Chris Pletcher is the Business Developer (and “Jack of all trades”) at Finger Lakes ReUse. I met him at the 2019 Build Reuse conference in Pittsburgh, PA and saw a presentation he gave about the metrics and data he uses at the reuse store to improve sales and manage expenses.
We had a lengthy discussion about the following topics:
- Chris’ background in solar, deconstruction and reuse
- About Finger Lakes Reuse and what they accept and resell
- How they track sales and inventory throughout their stores and locations
- What key metrics (KPIs) he uses to decide how each store is doing
- Decision tree on how he uses the data to make decisions about how to improve
- Customer behavior with a reuse store based on inventory turns
- How they use a 6 color pricing system for discounting items
- Criteria for “culling” or removing items off the shelf to make room for new stuff, and where those items go
- How he measures productivity
- How they’re dealing with COVID and volunteers
- New “dollar tree” reuse store they are opening soon and how they’re making new items more visible
- Working with local college students
- How they have learned to collaborate more closely in the community so all businesses thrive as a system
This podcast is almost 2 hours in length, but there is so much good content I didn’t want to take anything out. I also don’t like when podcasts are split into two episodes, so you’re getting it all at once.
- Chris Pletcher
- Finger Lakes Reuse @ IthacaReUse.org
- Cascadia Alliance
- Build Reuse
- Read full show notes | Subscribe or rate this podcast
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Brion (B): Why don’t we start off if you want to introduce yourself and how you got into the ReUse at Finger Lakes?
Chris (C): My name is Chris Pletcher and I work in the Finger Lakes ReUse for a little over six years now. Prior to working here, I worked in the filler industry a bit as an installer, also on energy efficiency also as an installer. I did work at another reuse operation in Vermont about a year doing deconstruction, deconstructing houses in the field. I ran a crew for a little bit doing that and also worked at just generally construction.
Before coming here, I got a Master’s degree. I already had a Bachelor’s in history, but I got a Master’s degree in regional planning with a focus on economic development and data analysis. Coming to Ithaca, New York, Cornell has an amazing regional planning school and I came here as trailing spouse and there wasn’t really too many positions in the region for regional planners, so I ended up going back to the reuse world and I’m really glad I did because I think I enjoy this working in a dynamic… We’ve only been around for about 11 years, so it’s still very much a startup organization and a startup mentality and that just fits so much better with me than I think would’ve been fitting in as a city planner or a county regional planner. I don’t think that would’ve been as good of a fit, but I do take a lot of these skills and knowledge that I got from the planning degree and looking at things through a planning perspective and economic development perspective to my current job here.
I’ve done a wide variety of things here. I just started doing pretty basic work here. Was the Deconstruction Coordinator for maybe a half a year and, in some ways, I’m still be acting Deconstructing Coordinator because we never really filled it. Since then, there’s been a few jobs over the years where I operate the job and along with any other jobs I do here. For a number of years, I was the Deputy Director, ran the business and was the second in charge of the organization. We have like 50-some employees by now, so we’ve really quite grown. At the moment, my title is Business Developer and so I really focus on the data stuff, manage our cash flow and budget process, and look at how the data informs that, and then help the stores in our other business operations with data and projecting and trying to analyze where we are and where we’re going along with taking on different expansion projects. Right now, I’m also the Acting Manager at a new store we opened a few months ago and also manage our field operations, pick up some deliveries that we do.
I do some maintenance as well, I can drive trucks, so yeah. One thing I really enjoy doing is, I love building retail fixtures because so many fixture items are so oddly shaped, they don’t come in boxes for us a lot, so that don’t go nicely on the shelf, so a lot of times, we have to… I love building very interesting ones from used materials. I took apart my deck a year ago at my house and I donated the old lumber from that and made some bookshelves for our book department in our store out of my old deck. I like doing those kinds of things as well. A lot of opportunity for creativity at the organization.
B: I think the deconstruction is probably how we met, going to the Build Reuse Conference last year. Was that in Pittsburgh?
C: Yeah. It feels like five years ago.
B: Yeah, just thinking like, “I think I was just last year, right? Okay.” I think you were presenting before me and I was really fascinated with the discussion and some of the data that you were sharing about how you’re looking at the operations there.
C: Like any other organization that sells things, we track our sales and we do it by different departments – furniture, housewares. As an organization, we sell pretty much anything that’s reusable. Mattresses we haven’t got into. That’s really the only main category, mattresses and box frames, but we sell building materials, furniture, housewares, electronics. We refurbish computers and sell a used computer with a warranty, so appliances. In the last three years, we’ve added clothing and books as well to our repertoire among our currently three locations at the moment.
B: You sell those all those in all the stores or, like the clothing, are those in just specific stores?
C: The stores are differentiated a bit. Originally, we just had the one store that we opened 11 years ago and we were doing building materials and computers. We have an e-center, we call it, where we do computer refurbishment. We also do a computer service; you can bring your laptop in and get it repaired at a reasonable rate. We have reasonable rates and we also have even a lower one if you are a low income, we will repair it at even a lower cost to you.
When we expanded to a second store, the vast majority of our… The computing stuff is at one store. We do have our other stores, it’s kind of two other stores, but they’re kind of right next to each other in a strip mall, so it’s sort of like one. That location sells some electronics, mostly just more electronics, like a receiver or a VHS player, speakers, those basic electronics, and the actual computing is just done at the one location. Building materials is just the one location because that’s more outdoor, bulky. And then also, the clothing is just at another location, so they are differentiated a little bit. Housewares and furniture is everywhere because we have so much of those things, but otherwise, generally, things are somewhat specified.
We do track it all by sales and by department, and we’ve done that since we started, but right when we started, we got a whole point-of-sales system because we were initially funded by our county solid waste division, wanting to divert more items from the waste stream into reuse, so they were very interested to track the volume or weight of items that were going through our system. We initially got a point-of-sale system to do that rather than just using cash registers. Initially, they had an idea of trying to track how things were being donated and track donors by using the vendor and receiving system in the point-of-sale system and trying to go county donor as a vendor and then counting what they donated so we could track with different people were donating. It was quite an effort to track it that way and it fell apart a bit, but when I started working here like six years ago, there was still a process of people receiving things into the inventory and so that was an active process.
I was able to look at how they were doing that and they weren’t getting much data from it then, but it was just something they always did and so they just kept doing it. They were using this extra work to not really produce any data, but I looked at the fact that they were already receiving all the items into inventory and tracking them and, from that, I was able to take that process they were already doing and find a way to track the actual production of what they were putting into the inventory.
All the items we put into our sales floor, we do receive it into inventory like a conventional retail business, and we don’t actually worry about our on-hand quantities being correct because a lot of things sometimes can sell and they don’t actually get put in the right item code and things just get pulled off the floor and discarded if they don’t sell and we don’t pull it out of the inventory, so the on-hand quantities are all over the place and I don’t really care that those be actually correct. We never do inventory or those kinds of things because I don’t see the value in doing that. I think it would be a lot of work to get it even close to correct and that’s why I haven’t attempted to do that. But we’re able to track the actual receiving- putting it in the inventory and creating a voucher in the point-of-sale system is of real value because then we’re able to do a report of the vouchers in a given time period, usually a week or a month, and we can see the total production.
We track it both items, but especially in the total value. That’s what really matters because that’s what attached to the [inaudible] for the dollar value. I can easily see, based on department, I can see that this store stocked $6000 of building material last week or our Triphammer location, which sells clothing, they priced and stocked $9000 worth of closing last week. For the clothing, that stuff’s just all at $4 an item for a lot of the pants and shirts and stuff like that, but then if something is really nice, we might price it up and put $40 on it. It puts all those $40 items, the $20 items, and all the bulk $4, which is the vast majority, all together and just gets the dollar value, which is the total value of product we put on the floor in a given week. Obviously, we’re selling for the dollar value, so we’re able to put those two together, basically take the sales of a certain department over a certain time period and divide it by the total production value and stocked in that given time period, and then we’re able to get a percentage, which I call the sales divided by pricing ratio or sales production ratio. I just put SP ratio.
That, for different departments, that’s an extremely useful metric that I’ve been looking at for the past few years to really see how different departments are doing. Especially when sales aren’t meeting expectations, we have goals, we have a budget, and then we for the budget, we set production goals and sales goals, and when we’re not meeting our sales goals, which many other stores have experienced and then they have to figure out from there what they should do and what the problem is, we’re able to, very quickly, identify what the problem is. Just by looking at that percentage, without even walking into the store, if it’s not at the store that I’m normally at, I can usually make a pretty good guess as to what the issue is just by looking at that percentage.
Normally, I like to see it in the low- to mid-70s is the ideal sweet spot for our stores for most of our departments because that means that, basically, if it’s 70%, that means, for every $100 we stock on the floor, we get $70 in the register. For us, that’s a pretty good sweet spot. The reason I don’t like to see much higher- in an ideal world, every $100 we stock, we would get $100 in the register, but it’s not the reality because every single item that we stock is not going to be wanted by a person who walks in and to pay that exact price for it, so some things are going to have [inaudible]. We have a color tag system that, after something’s been stocked for 1 to 2 weeks, it goes to 25%, and then the following week, 50, and then after that, 75%. That helps if we put $80 on an item and there doesn’t seem to be a market item for that market in at $80, in two weeks, it’ll be $60 to try to push out the door because we have such a huge volume of goods coming in.
