Goodwill: Where teddy bears, sport coats and sometimes jewels go to die — or get a second life
Near the back of a sprawling North Las Vegas warehouse, hundreds of stuffed animals are smashed and bound together, a 1,200-pound massacre of unwanted pandas, frogs and bunnies.
Children once clutched the animals, cuddling them as they fell asleep. Now they’re being sold to a salvage dealer who will ship them to China, Mexico or some other far-off place.
Just another day on the job at Goodwill of Southern Nevada.
“We try to get every dollar we can, every penny, I should say, or every half a penny,” said Retail and Operations Director Chris Matlock. “Doesn’t matter what it is. We want to get something for it.”
Goodwill, with its vast network of collection stations, sells low-priced, hand-me-down clothing, toys, furniture and other goods.
Donors often treat the nonprofit retailer as a guilt-free garbage dump. They figure it’s better to give to Goodwill, because there’s a chance someone can use something. If not, they figure, Goodwill can toss it.
But Goodwill has a no-trash philosophy. It takes far more steps than most people realize to wring money out of items, whether it be a busted Macintosh, a “Weekend at Bernie’s” VHS tape or a shabby sweater.
The organization needs all of that stuff to stay afloat. If nobody donates, it has nothing to sell.
“That’s what drives the business,” President and CEO Steve Chartrand said.
Goodwill operates 12 retail stores in Southern Nevada and 29 collection stations. Retail sales, which account for 90 percent of the group’s annual revenue, are expected to reach $25 million this year.
What happens when you donate to Goodwill?
Take a sport coat, for example. Once it is donated, it gets sorted and processed in the back of a Goodwill store or in the North Las Vegas warehouse on Cheyenne Avenue at Martin Luther King Boulevard. Employees check it for rips and stains and sniff it for odors.
If it’s wearable, the coat is put up for sale at a Goodwill store. A clerk will list it for $8.99 if it's in decent shape. If it doesn’t sell at full price in two weeks, the price will drop in phases over an additional week until it's listed for as low as 99 cents.
If nobody wants it still, it gets tossed into a bin at Goodwill’s clearance center, connected to the Cheyenne warehouse. There, it will be lumped together with other unsellable items and bulk priced for between 69 cents a pound and $1.20 a pound.
Many shoppers buy in bulk from the clearance center to resell merchandise at flea markets and swap meets.
If no one buys the coat on clearance, warehouse workers dump it into a baler, which smashes it into a bundle with thousands of other clothing items. Goodwill sells the bundles to salvage dealer for 15 cents to 25 cents a pound.
Hard goods such as books, VCRs and kitchenware go through a similar process. If someone donates a stereo, for example, employees make sure it turns on, that it’s not physically damaged and that it appears to work. If so, it gets put on a shelf of a retail store. If no one wants it, it goes to the clearance center. If it still can't find a home, Goodwill sells it to a scrap dealer or electronics recycler.
If the stereo is broken, it goes straight for recycling.
If the sport coat is wet or smells bad, it gets thrown out. If it’s just ripped, it’s sold for salvage.
The flow of merchandise that passes through Goodwill is huge. The organization's retail stores get more than 20,000 new items a day to sell and log an average of 100,000 transactions a month.
It also sells more than shabby jeans and jackets. Donors also give artwork, jewelry, and designer shoes and handbags. Top-quality goods sell first at an online auction at ShopGoodwill.com.
At any given time, Goodwill of Southern Nevada has 500 to 600 items listed on the national website and sells about $100,000 a month in merchandise there, Matlock said.
A few weeks ago, Matlock's crew sold a 14-karat-gold, diamond necklace for $3,000.
If a valuable item doesn’t sell online, it goes to Goodwill’s Déjà Blue Boutique, an upscale second-hand shop that opened last month in Summerlin. If it doesn’t sell there, it is sent to a traditional Goodwill store and follows the same path as other merchandise.
Of course, not everything ends up in the scrap heap. About 40 percent of donations are in good enough shape to sell in stores, and half of what sells gets snapped up the first week it’s available, Chief Operating Officer Alyn Reeves said.
Wednesdays are senior citizen day, when shoppers 55 and older get a 50 percent discount on everything in the store.
“That’s our busiest day of the week,” Reeves said.
And while some people might assume Goodwill thrived during the recession, it didn’t work that way. Donors who previously gave to Goodwill to clear space for new purchases instead shut their wallets and held onto their belongings. Donations slipped, and with less merchandise in stock, sales revenue fell.
In 2006, Goodwill had about 310,000 donors and $14 million in retail revenue. In 2007, it had about 290,000 donors and $13 million in revenue.
The group, however, offset the downturn by opening dozens of collection stations to make it more convenient for people to donate. As a result, sales revenue has grown steadily since 2007.
“A lot of people would think we’d do really well, sales-wise, in a bad economy,” Reeves said. “But if you don’t get the donations, you don’t have the product to sell.”