A Discussion by: Dave Barringer, SVdP National Chief Executive Officer
The concept of Pricing is the least understood among the “4 P’s” of marketing – Price, Product, Place (distribution), and Promotion. However, a good pricing strategy can be your strongest tool toward sales and profits in a thrift store program.
In this article I will discuss several pricing strategies you can use to develop a set of guidelines for your store that help ensure you are creating maximum value for your store as well as your customers. As the former National Chief Marketing Officer and National Director Stores Support for Goodwill Industries, my insights below are based on twenty years of supporting more than 2,500 thrift stores across the United States. While the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is quite a different organization, the pricing theories and practices between the two retailers are much more the same than different.
First, know your limits. There is no point in operating a store unless it makes money for your organization. Certainly, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) may give away some, or even a lot, of what it collects directly to people in need, the store still needs to make enough money to keep the operation going. Fortunately, there are proven ways that a store can properly integrate with other aspects of the Society and still meet business objectives.
Here is an example of how this might work: The Council that owns the store wants to provide mattresses at no charge to families in need. They create vouchers for its Conferences to give to those who need this product, who bring them to the store for redemption. You know what each mattress costs from the supplier. Add to this any storage, transportation and other costs, such as labor and administration. From this, derive a “price” for the mattress, even though you will not charge the family in need for it. You will, however, charge the Conference this price for the mattress. In this way, you maintain the sales you need for the store’s livelihood, still provide the mattress at no cost to the family and keep a reasonable cost for the Conference who would otherwise need to purchase a new mattress elsewhere. A corollary example: The Conference may use its own vouchers to purchase the mattress, earned from its collection of saleable goods that are given to the store. Again, pricing plays a role here. The retail team determines, for example, that a truck full of used donated goods is equal 100x. The Conference holds a collection event at its parish and fills the truck. Upon pickup, the retail team pays the Conference in vouchers worth a percentage, say 60x, of the truck’s contents resale value. Everyone wins.
The first critical component of a good pricing strategy is to know your costs. This includes both direct costs (the cost for each unit) plus the indirect costs (costs that are there regardless of the number of units, such as rent) that are then applied to each unit. Most retailers take the total cost of the unit and then double it to set a price to ensure its profits. This becomes your baseline pricing strategy, cost times 2. This price allows for the unforeseen, such as shrink and damaged goods to some extent, and gives you wiggle room to stimulate sales through pricing discounts later.
Some thrift stores simply copy the price of the other stores in town. This is dangerous because their costs may be radically different. The competitor with many area stores can spread its indirect costs over more stores and more items. Perhaps the competitor wants to price you out of business, by selling their goods so low that if you match them, you go broke first because of your cost structure and/or charitable goals.
I once saw a store that priced its goods exactly double those of another thrift store directly across the street. The higher-price store went shopping at the competitor, took its best goods, then doubled the prices for sale. Customers only saw inferior goods at the lower-priced store and were happy to pay the higher prices for the better goods at the other store because, after all, every item is one of a kind. Believe it or not, the lower-priced store was happy for a while being the wholesaler in effect for the other store. Ultimately, though, they realized that shoppers weren’t coming in any longer, because the “treasures” that shoppers enjoy in all thrift stores were being picked away before most shoppers had a chance to find them. What to do? They raised their prices to cut the profit margin opportunity for the higher price store and kept good values for its own customers who had already proved they would pay the higher prices by their defection to the other retailer.
The same concept applies to shoppers who use our stores as suppliers for their yard sales and eBay/online businesses. They show us that our goods are worth more in the marketplace, so why don’t we price them to keep the profits for ourselves? It may be our charitable intent, which I will discuss later. Remember, the first customers to complain when you raise prices are these retailers who make money from what they buy from you. Thus, these complaints are a sign that you are doing a good thing!
Know your Environment
If you are reading this article in hopes that I can give you a specific price point for every item, or even any item, in your thrift store, then you don’t understand your local environment. Did you know, for example, that food prices may be 30 percent lower in Baltimore than only a few miles away in Washington, DC?
We all live in areas with separate economic conditions and cost-of-living realities. Separate from our competitive status, we also have economic truths to consider in pricing. That four-dollar blouse is a bargain in a high-cost area but priced too high for another one. You probably have some sense of your relative trade market economy. Scoping out other thrift stores and discount retailers will help you gauge the range in which your prices may need to reside, at least as a starting point.
If you have a topic that you would like addressed in a future Stores Corner article, please e-mail our Jeff Beamguard, National Director of Stores Support at firstname.lastname@example.org