Really, when I look at the profit on an item, we’re not consigning items, we’re not paying for items, so really, we have no cost to good on an item, so really, what cuts into the potential profit of an item is how long it sits on the floor. I’ve calculated, based on our sales, that at our main location, we really need each square foot to generate $2 a day in revenue. I think what I was looking at is we have a rack with doors in it at our main location with the building materials and basically that whole rack needs to generate, the space it takes up in our store needs to generate about $100 a day, needs things to flow out of that rack. That $100 rack or one $100 door or it might two $50 doors or that could be four $25 doors. To me, it doesn’t really matter. That space needs to generate that amount of revenue per day, and so we really need stuff to flow through because the longer it sits there, the cost of it keeps going up and up, really the opportunity cost of not being able to sell something else that space.
B: I’ve got a question about the donations. When they come in, are you logging when they’re received and then you’re also logging when they go out to the floor, two separate points, or is it only when they’re going out to the floor, you’re counting it as a donation at that point?
C: As the item flows through our entire process. It’s bare-bones, but what I think the business is we take an item from one person and try to get it to another person, and we try to make our cost as low as possible to do that. We take it from a donor, it gets sorted, gets maybe wiped down if it’s dirty, it gets put on the shelf, and then a customer comes along and purchases it and they go out the door. As low as we can make the cost of getting it from Point A to Point B, from the donor to the customer, obviously, the more revenue we can generate and we can lower our expenses and keep growing, but the data and how we track the data in that process, it’s a little different at our two…
We have two donation drop-off points right now and we’re looking at adding the third because we’re looking at adding a fourth location. But at one location, our busiest one, our donation building is separate from our main building. We originally had it in our main building, but the donations were growing at such a higher rate than we could actually increase our sales at, that it really became really inefficient and, at times, unsafe by having so many donations piling up in a small space, and a good amount of those, especially when we started taking clothes, would need to be diverted to the other store, so that would just take up a lot of space.
We had a little 1500 square-foot building off to the edge of the property, right by the road and it’s a busy road, so we were able to do a little drive-through there, which then increased our donations even higher when we started that last year. It’s more convenient and much more visible, a really nice drive through, and then our donations went up by like 75% at that location last year just by having this much more… But it allows us to absorb it in this building and then we have to schlep it across the parking lot to our main building or drive it to the other location. But also, having a separate building really allows us to track more data because what we do is we track…
We do a car count at any donor that comes through, and most of them are in cars. Some people walk or bike them up, but for the most part, it’s cars. Every single donation, whether someone just comes up with one little box or they come with a whole U-Haul truck just gets marked as one. So we track how many donors are coming through, so that gives an idea and that’s very useful. And then for at least three months, we were able to do this fairly well. When it got really busy the whole summer, we lost our ability to track the volume of goods that were leaving this building, but for the last three or four months last year, we were able to track the total volume that was leaving the building.
Most things get either put on a pallet and palletized to get brought over to the store or to get trucked to the other store, or are put into a Gaylord, a big 4 x 4′ cardboard triple-wall box, like clothing and books get put in those and then they get moved around, or items like the furniture and other really large items just get brought over on a truck usually to the other store or to the other place. So we try to break everything down, whether it’s furniture or whether it’s clothing in a Gaylord or whether it’s boxes of household goods all palletized on a pallet, we try to break it down to pretty much like a pallet of goods. It’s furniture, if it’s a whole box truckload of furniture, we might say that’s like six pallets of goods, just estimating it, and then the folks who are moving that then, either on a clipboard and we also have a little app that we made, you can log into a little website and just enter the data, and we say those are six pallets worth of larger items moved from the donation site to the store or moved from the donation drop-off center to the containers.
We have containers that we use to help manage the flow of goods, so if it goes from the container to the store, we track that. We’re able to get an idea of the total volume of goods that are moving through the organization and then, once it gets into the store, then they’ve got to break down the pallet and then what they’re really doing is they’re putting it into the point-of-sale system and then we’re getting tracked on how many items and also the total dollar value that’s being stocked.
Basically, especially during that three or four-month period when we were able to track it fairly well, we were able to get some really good data, which has been extremely helpful in planning our expansion this year and also restarting with the shutdown that we had. We shut down our sales for a good month and a half at least, and also, we’ve shut down our donations for even longer. Based from that three or four-month period, I was able to say that every seven and a half donations that we get results in pretty much one pallet of goods on average, and then every pallet of goods that gets brought into the store usually results in around $330 worth of sales in the register.
That’s been really helpful to plan because then… We’re actually reopening our donations in a few days and we expect it to be quite a lot of donations and our sales are down because our traffic is down because of people not shopping as much, so I’m trying to plan how many donations we’re going to get, based on donations we had last August and last September, and expect it to be a little more than last year, and the from the amount of donations, just people, the car count, I’m able to guess how much total volume are going to get donated in the next six weeks. And then I have our sales projections on the other side and I can estimate how many total pallets of goods we probably need to do those sales, and then from that, I’m like I’m going to have an extra 100 pallets of goods over the next six weeks, so I’m going to have to try to find a way to manage either in containers or some other way of expanding or a pop up that sale is actually a good idea right now. Doing even just that little bit off three, four months, and ideally, we’re going to keep track that kind of stuff and then the actual, that $330 per pallet and seven and a half donations per pallet, those numbers can get more refined if they shift over time.
Just by getting more data, we’ll be able to make better estimates of those numbers. Because if I didn’t have those numbers, if we didn’t do that three or four months of data, I’d just be completely guessing as to how many donations our stores need in order to survive. Because if we have too few donations, then we’re not going to have stuff on the floor, the sales are going to be down, and if we have too many, then it’s going to back it up and it becomes both inefficient and then an unsafe if it stays piling up too much. So it’s extremely helpful to guess how many donations you’re going to need in order to meet a certain amount of sales production.
B: If you have the donations coming in, you’re tracking the number of vehicles for, say, the total donations, and then when you’re sending it out from the donation center to the different stores, then it’s going out as containers or pallets or Gaylords?
C: Or pallets, yeah.
B: And when it gets into the store, it’s getting broken down into the different categories of clothing and hardware and furniture and there’s an estimate at that point when it’s received or is it when they’re processing it, they’re categorizing it and then that’s going into their warehouse processing results that I think we’ll get into here, but is that where that determination is made? I guess is there two steps from receiving it in the warehouse at the store to when it’s leaving the warehouse, or is it just one point where they’re recording all that information, the value and the categorization of those items?
C: It’s just really one step in the stores. If I bring a couple of Gaylords of clothing into one of our stores… We do track it by departments. The person either sending it from that donation center or the driver would enter that they brought three Gaylords of clothing from this drop-off donation center to the store, and that total volume of movement gets tracked.
And then in the store, what they’re doing, they have all these goods that they need to sort through and get ready and process and get ready for the sales floor. They have those kind of building up, but what their main concern is, they start going through and the items in the store, their production down to the department and down to the item really, and the total value that’s getting stocked, that really gets tracked at the moment it’s stocked on the floor. So at times in the past, we’ve had people that haven’t been entirely clear on that.
Like the person who was stocking box for a while, they would be starting books and then they’re sorting by genre and maybe the history genre is just backing up and they’re getting all of these sorted books and boxes of it in the back of history, but the history section is full on the sales floor and they don’t have the room to expand it and they don’t really want to cull the sales floor. So they have these boxes building up in the back and I would see those boxes and sometimes, if there’s space, that’s okay, but I really don’t like to have stuff to build up in the back end too much, I’d rather it be on the floor in some way.
But I also noticed the woman was writing, “Entered, already in point-of-sale,” on the sides of the boxes, which then to me, when I look at the data, I was looking at the production data as just these books that were on the sales floor, but she was putting them in the system but then not actually stocking them. I told her it’s all right if you have them built up a little bit in the back, but please don’t put them in the system until it’s actually on the floor. I want to look at it almost in real-time, the production versus sales, and to me, it’s not really production unless it’s on this floor available to a customer.
If you did the whole sorting process and you did 95% of the work and it’s either hung on a rack, if it’s clothing, or if it’s nicely wiped off and clean and it’s got a price tag on it and it’s ready to go on the floor but it’s not actually on the floor, that’s not going to help the sale at all, so not until it’s on the sales floor ready for a customer do you actually put it into the system. Their main concern is sorting it, and then as they stock it on the floor, they enter it into the system.
B: So it’s like 12 history books or just 12 books or something like that?
C: Yeah, 12 books. Since we’re not tracking inventory, like if it says 390 items and it’s really 560 that are actually on the floor at this moment, in terms of when I look at the on-hand quantities, since we’re not concerned with that and we’re not looking at day-to-day whether it was 76 books or 87 got out or 68 or something. Really, the shortest time period I look at this kind of production versus sales is a week because if you look at it in a much shorter period, it’s going to have wild swings and it’s not going to be that useful and because, also, I don’t want really a person to count every single book that goes on the sales floor because I think that would just take too much time, so really they stock it by a box gets filled, they bring the box and stock it and each box is worth 25 books. There might be 22 books, there might be 28. Let’s say the box of books becomes the unit. Same with smaller items that are getting price tags. They’re putting $5 price tags or $10 price tags.
Really, our system, when they print those, maybe they print 20 $10 price tags, that’s really what it gets entered into the system because it’s easy to print the tags then enter it in the inventory at the exact same time, and so really maybe only, that day, 15 of those 20 go out, but then the next day, those five go. From day-to-day, it’s not exact, but really because I’m really looking at month-to-month, week-to-week on that data, so as long as it gets averaged out a bit, that’s fine by me. And if it’s five extra this day and five less the next day, as long as our methods are pretty similar over time, I know that each day can be give or take 10, but over time, that give or take 10 will average out and it’ll be consistent.
