Meet Julie Kelly from our Social Enterprise Cohort.
I have the very best job, definitely the best job in Saint Stephen. But probably the world. I get to hang out with incredible people and every day brings a new treasure into my life. We have a store and we sell preloved, gently used goods and we use the profits to reinvest into the organization and provide essential services and programs for some pretty cool people, and this is what we do all day.
We tidy up.
We wash windows
We engage in community development.
This is our marketing department conducting a customer feedback survey. And quality assurance and product testing is our very top priority.
I really do get to see it all; the full and beautiful spectrum of donated items. One of my favourite donations has to be houseplants and this giant aloe was spectacular!! I may have kept it in the store a little longer than normal just so I could enjoy it! I get to see beautiful handmade pottery of New Brunswick artist Flo Greig and other original paintings, beautiful vintage wool rugs… slightly earlier versions of art projects and the ever-so-creepy vintage finds.
So We have already established that I have a really great job. My name is Julie Kelly and I am the manager of the St. Croix Vocational Centre Thrift Store. We are #wonderfulpeopleworkingtogether
The Saint Croix Vocational Centre, which I will be referring to as (SCVC) is a registered charity that is a day program for adults with intellectual and physical barriers. We teach a range of skills, provide employment goal setting and support, and job readiness, and are a place for the participants to gain confidence and on-the-job training. Our mandate is to provide a valued day activity and learning program for our participants to help promote their independence and self-sufficiency.
The St. