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Goodwill expands as national retailers pull back

April 9, 2017 GMT

As the famous lyric goes, “Everything old is new again.”

That’s certainly true at Goodwill of Western & Northern Connecticut, which has been expanding its footprint across the region even as national retailers like JCPenneys, Aeropostale and Payless have been making headlines with local and national store closures.

And its popularity keeps growing, according to recent national surveys of adult female shoppers. Prosper Insights & Analytics’ March research shows the number of women who chose Goodwill for clothing was higher than Sears, Gap and H&M.

Goodwill ranked just after Nordstrom, Amazon and Forever 21 in the survey by Prosper, which conducts research often for the National Retail Federation. The same pattern held true in 2016.

Vickie Volpano, president and CEO of Goodwill of Western & Northern Connecticut, said the trend toward buying secondhand clothing has taken off, especially among millennials.

“More and more people are seeing the value and inherent good in purchasing pre-owned clothing and household items,” she said. “The thrill of what you may find also creates a unique and fun element to shopping at a Goodwill store.”

Over the last year, Goodwill has opened new stores in Monroe, Oxford and a second store in Stamford. Further north it has also opened stores in Waterbury and Glastonbury.

Overall the company operates nearly two dozen stores across the state, including ones in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Danbury and New Milford. There are plans to open at least two more this year, one next to the new Biy Y on Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton and one in Fairfield.

“Today’s consumer shops at Goodwill like any other retailer,” said Kathy Ekstrom, development manager for Haynes Development, which mentions Goodwill’s 12,000-square-foot building in Oxford’s Quarry Walk in its pitch to attract new tenants to the development. “In some cases, regulars to Goodwill make it a weekly experience in search of great bargains.”

Stephen Rubb, professor of business economics at Sacred Heart University, said stores that sell used items have a competitive advantage over traditional retailers that face competition from online retailers, which often have lower prices.

With secondhand goods, it can be harder to find a similar item online, and many people like to see and feel the quality of the product firsthand.

Stores like Goodwill, which offer merchandise at low prices, might also see a boost based on economic factors. “There has not been major wage gains for the bottom portion of the income earners in our economy,” Rubb said. “Many people are struggling to save a few dollars.”

Mousumi Bose Godbole, associate professor of marketing at Fairfield University, said marketers often dismiss or ignore the demographic that Goodwill attracts — the lower middle class and working class.

“A huge market is available that marketers aren’t focusing on,” she said.

For Goodwill, a major motivation in increasing the sales of its stores is the connection between those locations and its programming for those in those lower-income brackets who are seeking employment or other assistance.

“The reason and strategy for expanding in our territory is a simple one,” Volpano said. “Stores generate revenue from the sale of donated items we receive, allowing us to serve more people in Connecticut —offering employment and job-training opportunities. This expansion directly supports our efforts to provide invaluable access to our programs and services.”

According to Volpano, Goodwill provided services to almost 26,000 people in 2016, an increase of nearly 15 percent compared to the previous year. In its Goodwill Career Centers, the company saw a nearly 8 percent increase in people served to a total of nearly 9,000 in 2016.

Volpano said an important feature of the new stores, including those in Oxford and Stamford, is a drive-through donation center.

“Resale is becoming more and more mainstream,” she said. “An appreciation of value knows no socioeconomic bounds.”

Contact the writer at ktorres@hearstmediact.com; 203-330-6227