B: I think that means you’ve got these estimates. Because I think that’s been a challenge from other sites, that they want accuracy but they don’t know how much accuracy and the details, I think, are overwhelming, especially for what the task might be. I think the fear is having to put in all that detail, but if you could say it’s about 25 and it’s about $300 and it’s around… I think those averages are really a nice trade-off there that allow you to track but not worry about the nitty-gritty details and I think that’s something that a lot of the other stores can leverage that to say we just want rough numbers and that’s going to be good enough for what we’re trying to do.
C: Yeah, because again, since we’re not buying the inventory, we don’t really need to worry about that we’re tracking it fairly well in terms of from an accounting perspective, that if you’re purchasing items for conventional retail, you want to have your inventory relatively correct so that you know how much value have on hand and how much you purchased and all of that. So we’re not honestly concerned from that perspective, and really, it’s not really like a test. We’re not trying to figure out exactly how many books we stocked on a given day because I’m not sure what the value in that would be.
But if you think of it in terms of a test that you’re trying to find the right answer, that you get bogged down in figuring out the exact numbers. Sometimes people worry with data that this sine it’s all numbers and it all looks very precise, then it should be accurate, but really, when I think about data, and I’ve expressed this to others when we’re looking at it, that really you want to decide how important accuracy is in certain data. Like this data, I’m really using to look for trends in how our sales and production and how our operations are working. If it normally should be 70% and I’m seeing 60%, what I’m looking at is the fact that it’s considerably lower.
You can theoretically spend a whole lot more energy to find out what the exact answer and the exact answer might be 57% or it might be 64% or 58%, but it’s probably going to be around 60%. Whether it’s 58% or 62%, I’d probably make the same business decision based on the fact that we’re 5% to 15% below the ideal number, so it’s really looking for trends. If you’re just looking for trends and then trying to make business decisions based off those trends, accuracy is not as important. It’s more important that it’s accurate enough and also that your methods are staying consistent.
For many years, we have tracked the store traffic that’s coming in. The cashier tallies the amount of people on a piece of paper that are walking through the front door and 45 minutes will go by without putting any numbers down because they got caught up in things and forgot. Some are better than others and then they just, “It just seemed like nine people came in,” and so that data is not that accurate or that useful, but what is useful looking at the data is that I can say it’s not accurate, but at least it’s consistently inaccurate. Because we’re using the same method to take the data over time, so you can take that data and look for trends. You can see how things go up or down, you can see that these hours, the beginning of the day seems busier than the end of the day because the numbers are higher, so you can start to see some information from it even if these out numbers aren’t accurate.
But it becomes problematic if we start comparing that traffic data versus our transaction data, which our transaction data is accurate because it’s coming out of our point-of-sale system, so it’s never been useful to take our traffic data and compare it to our transaction data to get… It’s a pretty common retail metric where you just take the transaction divided by the store traffic, like the success rate of what percentage of customers purchase things, that’s something that stores really look at. For us, it hasn’t been helpful to look at that because one number is really accurate and the other we know is not very accurate, so putting them together is not going to be useful. I think really it’s like you said, especially this business where there’s a lot of variety and a lot of volume, and if you start worrying about being too accurate with the stuff, you can get really lost in it and you won’t get any useful information at all and you’ll overwhelm the workers who are trying to gather this data. So we try to keep it pretty simple by saying, “This is exactly what we want and this is the level of accuracy we want with this data, but beyond that, don’t try to do more because it seems like a good idea.”
B: I get this sometimes with people I work with, there’s sensitive information and data and I tell them the exact same thing. I said I don’t really care what the number is. I’m looking at the trend of that data, so you can take off the access, don’t even show me the number. I don’t care what your dollar amount is or what have you, that sensitive info. I just care about what the chart looks like and I’m going to look at the pattern, to your point exactly is looking at the trend of that. I think you’re right, if it’s consistent data, even if it’s off a little bit, it can help us detect changes or trends in that data.
When they are putting stuff on the floor, that’s being tracked as the output from the warehouse process or the production (if you call it that). Are you looking at that information then on a daily basis or is that looked at weekly?
C: It depends who you are. Because we have sales projections from our budget and we have if the number, like the sales pricing ratio, if that’s 70%, I know if my sales go with $7000 in this department for the week, then I know that production has to be 10,000, then we can get a production goal from that and then knowing that we need to put $10,000 worth of product into this department in order to get $7000 worth of sales.
And then for the people who actually work in that department every day, who are full-time just sorting and pricing and stocking, they get production goals around that. A lot of the different departments, I’ve allowed them to choose what their unit is, whether it’s a shopping cart, whether it’s just items, or whether it’s clothing, it might be like a rolling rack that has a certain amount of clothing on it each time, so pick a unit of production. Pretty much, it’s how they’re moving. The books, it’s boxes. However they’re moving their item to the floor, so that’s the production unit, and then we can estimate if the books are $4 a piece and there’s 25 in there, then each box is $100 worth of value and if we need to talk $3000 worth of books for a week, then we can figure out we need 30 boxes of books need to go out. Then they have their goal and if they’re working five days, and that’s probably six boxes of books a day.
We have, in our store, we have these big production boards that show, over the course of the week… And actually, the boards that they use, we’ve gone back and forth whether to break it down just the production unit for staff or whether to look at the dollar value. We kind of look at both as we’re trying to figure out which is the better to use. With something like books, it’s pretty consistent value because they’re all the same price, but something… We’d like the production goal to be pretty consistent, and that’s why using item as opposed to the total dollar value because we don’t want people to up their prices in order to meet a production goal if it’s a dollar value goal.
And also, they can’t really control the quality that’s coming in. They might get a run of really high-quality stuff, and then all of a sudden, by one, they’ve got their production goal because they’ve been able to put high prices on all of these things. But on the flip side, they could work, work, work and they ran some really low-value stuff and then they have no chance of making their goal, so it’s nice to break it down to a more consistent unit.
The idea being that if household goods or something like that, and we know that the average household good is let’s say $2 each, and they have a certain dollar value goal they need to reach and so if they have to put out $20,000 worth of product or something like that, then they know that if it’s $2 each, then that would be $10,000 worth of items need to go out on the sales floor. The idea being that if they do 10,000 a week, every week is not going to be $20,000 in value. Some weeks are going to be 12,000, some weeks going to be 28,000, some are going to be 25,000, 19,000. It’s going to jump around based on the quality of that merchandise that’s coming in, whether it’s small, whether it’s larger, and just the quality. But the idea being, if we got that 10,000 items divided by the $2 an item, then we know that if we do this for 10 weeks roughly, then the average amount of production per week is going to be $10,000 because we got this $2 an item from the average from the past.
I usually do a three-month average and I’m always updating whether it’s $2 an item or this or that, these metrics for how to get to their quotas essentially. I always use the previous three months, and so if the previous three months show that they need to do 10,000 items, then over the next to the 10 weeks, then probably if they do that 10,000 items, they should do the $20,000 a week on average. I think all those weeks will average over and that works fine because we’re not as worried that each week… I look at the sales and production. I usually look at I have a little table where I have last week’s numbers and then I have the average of the last five weeks, pretty much a running average for the last five weeks, and I look quickly at last week, because I’m always interested in how well we did, but I never put much stock in one week, whether it’s high or low. If it’s high, I just figure it must’ve been a good week, maybe they put out some high-value things. and probably next week won’t be very good. If it’s the opposite, if it’s low I’m like we need to start doing better and put out more stuff. I don’t assume next week’s going to be good because this week is bad, but I always look for a five-week average because I want to see the trend over a longer period of time and really make decisions stuff off of longer trends.
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C: In one week because, whether it’s low or high, you start looking there for longer trends and then you can see what needs to be done. Like I said earlier, I can make some really good assessments without even looking at the store usually. I was just looking at the ones for the past five weeks and our sales have been… We’ve reopened our stores like two months ago, all of our stores buying for the last two months, and our sales are maybe 20% to 40%, among our stores, less than they were before we closed, which has been a real challenge, but it’s been hard to figure out exactly what has caused that. Just looking at our main store, which is doing 15% to 20% less than it was pre-shutdown, and I look at.
For the last five weeks, we’ve been doing… And I have a goal of 15,000 a week and we’ve been doing 13,400 for the past five weeks in that store, so that’s 11% less than our goal. Then I look at the production side and our production side is 10% less than our goal. I put that together and I’m like if we just would produce 10% more product on the sales floor, then I know that I could expect to hit our sales goal. And then I look at the sales pricing ratio and for the past five weeks, it’s been at 82%, which is quite a bit higher than 70%. When I see it get that high, especially across the whole store, without even going to the store, I know that they have lots of empty shelves because that percentage really becomes a proxy for sales versus demand. With that around in the low-70s, that’s the ideal sales versus demand ratio or just relationship. If it starts getting too high, like around 82%, that means the demand is starting to outpace our production, which then means that there’s empty shelves in the store.
This always happens in August because we’re a college town and a lot of students come back and a lot of leases turnover at the end of July/early August because of the schools, so therefore, a lot of people are buying new things for their apartment and we can never keep up with demand at this time of year, but it’s also coupled with we haven’t reopened donations because of various other challenges and we’ve had a lot of back stock that’s been piled up, and so we’ve been getting through that to try to get a little… Before we open donations.
