House, with additional income from stores.

The charity also help film and TV prop stock find new life on eBay, with some famous film acquisitions!

Rennie Grove Peace’s Head of Buying and Operations,  Nicola, also sources new products for the charity shops, with local suppliers providing cards, and wool is still one of their most popular ranges. They offer a wide range of sustainable gifts such as candles, notebooks, scarves, reuseable bottles and wrapping paper books. You can find pictures of some of my favourites below.

Heart of Gold

One thing that really stood out to me from Sarah and the team, was how much love, care and attention goes into all of the processes at the centre. You could feel that people are at the heart of everything they do, the end goal is to make as much money as possible for those in need of care, but they want the staff and volunteers to enjoy the process.

The picture below shows a tree on the wall made up of hearts with quotes from volunteers about why they love working at Rennie Grove Peace. Staff also have their yearly total £ values printed and laminated onto a heart on the wall, which tells them how many hours of nursing care they contributed to.

Conclusion: A Tale of Transformation and Dedication

Bainbridge House unveils a world where every donation transforms lives. From skilled volunteers to the meticulous eBay listings, each step is a testament to dedication, compassion, and innovation. The process doesn’t just distribute items; it redistributes hope, dignity, and warmth to those who need it most. It’s a journey of unity, creativity, and the boundless power of preloved to change lives.

Rennie Grove Peace have 32 Rennie Grove and Peace Hospice shops. Their shops, and online selling platforms (the biggest of which is the eBay store) all play a vital role in the generation of funds to help the charity continue to provide care. Shop online on the eBay shop here or find the full list of shops here on their website.

Keep an eye out for my ongoing collaboration with the charity where I’ll be sharing my favourite finds from their charity shops and eBay during Sustainable September!”