Hospice expands charity shops

CLAIRE SAMES

The Princess Alice Hospice is to expand its chain of charity shops and recruit paid retail staff for the first time.

As part of a wider review of its retail division, the Surrey-based hospice for the terminally ill is to raise its network of shops from 20 to 25. The outlets will open within its catchment area of Surrey and south-west London.

"Our shops haven't moved with the times like others - so we've got to catch up and we've got to appeal to a wider market," said David Prest, the hospice's retail director. "At the moment we're walking before we can run. We want to upgrade our existing shops, relocate some to better positioning and identify possible sites elsewhere."

Until now the charity has relied on its 760-strong volunteer base to run its outlets. "The shops have had no management structure in place," said Prest. "We're recruiting to co-ordinate the shops in the same direction."

Prest is seeking to hire shop co-ordinators and assistant shop co-ordinators who will act as a management team across more than one outlet.

The existing shops will undergo a refit, and shop fronts will be updated using its new green and dark blue colours. The previous branding used more "clinical" colours of white with royal blue.

The modernisation of the shops is in response to market research, which found that customers were put off by the "clutter" and "musky" smell of the shops, which encouraged the hospice to review its facilities and address quality and pricing issues.

The hospice also admitted it felt under pressure to respond to the recent upgrade of Oxfam shops that was carried out following consultations with leading interior designer Sir Terence Conran.

As well as introducing changing cubicles in the shops, the hospice aims to educate the customers about the beneficiaries by using posters and information leaflets.

Last year, the hospice's trustees set aside £300,000 to invest in the future of retail income generation over a three-to five-year period following a downturn in charity shops' income in 1998.

"Ours was a steeper decline than most because our shops were out of line with what people were looking for," said Prest. "We're rebranding and opening shops in a stronger charity shop market as there's been an upturn in sales in the past year."

A five-year business plan estimates the shops will achieve a surplus of £750,000 per annum by year three.

At present, the hospice's charity shops raise around £450,000 each year.

In addition to providing care services, the hospice also runs an eight-week study course on palliative care.

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