NEWS IN FOCUS: Second-hand comes into vogue - Charity shops are shedding their cobwebbed image to attract a different type of customer. Lucy Maggs takes a look at their innovations.

LUCY MAGGS

Charity retailer Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development (Traid) has started to supply second-hand clothing to high-street retailer Top Man. Clothing carrying a Traid label is now sold in the company's flagship store in London, with half the price on the tag going to the organisation.

Andrew Edwards, director of Traid, says: "This is the first time a charity has supplied a high-street retailer. Charity and commercial retailing don't need to be at war."

The Arcadia Group, owner of Top Man, is keen for the charity to supply other branches of the store around the country and, possibly, to move into women's clothing too. Other retailers have also expressed an interest in the idea.

Richard Goodall, director of the Knowledge Company, a voluntary sector resource management consultancy, says: "Selling to Top Man is a good innovation ... (Traid) can sell its clothing in a central location that no charity shop could afford".

The sector has experienced difficulty in recent years. The latest Charity Finance charity shops survey shows that profits for charity shops fell by 11 per cent and 8.7 per cent in 1999 and 2000 respectively. The Charities Aid Foundation's Dimensions 2000 report also showed falling profits in the sector. In 1997-1998, charity shops raised a total of £271 million but by 1999-2000 this figure had dropped to £256 million.

Charity shops have responded by diversifying and moving away from the traditional shop model.

Traid also runs seven shops in London and Brighton. Clothing is donated via recycling banks and sorted according to the profiles of the different stores. Some clothes are customised by Traid's staff.

The first ever permanent charity shop was opened by Oxfam in 1948. Since then the organisation has opened stores across the country. In 1998, it launched the Oxfam Original shop, which was aimed at more the fashion-conscious buyer - there are now branches across the country. Some other stores have Oxfam Original departments, although the charity does not act as a supplier in the same way as Traid.

Oxfam also runs specialist furniture and bookstores and even has shops and departments specialising in bridal wear and accessories.

It is one of the charities that has recently started to use online auctions to sell some of the more valuable items donated to its shops. Lekha Klouda, executive secretary of the Association of Charity Shops, says: "This has proven very successful for many charities, allowing them to access more specialist buyers."

The British Heart Foundation has taken a different route. It has opened a store in Kent specialising in second-hand furniture and electrical goods such as washing machines. It took more than £12,000 in its first three weeks.

But Knowledge Company's Goodall warns that there is a growing tendency for charities to judge the success of shops on what they look like. "Rather than seeing them as a way of raising money, they focus on the shorter term objectives. Differentiation in shops is important but the question is how much does it cost?"

Charities' efforts, however, do seem to be paying off. In the past 12 months sales seem to have improved. "The benchmarking survey we conduct every three months shows sales have picked up very well,

says Klouda.

But this is not the only factor that has contributed to the recovery of the sector. "The hard years have resulted in charities pulling their socks up and putting the emphasis on key elements of retailing such as pricing and location,

adds Klouda.

Despite the success of these new stores, however, Klouda insists that the traditional shop will not disappear. She says it has been reliably successful over the years and it is likely to remain so. She says: "Most shops are still fairly traditional and (the) new, innovative stores are not yet big enough to influence sales very much, but they have helped to raise the profile of charity shops."

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