But I know when I walk through the store, I see a lot of empty shelves, but just looking at the numbers, I know there would be empty shelves just because people are buying a lot and we’re not keeping up with the production. Conversely, if I would see it go low, if I would see it around 60%, that means that the demand isn’t keeping up with our production, and there’s a couple of ways that I like to… I guess the first way, when it’s a higher percentage, when it’s 82%, there’s two ways to handle it. To me, the always number one way is just increase production. We need to get more stuff on the sales floor, and I know there’s empty shelves there to put it on and I know we have the stuff, so therefore, the problem must just be there’s not enough stuff back there doing it.
The other option to do, if you just can increase production, you keep increasing production, either you don’t have the stuff coming in, you don’t have additional donations to put on the sales floor, or you don’t have the staff to increase production, or both of them, then what the solution to do, if you can’t increase production, is just to raise prices because raising prices will then reduce demand if the price goes up and you’ll sell fewer things and it’ll take longer to sell some of the stuff, but you’re not keeping the shelves full anyway, so you’re not in a rush to empty shelves because you don’t have more stuff put on the shelves anyway. By raising the prices, you’ll get a higher price per item and then you’ll probably increase your sales overall by getting a higher price per item but by selling slightly fewer or taking longer to sell the items, so that’s the option two.
We look at not just overall for the store, but really we look at that in different departments. Looking at it again, I can see computers and electronics, actually, that number’s 101% for the store, and so that means that for every $100 we stock, we get $101 in the register, which obviously isn’t possible, but that just means that people are still buying things that were stocked weeks and months ago, so that means it’s higher.
We ran out of surplus electronics a month and a half ago, so we’re still doing pick up donations, so we still have a little bit trickling in, but we’re putting out such a small amount of electronics and computers, that people are pretty much buying anything that we put out and they’re paying full price for it. Almost nothing is going to discount and they’re just buying and very few things are being discounted so that percentage is very high. That’s why we just haven’t been putting out a lot of stuff. We theoretically could, and I suggested raising prices a month or two ago, and I’m not sure if the folks who operate that department did, but that is a solution because we know we’re not going to get a lot more production in or a lot more items, we won’t be able to increase production really, so if we increase prices, then customers will be disappointed and probably will complain, but they don’t have another option really and they’ll pay the higher price for some of the items and we’ll get more sales, and the shelves will look more full even if it’ll look a little stagnant.
Conversely, when the percentage gets too low, which I’ve seen happen in the past, the first thing I look at, say when it gets down in the low 60s or even in the 50s when it sets becoming a problem, if it’s 50%, that means probably for every $100 we stock, we only get $50 in the register, and so the first thing I look at, and I would tell the people to go to the sales floor and look at the sales floor and see if there’s a way to improve the merchandising at all. Obviously, sometimes our stores get quite, quite messy, which some other reuse stores do as well. Sometimes people just put random boxes of stuff, our workers do, of stuff to sell on the floor, and sometimes at times, so many stuff has been randomly put on the floor that it almost blocks an entire aisle and the customers may even go… If the customer can’t get access to stuff, they can’t buy it at all.
Every time we get our stores better merchandised and a cleaner look and much nicer to shop, I always buy find that maybe 3% of people complain because we’ve ruined the treasure hunt and we’re ruining their fun of digging through random piles and stepping over things and climbing through things, but the other 97%, 98% of customers appreciate a cleaner, easier to shop look and reward us with more sales. So really, it’s got to be accessible in the first place, and then looking to improve the merchandise because that might be why customers are not buying things, because it’s just too hard to shop or it’s not appealing enough, so see if you can improve the merchandising.
If the merchandising is pretty decent, then the only other option I see is to lower the prices because if you lower the price, then that’ll increase demand. Because with our color tag system… We had a person in electronics a few years ago who, when I looked at his numbers, would regularly be in the 50s and he had convinced me early on that he didn’t need the color tag system, that he would stay on top of his stuff and who wouldn’t need the automatic discounting to move his item.
So we didn’t have the color tag system and so he would price things and we would often get a lot of complaints that his prices were too high and the numbers would back it up, that essentially, for a lot of things, he would have to heavily discount things. And he was very stubborn and he would think that I put $40 on this, this is what it’s worth and if someone doesn’t want to pay 40, then they shouldn’t get it. Sometimes, when he would discount at all, he would let it sit there for five months and then just scrap it because he was just so stubborn about the value that people should play for an item, and so we wouldn’t get any dollars for those $40 items he put on the floor.
I like a very aggressive automatic discounting system that really pushes the price down if customers won’t buy it, that really works on supply and demand. Because with the color tag system, it’s a very natural system. It’s just when a customer complains about the price, you can easily say, “I know you want it for $80 today, but if you just wait, it’ll be 25% and it’ll be $75 in a week from now, which is even cheaper.” Someone might buy it at 100 before then, but that’s up to you, it’s completely in their court whether they want to buy it or not or whether they want to wait. We’re very transparent in saying, “On Tuesday morning, at 10 o’clock, you can come in and it will be $75 if no one buys it first.” We try to be very transparent with that, which really then reduces the negotiations and complaints from customers.
B: And that color coding is the tag that is going on the item and then it just switches colors of every week? is that how it works? so when you put it on the floor, it’s red and then, a week later, what was 100% last week, now that becomes 75% the next week?
C: Yeah, I’d say one to two weeks because really how it works is we have six colors and at any given time, we have the color we’re pricing in, and then we have the color that we were pricing in last week, and then three discount colors, and then we have another color that used to be 75%, so then we give a week time period to allow us to maybe purge a lot of those items or heavily discount those items. If we price something at $100 and if I have customers to spend a week rejecting it at $75, we don’t want to raise the price to 100 again because that’s not going to help sell it, so we either want to lower it to like $15 or just send it out to the trash if someone wasn’t going to buy it.
Theoretically, something goes to 25% anywhere from 8 to 14 days after it’s been tagged. We tag a lot of the items and some of items we have, like cabinet pulls or just a dollar or the pants are $4. We have some basic prices and those items aren’t tagged and they’re not discounted by the color tag. We do a bulk discount for those, which really helps move things. Like with books, a book is $3 and you can buy four books for $10. That’s been extremely useful. That’s almost, at times, we sell more books by the four-item quantity than by the one item quantity or even books by the one or two item, which is pretty crazy to think that. Because really, when people are shopping for the books, they’re thinking, “I see one I like, two I like. How many should I buy?” but then they see the sign that says but four for $10, and it’s like, “I just by four books. That so many I buy at a time,” and then they get to choose four books and they get to be happy to stop at four, so you solve the question of how many books to buy, I buy four at a time. We’ve done that with clothes, we’ve done that with a lot of things. With the clothes, it’s $4 a piece, so you can buy five for $17. You just save a couple of dollars, but I think people do it almost more that it gives a very clear thing of how many they’re supposed to buy.
B: Less options to think about, yes.
C: Yeah. Get to five and stop, and that makes it simple for them rather than trying to…
B: Can you go back to what I thought was really fascinating, because most of my experience is manufacturing, and you don’t bring things out to the floor to sell or send it to your customer until they’ve consumed what you’ve already sent them. And so in the reuse world, it’s different because there may not be demand for that item and so, as you’re saying, you’re pushing through the production to say you need to put out on the floor this amount of material and then they go out there and they brought that amount of material out and there’s a shelf full of stuff. Can you talk through how you’re culling through that and what they’re looking for and that they need to get things out of the way to make room for the new stuff because the stuff’s taking up space and it’s costing money by sitting there and not selling?
C: I like to say that, and this is sort of a revelation to me when I started looking at the data and just seeing how much our sales tracked our supply, and part of it was that’s what I was working on. I was working on a couple of different data projects when I started working here and digging into the data because we never really thought about that, or the staff didn’t really think about that before. In retail, you’re just trained to think about it that retail is demand-driven, and most of it is, but you look for a specific thing and you buy it, and you stock things because you think customers are going to buy those specific things. And then, like you said, when you sell out of this thing, you order more to keep it well stocked because this seems to be a good seller.
I would look at our sales tracked and our sales would go up seasonally. Our sales would go up in the summer, and they would go down in the fall, so our lowest months would be in the fall, in the early spring, and our highest sales would be, certainly, in August because there’s all the students coming back, but even in May, June, July would be very high. We sold a lot of building materials, but even departments that weren’t building materials, they would go up considerably. You’d think, with the building materials, there would be higher demand in the summer than the winter since we’re pretty far north, more building in the summer, but even that…
I was looking at it and then when I started to look at some of the donation data… We had an earlier way of every donation we got, we would estimate it, the resale retail value. We’d look at the pile and say, “This has $400 in it,” or, “This has $200,” or this pickup had $2000, which would be a complete guess. They already had that data when I started working and I was looking at that and looking at the sales and they were tracking each other pretty well, pretty perfectly. Looking at that, and I’m thinking it must be… I was looking at it and I started to think about it as a supply-driven business and then thinking about our seasonal sales and I’m like I guess that makes sense that it goes that way. We’re a college town and the population of the city grows by 10,000, 15,000 people during the fall, and then it reduces by that in the summer, and I’m like if the population of this place decreases so substantially in the spring, why did the sales go up? because our theoretical customer base is decreasing by so much, but our sales go up. And then when I would look at the donation growth, obviously, students are leaving and everyone’s leaving town and our donations go up by so much in the spring. Our donation in May can be double what it is in December, the volume of donations.
So I started thinking about, yeah, maybe the sales are really more based on the donations and really that… We weren’t really tracking production at all, but that sales go down in the winter because our donations go down and the staff… The staff didn’t have production goals, and so they work at the pace that the pile is at behind them. The bigger the pile gets, the faster they work or the more staff we bring in or more volunteers we bring it to get that pile down, and therefore, we’re putting out more new product on the floor, and therefore, the sales go up because all the new product is going on the floor.
