Background

Retailing for the Community

When the idea of starting or growing a merchandise resale business comes up, it generally entails building a profit-generating business, or supplementing one’s income by selling goods through a variety of channels. Sunrise Enterprises Inc. has a different take on business, choosing instead to focus on providing opportunities to members of their local community.

Incorporated in 1972, Sunrise Enterprises is a private non-profit organization operating out of Douglas Country, Oregon. The company’s mission is to provide vocational training to persons with disabilities with the aim of helping them develop to their highest potential and integrate into the working community. To this end, Sunrise Enterprises operates a series of divisions where they employ disabled individuals and teach them life skills and training in a particular vocational field. A very diversified corporation, their divisions include wood products, contract services, recycling services, document destruction, janitorial services, rest area crews, vending services and shop & save stores, all of which employ individuals with disabilities.

Twenty years ago, in response to a community need for affordable household items, Sunrise Enterprises opened their first Shop & Save thrift store in Roseburg, Oregon. In its inception, the store was supplied exclusively from community donations. Patrons dropped off unwanted items which were sorted, shelved and re-sold back to the public. In the last few years, coinciding with the launch of Sunrise Enterprises’ 3rd thrift store, Chief Operations Officer Don Wright reports that customers began to express demand for new and more varied items. To address these growing needs, the company to began sourcing merchandise from Via Trading in March of 2009. “This gave us the opportunity to offer our usual line of quality thrift goods but also new goods at reasonable prices,” say Wright. Sunrise’s Shop & Save stores differentiate themselves from other stores of their kind for the community service they provide. Their clients are referred to them by local school districts and by Developmental Disabilities Services, a division of the state Department of Health.

COO Don Wright explains that “each of [the] stores is managed by Sunrise staff and supported by several handicapped individuals.” The stores provide these individuals with an opportunity to integrate into society that they may otherwise not have. Wright adds that “working in the stores gives the clients a heightened sense of personal accomplishment because they earn a paycheck based on their performance level. They know that at the end of the day their efforts have been instrumental in the success of the stores. Even those that work at a slow pace earn a paycheck and from that, gain a sense of personal success. Normal retail stores do not allow for this type of employee due to their production demands.

Twenty years later, community donations still make up the largest majority of the goods they sell. To supplement their donations, the company sources merchandise from Via Trading. They purchase a variety of goods ranging from SRS tools to general merchandise, high end accessories and housewares, towel & bath accessories, seasonal merchandise, domestics, televisions and hand tools. Wright explains that “general housewares such as kitchen appliances and tableware sell very well throughout the stores. Business-savvy buyers, they tailor their purchases to the season and to the demand of their customers. “Prior to Christmas we purchased a large shipment of inexpensive toys that sold very well as stocking stuffers. We recently purchased two loads of SRS products that sold as fast as we could put it on the shelves. ” Now isn’t that a statement every store owner would love to utter! His technique? “It’s about knowing your market. We try to offer a continual variety of merchandise to bring customers into the stores. Our customers don’t support very high end goods and we know that, so we focus on items we know will be more attractive to them – usually mixed loads with electronics, general merchandise and outdoor furniture or tools.

To further provide their customer base with products at reasonable prices, Sunrise Enterprises source a combination of overstocks and customer returns. “We prefer overstocks,” says Wright, “because we can only perform basic testing on the customer returns and we do try to avoid sending defective goods to the stores.” Most of their best-selling items however, come from customer return loads due to the opportunities those goods present to be sold at a fraction of their original value. Staying true to their core values and mission of providing employment, training and life skills to disabled individuals, much of the processing of the merchandise is done by their store employees. “We teach them how to follow direction and be productive,” advises Wright. They assist managers in organizing the products, merchandising them on the shelves and pricing them appropriately. “Those that are more highly functioning are taught to use the cash register and support customers during checkout,” he adds.

While the business is both personally and professionally rewarding for its owners and managers, running a non-profit community-driven business presents its challenges. As the Chief Operations Officer, Don Wright is responsible for the divisions of Sunrise that generate 65% of their total revenue. They get the remaining 35% from state funding to support the clients they bring into their program. In the midst of budget deficits in virtually every state in America, the current Oregon state budget shortages jeopardize that 35%, which puts greater emphasis on operations to make up the difference. In the case of the retail stores, this means generating more revenue by bringing in more product and moving it at a faster rate. “Finding new business in a down economy is difficult,” says Wright, “but working with our clients and seeing the satisfaction they gain by being employed is the best part, and makes up for a lot of the hardships.

To help alleviate operating costs and to support the nature of their philanthropic mission, the organization accepts financial donations through a new program called the Sunrise Charitable Fund. “We recently started this fund to help keep some clients in our program even if state funding for them is cut or eliminated,” says Wright. The company’s priority is to continue providing vocational training and support for disabled individuals so they can gain some financial independence and personal growth. Sunrise has a new website launching on April 8th 2011, that includes information on how people can support Sunrise through community donations, financial donations or contributions to the Sunrise Charitable Fund. Sunrise Enterprises currently operate four thrift stores in Douglas County and will be opening their 5th this summer.

Visit their website at http://www.sunriseenterprisesinc.com or stop by their store locations in Oregon at:

2529 W. Harvard, Roseburg OR

1401 Hwy. 101S, Reedsport OR

126 SW Douglas, Winston OR

875 S. Main, Myrtle Creek OR

Via Trading Chat