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Goodwill's New Looks Appealing To Millenials

Debbie Holmes
Goodwill Columbus redesigns and expands its stores.

The face of the second-hand store is changing.  They are still a place where low income people can buy inexpensive clothes and furniture.  

But thanks in part to the Great Recession and to changing attitudes, stores like Goodwill have become a top shopping choice for millennials.  And the trend has prompted Goodwill to upgrade and expand locations.

Cash registers ring often at the brand new Goodwill store on Renner Road on  Columbus’ west side.  The redesigned building is one of 5 Goodwill plans for Franklin County.

Tim Salvato is head of retail operations. 

“We’re trying to add more stores along where our existing stores are as the opportunities come up but we’re also looking for areas where we currently don’t have a presence,” says Salvato. 

Goodwill partners with real estate, architectural and construction firms to launch the new stores.  The non-profit pays a leasing fee based on comparable square footage for the area.

The Renner Road store will create about 40 new jobs overall.  Some of the workers are developmentally disabled and sort the donated clothes and accessories at the back of the store.

Salvato says younger shoppers often reject what he calls “grandma’s goodwill” as they search for one of a kind clothing or the latest fashion.  So, Goodwill Columbus stores will have more square footage, better displays, brighter lighting and a mix of old and new merchandise. 

“We have a lot of younger people that come in because it’s cool and it’s trendy. To find out that hey I found this at Goodwill. It may be a dress or a shirt that’s worth  $100 that they might have gotten for $6.99,” explains Salvato.

Credit Debbie Holmes
Clothing racks inside of a new Goodwill Columbus store.

The popular trend inspired a rap song.  It's  about popping tags, or buying clothes at Goodwill.

28-year old Steelee Jordan looks for the best deals to stay within her family budget.

“I believe that if you can get a good price on some quality items, then you should try to do that.  And then I also just really believe in their mission and the way they give back to the community and give people an opportunity for employment,” says Jordan. 

59-year old Cheryl MacDonald shops at Goodwill 3 times a week.  She spends about $50.

“I love it.  It’s perfect.  A lot of thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms.  I wouldn’t buy anything that I didn’t try on, especially in jeans.  It is very bright.  I like the skylights,” says MacDonald.

In 2013, the Goodwill Columbus organization spent more than $41 million of its $45 million overall expenses on programs for the disabled including jobs in retail, janitorial and security services, as well as daily life skills and fitness classes.

Head of Goodwill Columbus’ retail operations, Tim Salvato.

“We’re really starting a large initiative in our workforce development program to really expand workforce development to help more people that have barriers to employment.  And the bulk of the margin or the profit from these stores is going to be pushed toward workforce development to help connect people with barriers with jobs,” says Salvato.

Salvato adds that success will be measured in the number of people served through Goodwill programs.  He believes there’s enough room in Columbus for other second-hand and discount retail stores.

Marketing Professor at Ohio State, Rebecca Walker-Reczek  says the thrill of hunting for bargains will keep attracting shoppers.

“I do think that the popularity of Dollar General, Family Dollar they’re coming from one of the same reasons that Goodwill is  getting more popular which is as a leftover from the last recession; that people started looking more for value and for cheap options, and dollar stores became very popular during the recession and that popularity has stuck around,” explains Walker-Reczek.

And Walker-Reczek says Goodwill’s strategy to upgrade how the store looks will make the used goods store more competitive.

“Think about why people like shopping at Target sometimes a little bit more than they like shopping at Walmart.  It’s those big wide aisles, really well-lit. Everything is merchandised and displayed really well.  And I think if Goodwill adopts a strategy like that they will be much more successful in appealing to young consumers," says Walker-Reczek.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.