The more I started thinking about this over the years, and now that we’ve been tracking this production much more closely along with sales, and the numbers just perfectly track each other when you look at a month by month growth, that it’s really supply-driven. And then I started thinking that, really, what we have with customers is not the conventional retail demand. Sometimes it is, but the vast majority is more of a latent demand, as I think about it, when customers come to our store. I know when I shop at thrift stores, that’s how it is. A lot of our customers come a couple of times a week, once a week, once every few weeks. Occasionally, they come in because they need a new hose and we often have used hoses and this is going to be good enough for their project. They somewhat expect to get a hose with us before they go to Lowe’s to buy one if they don’t have one.
But if they also wander around, the amount of money really completely depends on what we have on the shelves. Whether we have that hose or not… You go to Lowe’s, you’re going to find a hose because they know people need hoses and they keep them well supply, but with us, we might have 10 to choose from, we might have long ones, short ones, we might have a high-quality one that was used once, we might have some really bad ones that you would just pass over anyway. So whether they buy it or not completely depends on the type of supply we have and what we have stocked in that given moment and the price and not just what we have. I’m sure people have seen a perfectly reasonable hose to buy with us and then gone to Lowe’s because our price happened to be almost as high as Lowe’s because the person who happened to price that one was pretty inexperienced, and so they put too high of a price. Even though it was what they would buy, it’s like I could buy a new one for the same price, so I’m going to go to Lowe’s. So that’s if they’re looking for something that the person knows we might have.
There’s a lot of customers that just come in to see what we have. They come and shop and they walk around the floor and they might spend $100, they might spend $200, they might spend nothing. It completely depends on what we have on the sales floor. And if they come weekly, it really depends on what we have put out in the last week because if they’ve already looked at something and said, “I don’t want this,” or, “I don’t even need a couch right now, so I’m not even going to look at the couches,” then seeing those couches again aren’t going to help. But I think even something as simple as someone’s got a coffee table that sort of works but they want a new one, but they don’t need a new one right now, so what they’re going to do is stop at our store every week or two and see what we have for coffee tables. If there’s one they really like at a price they find reasonable, then they’re going to buy it, but it might take a week, it might take four months for them to get that new coffee table because it’s not high-priority but if they see something they like.
So it completely depends on what we’re putting on the sales floor and the turnover, and then I also think the frequency that customers come also depends on the articles. Because customers, whether they’re a reseller, and we have lots of resellers who come every day, that come every two days, or I’m just a person like me that shops and I like to go to thrift stores. I like to buy audio cassette tapes myself and if I go to the Salvation Army and I go there once and I buy a couple and then I go there a week later and I don’t see a single new one, then I’m like maybe I don’t need to come here every week. I’m going to come every three weeks. Then I come in three weeks and I don’t see any new ones and I’m like that’s still too frequent to come. So if I determine the type of item I like to buy and I like to look at regularly, then I make this assessment of the store, how often I need to come to see enough new items in this department in order for me to decide how often I’m going to come. So the bigger the turnover in that department, the more often the person’s going to invest into coming to your store to shop, and every time they come, there’s a potential to buy something else they happen to see.
I think that’s extremely important to think about the turnover. So we’re actually down to the people have these production goals, and they’re putting out the production, and let’s say that there’s no more room to put out more stuff. Before we had production goals, when the shelves were full, I would hear, “The shelves are full. I don’t need to put anything more out because I don’t have any more room to put any more stuff out. Can you take these pallets of stuff and put them in storage because we don’t have any more room? we need to wait for customers to come to but these things.” With our production goals, we got completely rid of that mentality. The shelves are never full, essentially. Because if there is no more space on the shelves, you can usually organizing and merchandise and create a bunch of space. If not then, then you need to pull the old items off the shelf and the color tag system is a great way to do that. If things are color tagged, number one, I can pull items that were 75% last week, so I can grab pretty much all of those. And we try to do those even if the shelves aren’t full, we try to get a lot of those off if we have the labor to do it.
B: Is that 75% off of the original price? is that what you’re saying? so these are about ready to get disposed of anyways?
C: Yeah. The color is 75% off, and then before we start pricing that again, there’s a week time period from when it’s stopped being 75% off before we start using it again, which gives us some extra time to pull those items off the floor or reprice them. But then if there’s none of those items available, then I start grabbing 75% off items, and if there’s none of those, then I start grabbing 50% off items. I can work my way down just to create enough space to put the new product on the shelf, because the new product is what matters, and keep pulling the old product off. So the color tag is great.
So seeing the color tag, then we usually cull that way. We just cull based off the color and if you have a lot of volunteers or people with either our trained program with people that don’t have a lot of skills, that’s a great task for them. We work with another organization that does workforce training and placement for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment, and so they come and work with us a lot and we call it the treasure hunt because we say, “Go find all the blue items on the shelf,” and they go off with the cart and they just look for blue items with blue tags and it’s like a great task. It’s fun for them and they just bring it back to the back. And then the more experienced staff person goes through and decides what to trash and decides we put $15 on this item, maybe we’ll just put $3 on it now and somebody will buy it. So somebody else with a little more experience goes through and decides what to actually throw out and what to put back on the shelf, but it’s a good task for them that doesn’t take a lot of skill and kind of fun.
And then also, items like clothing or books or items that don’t have color tags, then we usually, a bit more experienced person goes through and culls, and they just use their experience and their memory of the sales floor to know what stuff’s been there a while or doing a mix of stuff that’s been there a while and stuff that’s just lower quality. Just go through the T-shirts just take out a stack of T-shirts out to put it out, so we can make room for more. If an item doesn’t have a color tag, that’s really our strategy to thin it out and it works whether it’s clothing or books or whether it’s hardware. If it’s doorknobs, you can go through and just pull out all the doorknobs that aren’t complete maybe or that are more scuffed up and just scrap all those, and that makes it a little more easier to shop and put a newer product on the floor that’ll just look different to customers and be different.
B: Do you get any discount… I think I’ve heard that you still have to pay your own landfill. You can maybe recover some cost from scrap, but you still are on the hook for the stuff that gets pulled out, right? you have to pay the hauling charges and the dumping fees and stuff like that. I always wonder how they could maybe figure out a way to give you some discount on that since you’re collecting other people’s sometimes junk that they’re dropping off, hoping that it doesn’t end up there, but it will eventually because it is junk.
C: We have to pay to get rid of everything. Even though we were really started by the county and we’ve gotten support by the county through all of these years to help us grow, they’ve never been able to just let us throw out stuff for free just to get… We would get treated just like a regular business on that end, and we pay I think $90 a ton in our county to throw things out. It’s really increased over the last couple of years as our donations have really skyrocketed. And also, with our clothing, at the moment, all the clothing that we can’t sell, we have to throw out at the moment. That really sucks that we haven’t…
We’re in this pocket where it’s a small city and we’re too… For a while, we were driving the stuff pretty much a four-hour round trip just to give it to another nonprofit who had a clothing baler and sold it on the rag market. We didn’t get paid for that and it would cost us pretty much the same to throw it out as it would to truck it all the way to Syracuse to throw it out. Then you’re losing the person who’s doing it who could be doing something else much more valuable. So we weren’t doing that for a long time, but then since the pandemic hit, they stopped allowing us to do that. They didn’t want to bring other people coming in and taking extra product from elsewhere that wasn’t really… It wasn’t a benefit to them because the hassle of… Even though we drove it all the way, the hassle of us taking it would be barely covered by the actual little bit of money they would get for what they selling.
They were mostly doing it as a favor to us, so since then, we’ve had to just throw it out, which is caused a lot of… It’s completely against our mission because we’re mostly focused on the reuse aspects and the environmental aspects related to the stuff. And then not only is it a huge cost, which I think our waste cost is about 2% of our sales, so our sales last year, about 1.5 million, so that’s probably about like $30,000 of waste cost, which that’s almost a full-time person.
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C: That’s part of the reason we’re going to expand. We’re trying to get suitable warehouse space and we can start baling clothing ourselves and selling it on the different commodities markets, so that’s our intention with that. And then also, people have been busting open our dumpsters to try to get at the stuff, and that’s caused a huge problem. They just make a huge mess around that, so that’s a real challenge [inaudible] that we have.
B: I know I’ve taken up a bunch of your time, but this is really good and I’m really enthralled in this. I want to just have you talk a little bit about you mentioned something before about having the goal for the production team and how in the past, without that, it just looks like a big pile that never gets done, but that maybe the goal helps them track their progress and feel like they’re getting something completed even though the pile just seems to continue to grow sometimes during the day.
C: Certainly, allowing us to move, especially with our main store with separating the donations from the production of it, the sorting, that’s certainly helped with not having gigantic piles. At least now they sort out this whole pallet of goods and then a new pallet comes in. At least they see some light at the end of the tunnel by getting down to the bottom of the pallet and being able to take out the empty ones before the new one comes in, so that helps a little bit. But the biggest thing, as you mentioned, is having goals that people can achieve rather than just working on a conveyor belt, which is, essentially, what it can feel like a lot of the time. At the start of the day, the conveyor belt starts with stuff and you’re just sorting and sorting and sorting, and then you flip off the conveyor belt at the end and it’s still piled with stuff as far as you can see ahead of you and it just never… It keeps coming. I’m sure that having goals that people can achieve, that are achievable and then also that people can track themselves against and can feel good about completing is extremely helpful. We’ve done some other ways of trying to engage staff on the data end and looking at sales and production as well. The production really helps and people get excited about hitting their goals and meeting their goals.
