Surge in donations prompts Richland thrift store expansion
When one door closes, another opens – in this case quite literally.
The unexpected closure of a neighboring business and a spring surge in community donations prompted Community Thrift’s expansion.
The 1½-year-old thrift shop at 303 Wellsian Way in Richland recently took over the lease of the storefront once occupied by Cascade Sign & Apparel after it closed in September.
The mid-September move into the nearby space meant the 4,175-square-foot thrift store owned by Dustin Stordahl could expand.
It was able to move its pricing and production room into the former 2,500-square-foot Cascade shop and turn the room behind the existing store into a kids’ toy and clothing section.
The store also was able to expand its shelving 25% and doubled its clothing inventory, Stordahl said.
It’s a critical move as the store has seen donations increase tenfold since the pandemic began, a sign that families have been cleaning while forced to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“We’ve been overwhelmed to be honest. We were working 16 hours a day,” Stordahl said of the spring donations. “It was a lot of work.”
Stordahl, 35, said when the pandemic forced the store’s closure in March, he was driving to the store 10 times a day to rotate out the 4X4 donation boxes outside the shop. “That was the challenge, we accumulated 1,500 boxes,” he said.
Workers then ferried the donation boxes to a leased storage warehouse where they are stacked four boxes high until ready for sorting and pricing at the store.
“If you don’t have new items everyday people can quickly get tired of your store. We try to put out several thousand new items a week,” Stordahl said.
The store uses a color tag system and the discounts for each color change during the five-week rotation. It offers senior discounts (20% off on Mondays) and discounts for veterans (10% every day).
Community Thrift closed for more than a month in March but reopened as many items it carries were considered “essential” under the state’s emergency stay-home order, though it wasn’t technically included on the state’s “essential” list.
“We made the decision to open. We sell tools and office supplies like those that were on the essential list. We’re no different than what Walmart or Harbor Freight sells. We’re essential until they tell us otherwise,” Stordahl said.
Stordahl said most of his customers were grateful the store reopened as some come from lower-income brackets and are unemployed. “They were thanking us for being open,” he said.
On a recent October day, Community Thrift’s team of 12 were sorting, wiping down and pricing items destined for the store shelves, hauling and staging boxed donations and tidying up the store for customers.
Stordahl believes keeping the store organized creates a better shopping experience for customers.
About three years ago, when Stordahl was working as the information technology manager for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia in Kennewick, he learned the nonprofit was discontinuing its pickup service. He knew the community needed such a service and Community Thrift was born.
Everything for sale in the store is donated from the community, he said.
Stordahl spent six months designing the Community Thrift mobile app which allows customers to easily schedule donation pickups. Nontechnical savvy shoppers can get the same service – they just have to call the store.
“The majority of donors want convenience to get rid of stuff,” he said.
His long-term goal would be to open a Costco-size store in a central Tri-City location but he’s an entrepreneur and recognizes the need to be nimble, so he’s not ruling out other ideas, including a franchise model or operating multiple stores.
Funding community projects
A larger operation would enable him to earmark profits into the nonprofit arm of his business with the goal of providing a self-sustaining revenue stream for large community projects, like a splash park or a water park, he said.
“It’d be cool where we can do large community projects. It’s very optimistic,” he conceded.
He eyes Goodwill’s model as he measures his progress. “If we see their level of their success, we could do cool projects every year,” he said.
He’s already set up the 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Community Partners Inc.
“My vision is that growing the store will create a domino effect and generate funding to do more projects,” Stordahl said.
He hasn’t done anything with the nonprofit yet, though he has made modest donations to several Tri-City nonprofits, including Vibe Music Center, Beautiful Threads and Bethlehem Lutheran School.
He doesn’t have a timeline for this vision, as he still is trying to get his feet under him. He’s invested $180,000 into the business and recouped $115,000. His monthly net revenue varies widely, and he’s keeping his eye on the long-term plan to build a multimillion-dollar enterprise to do multimillion-dollar projects, he said.
“I want to reinvest for the long-term. That’s the end goal,” he said.
He’s seeing signs of success with more than 3,400 Facebook followers and nearly 700 unique users who downloaded the store’s app and went through the account setup process.
“We’ve done pretty well, but running a store costs more than people think,” he said.
But operating a business isn’t cheap. He has leases, salaries, taxes and a $1,000-a-month trash bill as not every donation is fit to sell in the store.
He draws his own salary to “sustain my own livelihood” (He and his wife have three children under 4) from his other job — he operates an IT consulting company, Innovative Enterprise Systems. “I do pretty well without the store,” he said.
Community Thrift is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.