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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009 12 years ago

Spreading Goodwill

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Don Roberts has been so successful selling used goods for a Gulf Coast nonprofit that his peers nationwide have sought his guidance. For-profit retailers could also learn from Roberts.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Don Roberts has been so successful selling used goods for a Gulf Coast nonprofit that his peers nationwide have sought his guidance. For-profit retailers could also learn from Roberts.


The Rev. Don Roberts is getting really good at spreading the goodwill.

So good, in fact, that Roberts, president and chief executive of Goodwill Industries Manasota, a $27-million, Sarasota-based offshoot of the global nonprofit organization, has created a new business — showing other Goodwills across North America how it's done. That in turn has resulted in national accolades for Roberts and additional revenues for the local Goodwill coffers.

“We found that we hit our full market penetration” about a year ago, says Roberts. “So we found that the best way to help our Goodwill grow was to help other Goodwills across North America grow.”

Roberts has essentially created a performance-based tutoring service for other Goodwills. He and his staff will go into the other organizations and revamp the business model in return for a percentage of future revenues. The service has brought Goodwill Manasota an extra $250,000 in revenues this year, a figure Roberts expects to grow significantly as the client-Goodwills begin to turn things around.

The map of Goodwills Roberts has worked with stretches far. It includes Goodwills in Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Edmonton and Toronto Canada; and Reno and Carson City, Nev. He has even done some limited consulting with Goodwills in Brazil and Australia.

Goodwill Industries, founded by a Methodist minister in Boston in 1902, is credited with being one of the first charitable organizations to use the “hand up, not out” theory of giving. In practice, that has meant that the organization, through 2,200 stores in more than 25 countries, collects and then resells donated goods for the purpose of putting people to work who might otherwise be unemployed.

So the more stuff a Goodwill takes in, the more it sells and therefore, the more people it employs. About 70 cents of every dollar in sales the Sarasota operation takes in goes toward its 482-employee payroll.

“Our business model is like a park ranger,” Roberts says. “The more bass we put in the stream, the more fisherman we get to come fish.”

Goodwill Manasota has grown its revenues 27% over the last three years, from $21.2 million in 2006 to $26.8 million last year. That kind of success is why others in the Goodwill community have sought out Roberts, an affable Texan who has been running the local Goodwill operation since 1977.

More than fish, Roberts says his business model is wrapped around convenience — a mantra he says for-profit retailers would be wise to follow.

By convenience, Roberts not only means having a lot of stores and donation drop off points, but having the stores in the best locations, so people don't have to work hard to either donate or buy. There are 40 stores and drop off locations in the Goodwill Manasota network.

While Roberts' Goodwill assistance road show is still relatively new, he's done the consulting thing for Goodwills once before. About 10 years ago, at the request of Goodwill national executives, Roberts helped a few near-bankrupt operations outside Florida.

“But once you saved them, they wanted nothing to do with you,” says Roberts. “What we learned was that if we couldn't be in control of the process, we weren't interested in doing it anymore.”

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