One other way that’s been really great, especially on the sales side, of getting people excited is, and we started this when we started our second store, so we’ve been doing this for like four and a half years now, but we have a daily report. We just use a Google Form. The manager of the day, whosever will do the close of the day, the manager at each of our stores, does a daily report where they put the traffic count, they put the donation count, the sales number for the day, and then they also write in what the sales goal was for that particular day so they can see how well it was against the goal, and then they have an opportunity to write some information about the sales. If the sales was really good, what were the reasons why they think it was, if it was certain departments or if it certain items that went really well.
And then also, any kind of customer issues or information they want to transfer, and then issues with donors or issues with any praise they want to give to staff. Mostly, on that end, it’s been really helpful. And then we have another question, which is more negative feedback on the staff, and that one just goes to a couple upper managers that they can deal with, but it’s a nice practical way for the manager, in the moment so they don’t have to read an email or think about it later or just tell someone verbally, that allows them to give some critical feedback about other staff in a very private way right in the moment, which is really helpful.
But this email goes out to… For a little while, we had it just go to a group of managers for like the first year or so, and then we kept, “It would be helpful if this person knew, and this person, and this person,” and then, two years ago, we just decided that every single staff member would get it, so it goes out to like 50-some people. Every manager’s essentially writing an all-staff email at the end of each day that goes out on how the day went. And on that staff and volunteer praise, that’s pretty much…
Some managers write, when I’m a manager, I don’t do it myself, but they write pretty much praise about every single person, trying to write a nice thing one other person did during the day and try not to leave people out. A couple of the managers like to spend quite a while writing this. It’s got like four paragraphs. But it is a boost for morale, it’s really wonderful. Because, often, it can become a bit of a thread where people are comments or someone says, “Thanks for the nice comments,” or something like that or adds another detail that wasn’t in the original one that the manager hadn’t heard about. Or if there’s an issue, sometimes if we’re bringing up issues like this happened and we need to figure out a way to deal with this, and then the other store might chime in, “We’ve dealt with it this way.”
It’s a really great thing and a lot of people look forward to reading it at the end of the day and just hearing the recap for the day and it also keeps people attuned to the numbers and seeing how numbers are going. So it’s a really simple automatic thing that I think really brings a lot of the staff together and it helps a lot.
B: Did you develop this? you said it was Google Drive thing or is it a Google Docs or is it something else?
C: It’s a Google Form. We use Google for… Our email is based in Google, our work email, and then we just use a lot of Google Labs for so many things as an organization. We mostly pretty much use the whole Google Drive to manage documents, spreadsheets, and Word docs. We use the Google Form thing and that’s really easy to use in there. It takes a little more technical know-how to use the form emailer in there, but that’s the function to send an automatic email to either an email group or to certain people, so we use that a lot.
Like I do a pickup and delivery schedule. Right now, I’m managing at the moment, and so any time if someone fills in our pickup form on our website, I get sent an email with all the data, which then I use that to manage the scheduling process as like an IT ticket or something. So we use it in a lot of ways that if there’s a form that needs to go to a certain group of people, then we just have it automatically emailed to those people and it’s in their email. It’s worked out extremely well and it doesn’t take a lot to implement and it really brings people together. Because before that, it would be like weeks would go by with no one really knowing how the sales are doing. If you’re not looking at it all the time and if you’re not… Some people might be, but certainly people, cashiers and regular floor staff, aren’t really looking at it. At different times, we’ve got a weekly report that we’ve sent out to staff to try to give them a little more context into how their sales are doing and how production is doing and other data that we’re looking at.
One other piece of data that I didn’t mention that’s been extremely important, especially in long-range planning, expansion planning, and then this restarting planning we’ve had the past few months, is looking at the sales per labor hour. I’ve been looking at the past few years. When I work to manage our scheduling for our stores and also that’s what we use for timesheets, and so if anybody… People are on a timesheet, so if they work at least one hour in this store or that store or on the pickup crew or in the office doing administrative work, whatever it may be, we have defined what the different classes are that people are working on. They put that in their timesheet, that I worked eight hours at this store, I worked eight hours this day on doing pickups and deliveries, and I worked the other 24 hours at this other store. Then that gets transferred to our financial so we can track on our P&L how our stores are doing in much more detailed than just saying this person works at this place, this person works at this place. Because a lot of times, people shift a little bit and we want the stores to pay for whatever labor value they’re getting from the people that are working there.
But then also, each week, I go into… At least for the store I’m operating, another person does it for the other stores, and pulls the amount of total labor that was used at a certain location. We just take the sales and divide by the total hours, and that gives us our sales per labor hour. For last year, for both stores, it was around $31 an hour, which is, for me… At times in the past, it’s been much higher, but the more staff we have… We keep adding more staff. Our sales have been growing like 20% a year the past four years or so, and we keep adding more and more staff and that gets less and less efficient by having more and more people trying to get more sales out of the same size space, so that sales ratio has kept going down. In the past, it’s been high 30s. I think probably back in 2016, it was even in the 40s.
Our costs per labor hour are probably around $19 or $20 an hour. We’re a living wage employer and we pay for the basic health insurance, we pay the entire premium, so we get around $20 an hour for our staff. Really, when I think of any new business, a new store or a new type of business, I try to think of labor as a generator on $30 an hour, so not only paying its own cost but getting 50% more. And that goes maybe for the other fixed costs of an operation, whether it’s rent or utilities or print the tags to print or the point-of-sale system, all that kind of stuff, and then also to help pay for our Finance Director and Executive Director and the other costs of our organization, shoulder some of those costs. Our marketing costs.
Last year, it was getting down to that minimum of $30 and, this year, as we’ve reopened, for one store, it’s been around 19, and the other story, it’s at 25, which is a real challenge. The store it’s at 19, that means we’re barely paying for the labor if at all at this location, and so we’re not even… We’re just taking a loss at the moment in the other costs and we’re not even going to support other parts of the organization, which we need in our budget. It’s low for a number of reasons. One is we’ve had to take extra labor costs for sanitizing, other costs associated with operating in a COVID environment, and so there’s that. And then also, we haven’t invited our volunteers back yet. We’re still trying to figure out if they have enough space for them to work safely. When we first started, we furloughed almost the entire staff and we brought back all of our staff about a month and a half ago and we’re getting more comfortable with that, and now we’re trying to bring back volunteers in a safe working environment, so we haven’t quite done that. Because the volunteers have really padded that sales per labor hour because it’s just the labor we’re paying for when we look at that.
That’s really useful because I’ve found it’s been the next step in the journey to figure out if sales are bad, what’s the cause and what we need to do. That’s always the question for any kind of business that’s got revenue coming in. Revenue is down, what we do different to make it go back up? and so for us, the sales are down, what we have to do, three or four years ago, we discovered that it’s all about the production and if sales are down, it’s because we’re not producing enough. Even if the shelves look fully, it’s just because the stuff is stagnant on there and we need to get some stuff off that shelf and put some new stuff on, so it’s really about the production.
And then two years ago, I linked it to, really, it’s the labor, that if the production’s down, it’s really just because people were on vacation or people were sick or someone resigned and we haven’t filled that position yet. So it really comes down to the labor that we have working in that area and if we don’t have someone working there, then, obviously, the work is not getting done and the sales aren’t happening. But it’s really allowed us, with that sales per labor hour, to project. We’re planning to open a new store in the next few months, a little pilot project to see because there’s an opportunity. One of the biggest factors is to decide how many people to staff it with is figuring out the sales and then looking at how many people we need in order to achieve those sales based on what we think our sales per labor hour will be in that location.
B: Having that goal there, you reason that is a predictor for how you’re doing. In my head, I was just thinking through this decision tree that you explained and this is really cool. It’s like if this is down and this is here, then I check this and then I check this. I think that’s really cool that you’ve dialed it in like that to be able to say if this number’s low, then I look over here and this is the changes we can make and coming back to the labor to say if I can get people at the right place and they could show up, we can get the production you want and we can check people out properly and give the right customer service and we can hit the numbers. You said it starts if one person’s out, then you have to go fill in at the cashier, and then that pulls a production person off, and now you’re short on production, and then a couple of days later, you see a drop in the sales because the stuff on the floor is becoming stale or stagnant. I thought that was really interesting how those all interconnect like that.
C: It can happen very quickly. I like doing little odd experiments in my stores just to see. Most of the things are kind of fun, probably to entertain myself, but also just to see how something will function. We really had an excess of household goods in the past few months that we were really trying to sort down and sell out and really reduce the overflow we had of that before we opened donations, so I wanted to sell some more household.
The store I’m operating, which is right next to this other store, is an old Ace Hardware and most of it’s selling the old Ace product on consignment for the owners while we’re operating in the short term basis. I wanted to introduce some household goods in some way and I didn’t want it to be… Because they have a really nice large one next door and I thought just trying to put out household and have a department that’s a tenth the size or 5% of the size, with a similar pricing strategy. I don’t know what the draw of that is, so I wanted something different. I came up with this thing that I’m calling the Bargain Bizarre Bazaar. One of my coworkers calls it the dollar wall of wonder instead.
