The Changing Face of Charity Retail

Rowcroft hospice opened its first charity shop 35 years ago. 35 years later, the face of charity retailing has changed dramatically.  Enter into one of Rowcroft’s charity shops today, and the difference is clear. A collection of eclectic goodies probably displayed like a modern high street shop with modern interiors. Some charity shops have completely evolved the preconceptions of what a charity shop should look like.

With competition fierce not only amongst other charity shops, but the high street retailers too, the sector has become more professional, and the shops are a far cry from those of the 80’s. With so much choice, as a local charity, we have to compete, and have to consider how to maintain a commercial advantage, whether that be through specialisation or economies of scale. It is important that our shops have the competitive edge on the high street to achieve the income required to fund our patient care across South Devon.

Charity shops are at the heart of the high street and have become much more creative and innovative in their approach to retail. With new marketing trends starting to emerge, Rowcroft’s chain of 15 shops has evolved and now includes everything from High Street to Boutique, Vintage, Furniture and Electrical, Ella’s Café Lounge, and our soon to be launched Ella’s Mobile Café in the form of a 1970’s vintage Citroen H Van.

We also operate a central distribution function which enables us to ensure we get the right stock to the right shop. Price optimisation is paramount ensuring we are realistic and offer good value, while not under pricing higher quality garments so we generate as much income as possible for our services and care.  Our vision was, and is, to concentrate on the look and feel of the shops, creating a great customer experience.

There is also strong competition for donations of goods, as well as the now added challenge of people selling their own items on various marketplaces, so there’s a need for charities to market themselves to donors as well as buyers. In recent years, branding has been a key differentiator amongst charity shops, and despite the complexity of maintaining a chain of charity shops, the benefits are not just about raising funds. Having a high street presence makes an important contribution to fulfilling our mission. It creates awareness helping us connect us with our service users and supporters, as well as supporting advocacy and attracting volunteers. It takes a community to make a hospice and having a high street presence helps us to stay visible in the heart of the communities that need our services.

Charity shops also play a vital part in protecting our environment with the spotlight on re-purposing and recycling. Every donation to a charity shop helps with reducing carbon emissions, around 6.9 million tonnes a year, as well as resulting in less waste. Last year, charity shops prevented an estimated 327,000 tonnes of textiles going to landfill. So not only is shopping at the local charity store great for the pocket, it’s great for the planet too! According to new research, last year, charity shops raised an estimated £295m for good causes across the UK and abroad. This substantial income stream raised from charity shop sales is arguably more precious than ever. There are other positives, too. In recent years, the number of volunteers in UK charity shops has risen by 4% to 220,000, with volunteering positions playing a vital role in getting people back into paid employment, as it improves confidence and self-esteem, and enables them to gain new skills. We just wouldn’t exist without our wonderful team of volunteers!

Shopping at a charity shop really does make such a difference. Visit one our beautiful boutiques, grab yourself a bargain at one of our wonderful high street stores, or come and have a coffee with us at Ella’s Café Lounge. If you’re not a shopper, you can still help us to keep our shops thriving by donating your quality pre-loved clothing, furniture and home-wares, all of which helps us to raise the vital funds we need to deliver care and support to thousands of people in our community.

To find your local Rowcroft shop visit,

Contribute by Caroline Wannell, Head of Retail


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