Value Added: Profits have a place at this nonprofit

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Value Added: Profits have a place at this nonprofit

Like it or not, businesses do not exist to create jobs. They exist to make profits for their owners and shareholders.

Goodwill of Greater Washington, known for its chain of 13 local thrift stores, works differently. One half of the nonprofit group’s mission is to employ people. The other half is to make profits — known as “surplus” in the nonprofit world — so the money can be used to train disadvantaged and disabled people for the job market.

Its business model works this way: Goodwill stores accept donations of used clothing, furniture and household items. Employees sort the good stuff (furniture generates the biggest profit margins) from the garbage (lots of that). Items fit for sale are marked with a price tag and placed on the store floor.

The company also has a business maintaining government facilities, including janitorial, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.

Goodwill this year expects to gross around $31 million in this region — $19 million from the stores and $12 million from its janitorial business — and produce a $1.9 million surplus. Most of that surplus will be rolled back into the nonprofit group’s three training centers, in Arlington, Foggy Bottom and Northeast Washington. The company expects to do even better next year, posting a $2.3 million surplus.

Chief executive Catherine Meloy is unapologetic about the pursuit of profit.

“If you’re not making money, you cannot serve the people or your community,” she said. “If you make money, you can reinvest it in the people you are serving. Our shareholders are our employees.”

Those employees include ex-offenders, single mothers, and people with physical and mental disabilities. Goodwill doesn’t have layoffs. It does fire people, however.

In the eight years since she arrived, Meloy, 60, has turned the finances around and instilled a customer-first culture that could make the late Sam Walton proud. Her approach could serve as a case study for a business-school class on retailing.

“I tell people every day I want us to be the Nordstrom of thrift stores, because it gives people a vision,” said Meloy, who was a top executive at Clear Channel’s Washington group of radio stations before taking the Goodwill job. “If you walk into Nordstrom, the employees come around the counter and give you your bag. That’s their deal.”

Meloy has more than doubled the number of stores, going from six to 13 outlets. The company employs 650 people, compared with 300 when she started. Compensation ranges from $9 an hour for associates to $282,000 for Meloy (which is far less than what she made in the private sector).

The turnaround began when Meloy imported a hard-charging business team from Clear Channel to bring a business culture to the nonprofit group. She hired a new chief financial officer and gave her lots of runway.

Meloy then developed a long-term plan to increase the number of stores as a way to promote the brand — and boost the number of employees. In the process, she remade the shopping experience for customers from top to bottom...

Article by Thomas Heath, Published: November 20, 2011

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

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