Bargain Bizarre Bazaar was my idea, both a bazaar market but also odd and different. I got this long shelf that’s like 20 feet long and, basically, I just take household… I just take things right out of the box that aren’t even really sorted. If it’s something I would normally put $15 or $20 on, then I send it over next door and they put a higher price on it, but basically, I just put it on the shelf and it’s all a dollar, so it makes it simple. It’s really easy to stock because I don’t have to tag things or decide what the price is going to be or decide if it’s going to be $3 or $4. And I just put a dollar on it… I don’t even put anything on it. And then it’s just on there and it’s all… Every time I’m going to stock some new stuff, and I put out new stuff each day, I take one shelf and I compact it down so I have 4, 8, 10 feet of shelving that’s open, so I put all the new stuff on the right and all the old stuff just gets pushed over to the left. So more regular customers know and I have a sign that says the fresh stuff is to the right, and the stale, the less fresh I call it, is to the left. If someone comes and they just start on the right side they keep going until they see the stuff they’ve seen before and they don’t have to look anymore. It’s all a dollar and you can buy nine and you get four free to try to get people to buy more.
Also, on Mondays, everything is a quarter to try to cull more of it out to get more space for the new stuff. That’s kind of like a loss leader just to get more people to walk into the store and I have it way in the back of the store. The intention was that new stuff comes out every day, and that’s the promise I made to customers when they were first coming in and I was talking to them, especially the resellers. One day went by where I didn’t come in and I hear we got quite a few complaints from customers that they noticed that no new stuff… Because they heard that was the commitment that I had made, that new stuff is coming out every day on the shelf, even if it’s only just two or three boxes, and one day it didn’t happen and then more than one complained to the staff that, “I thought new stuff was coming out every day? I came here for nothing.”
I think it’s become similar for… One of those same resellers, I ran into him about a month ago and he said he came to one of our stores wherever we opened and he just wasn’t seeing enough new stuff because we weren’t stocking stuff in that department the first few weeks because of some staffing challenges. I ran into him at a Salvation Army, actually, and talking to him and he said he hadn’t gone back, it had been like a month, because he got that impression that we were just challenged by the pandemic and we weren’t stocking. I think he went twice and that second time you don’t see anything new, then he’s like, “It’s just not worth it anymore. Maybe I’ll go back in a month or something.” The customer traffic and how much the customer traffic is growing completely depends on the product turnover and the sales itself, of the customers who are there, depends on the product turnover. Everything goes to the production and how product is turning over in your store.
To me, it’s like I don’t really focus on how to increase sales. Really, almost anything else. The merchandising is very important as well. We have control over that, but all we really have control over is our production, the volume we’re putting out, and also the quality of the merchandise, and that’s really all we can control aside from spending money on marketing to try and get more people to learn about your store.
That’s another way I’ve used those numbers. I guess that’s another option. If I look at the numbers and the production, the sales pricing ratio is where I want to see it, and the sales are meeting their goals, everything is looking pretty good, and when we have more product that we could be stocking but we’re still meeting our sales goals as it is. If all that’s looking really good and the merchandising is looking good, then I’m like that’s the time to invest in some marketing to bring some more customers in. Because I know if we invest in those to try to find some new customers that may not know about us or ones that haven’t shown up in a year because they got a bad impression, they came a day after a sale day and they just got a bad impression because the shelves were partially empty. And so to try to get those customers to come back or new customers, that’s the time to then invest in those customers and spend money on marketing because I know, when they show up, they’re going to get a really good impression of the store and then it’ll be worth it to spend money on them.
But if traffic is low and we want to increase customer traffic and I look and the shelves don’t look too great and I have more product in the back but there’s partially empty shelves, then it’s like let’s not spend money on that because it’s not going to help. We’ll just get more people to come… It might help to boost up sales for a day or two and get more people to show up, but it’s not going to hold those customers because they’re not going to form a good opinion and we won’t sell enough to them anyway because we don’t have enough stuff on the shelf, so first do those things that we can control, which is the merchandising and the production, and then move to marketing. If we’re hitting on those things, then go to spending money on marketing or more staff to increase production if we have the stuff.
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B: Tons of great stuff. I could keep you going for a while here. I want to be respectful of you time. How can people get a hold of you? because I’m sure that people listening to this will have lots of thoughts and maybe want some help with what you’ve set up and maybe questions about some of the things you’ve talked about. I’ve got your email I can post in the notes, and link to the website. Is that the best way, email, or do you have a phone number?
C: Yeah, email is probably the best. You send an email, I’m quite good on email. Very little gets by me on email. A voicemail is more likely to get by me than email actually, so email would be the best way to get a hold of me. I’d be happy to have a conversation with someone. I’ve got slides that I can share and different templates for tracking data that I’ve used and conveying data to other staff and such. I really enjoy helping other organizations. As you noted, we met at a conference where I was presenting. I’ve presented at the DECON Conference a few times.
I’ve been working with Cascade Alliance out of Eugene, which is mostly operated by the St. Vinny’s (St. Vincent de Paul) of Lane County in Eugene, Oregon. They work with organizations all over the country to try to help nonprofits, help develop their waste-based business, mostly operating reuse stores but also doing online book sales and mattress recycling and other waste-based businesses and really help nonprofits take a more business-based approach to their operations or to help start a new waste-based business to help support their social programs. The Finger Lakes ReUse, us, we’re a member and there’s maybe 12 to 15 other members around the country. I think they’re often looking for more members and then they help provide technical assistance and just help with this and try to figure out how to either start or how to grow your operations or to make them more cost-effective because they’ve been doing this for many decades and they do it extremely well, the St. Vinnie’s of Lane County. They’ve been able to send me to a couple of different organizations around the country to help share these ideas around data and production and tracking. That’s been really helpful and we’re helping another organization. A city nearby started a new reuse center, reuse organization. I really love working with other organizations to help them grow and figure out and just get better at this business because I think there’s huge opportunities to grow.
One thing I’m really excited about with our business, we have these two stores nearby to each other. We sort of operate them as two separate stores and one’s mostly this old Ace Hardware merchandise that we’re selling on consignment, but that’s going to be done in a few months and our plans are to get a long-term lease at both locations. There’s no way to connect the two of them because there’s another business that has a hallway between the two, which is really unfortunate, but that’s a very large business, so they’re not going to be going anywhere likely. But they’re only like 50 feet away from each other to their front doors and so we as we redo them as essentially one store, just separated with two point-of-sale transaction points and two back ends. The older of that’ll be kind of clothes and furniture and the other one will be all the smalls because they have really nice shelving, so hardware and tools and housewares and electronics and books and media and all that stuff.
So it’ll be pretty much all the products we do across both stores and it’ll be probably around 22,000 ft.² of retail just between both places. I think it’ll be probably the largest… And we’ll market it as one location, so it’ll be probably the largest thrift store for at least hundreds of miles. I think there might be one in Pennsylvania somewhere that’s in the 18,000 to 20,000 ft.² range for retail, but I’d like to try to market it in a regional way to share Syracuse, and Rochester, and Binghamton, upwards of two hours away, as a regional shopping destination being the largest thrift store that most people have ever been to and the variety of product there and really high-quality merchandising. And then along with our other location in town, and there’s a number of other really nice consignment shops and antique shops and another architectural building material nonprofit in town that sells items, so it’ll make our small city even more of a destination for used goods in the region.
B: That’s great. Do you have any other of those trainings coming up, like you were showing your spreadsheets? If you do, let me know and I can try to advertise that for people who might be interested because I think people would be really interested in hearing some of the details like that. It’s really impressive, all those things that you’re tracking and looking at and how you’re managing it. Very cool.
C: One thing I’ve been interested in doing is when I was first giving a presentation on this at the DECON Conference in Grand Rapids like two years ago, to help prepare, I did about five or six presentations that opened up to our staff because I think it’s really important for as many staff as possible to understand. They’ve gotten the basics of you’ve got to put the stuff out in order to make the sales and the new stuff’s got to push the old stuff out the shelf. They’ve gotten the basic concept, but the numbers and looking at a table of numbers and knowing what to do with that, we, or mostly I, haven’t done a great job at really getting everyone else in the organization to understand that, to be able to like managers and the assistant managers and the department heads to really be able to use that data effectively. I can look at it quickly and make suggestions and those suggestions are utilized sometimes, but I really want them to understand as much as possible and be able to use the data.
As part of that, I’ve been thinking it would be good… I was already thinking internally of doing some presentations and, at this point now, that’s probably mostly done virtual anyway, even if I’m just doing it to my staff, so that’s something, if you get interest from other folks who want to understand this better, and to see some visuals alongside it, we could invite that more widely to other people as well.
B: I’d love to help try to communicate and share that out to anyone. That’s great.
C: I’ll let you know if I can get that going.
B: On top of your other hundreds of tasks.
C: Yeah, there’s a few different responsibilities that I need to entrust with some other staff and encourage other people to take on more responsibility and to do. [inaudible] with them, it’s just in the immediate moment, it always takes a little more time to train someone and transfer responsibility to someone else than to just keep doing it yourself. I’ve got to carve the time out and transfer it over because it will save a lot of time in the end.
B: Cool. ithacareuse.org is the website for Finger Lakes ReUse in Ithaca, New York, and you said you’re at Cornell University. Have you ever had any tie-in with any of the student groups? have they come and done any projects for you anything?
C: Yeah, we have a lot of different groups, especially during the move-in, both at Cornell University and Ithaca College. We have, even during the student move-ins especially, there’s groups that come in as part of their orientation to volunteer in the community, so we get a lot of groups sent to us. None of that’s happening this year. And then we have different sororities or frats or different types of graduate classes come in and want to do a volunteer project with us and learn a little bit more. We try to participate with those as much as possible, partly because the labor can be helpful if we have a big project. But, to be honest, one of the biggest reasons is because it introduces people to us and we get customers out of it. A lot of them are in Ithaca, so it’s an opportunity to maybe, in a three-hour period, introduce 40 to 50 people to our stores who are potentially here for four years to shop.
