"It's an effective way of generating unrestricted in-come for the charity, which we need urgently," said Ken Madine, head of fundraising. "It's also an opportunity to have a high-street presence and signal to people that we are in their community."
The charity wants to open 20 stores over the next five years in clusters of five or seven. So far, it has planned the first cluster for the south-east, based on commercial viability and proximity to head office in London.
The shops cost from £25,000 to £40,000 to set up, said Madine, and profit is expected to be between £20,000 and £25,000 a year. The first shop has been financed by a £50,000 gift from a private donor, and items for sale are already pouring in.
Madine denied that the market for charity shops had reached saturation point, adding that bag drops for charity shops had recently been double the normal level.
Victim Support ruled out setting up shops five years ago, when the market lulled and the rag price dropped, but said a study last year indicated that charity retail was growing slightly faster than commercial retail.
Rag prices have now increased and shops' dependence on money from rag sales has dropped, suggesting a more diversified income.
"Five years ago, rag was 10 per cent of profit, but now it's 3-4 per cent of profit, and the price of rag has come back," said Madine. Charities trading clothes into the rag trade receive 16p a kilo and 17p a kilo for shoes.
Having a retail arm also means that Victim Support can reduce its dependence on government funding, Madine said. Income from government is £30m, the charity raises £12m itself and £2m to £3m is gifts-in-kind.