Part of it’s a presentation about our organization and we often can get students through a work-study program, so we get work-study students that work with us, both at Ithaca College and at Cornell, mostly at Cornell. We’ve often gotten people who volunteered with us and learned about us that when as something that they were just sent here without really knowing what it’s all about and then decided that they wanted to work for us. We get a lot of people through that. On the operations side, we have people who were work-study, people in the office doing more project-based work, so we always tie it in. A lot of classes, especially Diane Cohen, our Executive Director, has a hard time saying no to people that want to help us, so if there’s a class that wants to do a project, especially graduate classes often, there’s a lot of really good schools at Cornell. There’s the Johnson Business School is really good there, so often, we have students from the business school that want to do some kind of project, so we’ve had a student group make a calculator for opening up, like expansion calculator where we put in the rent and sales projections and different kinds of things and help us figure out how to expand or looking at a different way. We’ve had a lot of different student projects that we participated in. That’s been really helpful.
And actually, one interesting collaboration, which is with Cornell, Cornell has always had a thing called Dump and Run, which is they collect all sorts of used goods at the end of the school year and they get stored and sorted by a bunch of volunteers, and then sold on-campus to students, or on their campus and the local mall. That’s always been something we’ve worked with around the edges, but this year, because of the pandemic, they’re not going to do that. They have the different groups that mostly Cornell has just provided or paid for space and helped with the branding and the promotion of it, and then the local cops and kids and some different groups have actually done the work of collecting the materials and sorting and selling, and then they get to keep the money for their organization or their cause.
But Cornell doesn’t even want to be involved. They don’t want to pay for the insurance, it’s just too much at the moment. They’re, obviously, trying to save money like many other colleges and organizations, so they’re just going to cut that whole thing and they don’t want to be associated with a big sale that draws a lot of people right now because they’re having a hard enough time managing getting students back. So they’ve dropped that without much warning and so these groups have lots of material that they have to get out of their storage and their space within a few weeks, and so they contacted us and so we’re going to collaborate with them. We’re going to help them find the space to do the sale and we’ll help manage the whole point-of-sale and other retail procedures and they’ll just focus on sorting and stocking the store. It’ll be a nice collaboration with them and it sounds like maybe, long-term, we will sort of absorb this thing that used to be more associated with Cornell and this alternative way of doing reuse locally, which I think can be really helpful. It’s a nice collaboration.
We can’t help collaborating as an organization. We are always looking to expand in every direction and collaborate with anyone who’s interested. I don’t see any gaps. It’s really focus on collaboration rather than competition. Not even think of places like Salvation Army and the local consignment shop is competition. The local consignment shop, they focus on the higher-end market, both in their customers and the goods, so when items don’t sell, and their consignor doesn’t want it back or just doesn’t come pick it up, they bring the stuff to us. Last year, they donated maybe a truckload a week of items to us, which works out well for us and I’m happy to tell encourage donors to go there if they have a really nice item and they don’t want to pay our pickup fee or they ask if we buy things. I try to encourage people to go there because the better they do as a business, the better we do I feel. I like to think of it, they get this little cream at the top and they collect off of that, and then we take everything else and I don’t mind missing out on some high-end things that we would get otherwise because there’s more than enough stuff in the world to deal with, so the more the merrier I figure.
B: I think that’s looking at it from a systems view, which is really like a lot of the Lean methodology you study is you have to look at it not to maximize your own process because you can really hurt other parts of that whole system and for things to work together most effectively, which is that allowing reuse to take hold in a community because you need all the organizations working together and that means sometimes, like you said, you don’t get as much profit on some of those items, but it makes that other organization healthier, which actually increases consignment sales and brings people into the market for used items, and then they start to gravitate towards you.
It’s hard for people to think about that sometimes, but it’s really that is the most efficient for everybody. It raises everybody up when the whole system works well and everything is connected, so this goes here, and do things should go over here because that sells the best. We sell these really well, but those things probably need to go to that place. It feels like you’re giving away a little bit at times, but you’re actually making the system healthy and that’s a concept that’s hard for some people to really think through until they connect the dots and see how it does really help them in the long run.
C: We’ve had a couple of experiences over the past few years that really crystallized that for me. One, I mentioned there’s an organization called Significant Elements that’s a bit older than us. They’re a historic Ithaca organization, a nonprofit that has this store that they operate, and they really focus on just architectural and other historic building materials and antique furniture. Really nice store and I buy things myself from there. I had this experience a few years ago where there was this car dealership bought this property and it was just I don’t know if it was a hoarder of some kind of antique habit, it was just a big mess inside the storage over the years.
Basically, they were calling us to see if we wanted to come pick through it and take stuff. We heard that they called Significant Elements too and they were talking to both of us. In a moment of greed, me and one of my coworkers, we were like… She walked through very quickly and said there’s all this wonderful stuff there, these old things and this and that, and we got really excited and, in a little greedy moment, we offered the car dealership that if they got a roll-off container, we would clean out the building for them, and we would take anything we wanted to take, and then we would throw in the trash in the waste container for them if it was just us. But you don’t want to deal with the other crew, it’s just us. We want it all.
Once we got some better lighting in there, it wasn’t as appealing as it was before. Our greed got the better of us and there wasn’t as much nice stuff and we took a lot of stuff, but we also expended a lot of energy essentially emptying that building for free for them. From that moment, one of my business strategies has been don’t be greedy and I repeat that the people who are pricing stuff. Let’s not be greedy. Certainly, when it comes to getting material and accumulating material, I’ve taken that lesson very well.
We had an experience a few months ago where some old houses in a part of town near Cornell where an old apartment building was being knocked down and the owners called us and they were in contact with Significant Elements to pretty much take the furniture out, any kind of doors, anything we wanted to strip out of the building before they demoed it conventionally. I talked to the Significant Element, the person operating their store and I said, “We’ll take the furniture,” because it wasn’t any furniture they would want anyway, because it was more dorm room type of furniture. I’m like, “We’ll take all that because we sell that and we’ll focus on that stuff, and then if there’s any…” Really, the only thing I would spend time doing was with the doors because the doors are easy to screw out hinges and just take them out really quickly and nothing else was really… With the time we had available, it wasn’t worth the time to expend on it, so I’m like, “If there’s any doors you don’t want, we’ll take, but you’re welcome to have first dibs on all of them.” She was willing to negotiate so we could both get value out of it and I’m like just, “I want you guys to get anything that you find valuable. We have more than enough stuff.” We do much higher volume stuff than they do and we have much larger ability to get more stuff.
They’re only a few blocks from us and we just want them to succeed, like you said, and the more that they succeed, it’s better for us, so I’m like, “Yeah, just take whatever you want. If there’s something that’s usable to take, we’re happy to take.” Then she said, “We’ll just take all the doors,” and that worked really well. It was a nice collaboration without fighting over the stuff like I did a couple of years ago, which just backfired on us when we could have given it to them for free. They probably missed out on a few things. It would’ve been better for both of us if I would’ve took the strategy I took a few months ago and shared in the wealth rather than get greedy over it and ended up taking a loss on it probably. They got nothing and we probably got a lot of labor and the only one who won was the car dealership out of the whole thing.
I saw in our daily report, just two days ago, that Significant Elements came in and bought like $400 worth of antique hardware from us. Even though they’re a nonprofit and they take donations, they come in and buy things from us because our business strategy is more volume-based and we can’t pay for the space. We got more stuff in the back, we want to bring out, so we’re going to put a lower price, like five bucks on all of these bins of antique hardware, and they went through and took probably an hour picking through. For some of them, they probably weren’t even worth $5 and some were worth $10, $15, $20, $40, who knows. But they have the knowledge base which we owned and they have the time to dig through.
B: And the customers that will pay that.
C: Yeah, the customers who would scoff at paying 20 at our place because it’s going to be… It would say $20 next to a bunch of $3 doorknobs, and so they’re like, “Why is this $20?” and they’re likely not going to buy it, but at Significant Elements, it’s marked 20 among a whole bunch of other ones that look just as nice that all highly-priced as well, and so the person that wants that exact… The person who goes there because they expect to find a Queen Anne something or other and they want a certain age and a certain type and a certain quality. They’re more likely to find it there and they’re willing to pay a higher price for it.
It’s a different customer market and customer expectations there, and if they can pay us $400 for a bunch of stuff that we hardly knew what to do with anyway, and the customers weren’t buying. It wasn’t like we just put that stuff out. I think we put that stuff out like a month or two ago and no one was buying it anyway, even though it was presumably lower price, but they can come in and buy it. We have a lot of resellers. We have many people that their business is based off of buying things from us, which is really good to see. There’s all that extra added economic activity that just keeps turning in our community by we getting it, people buy it from us, and then they take it a mile down the road and increase the price tenfold, and then they get someone to buy it at that price. So it’s all good.
B: Awesome, Chris. This is great. Man, two hours. Holy cow! I might need to chop this up a little bit and then get it out there. I’m not going to cut anything out because this is all good. I’m just really impressed with what you’re doing and I think if we can get more stores thinking this way and doing some of the stuff you’ve done, I think that will really help boost the reuse industry, keep things out of the landfill, and help the organizations hit the mission that they’re trying to achieve in their communities. I think it’s a really great win-win all the way around.
C: Sounds great.
B: Thank you so much.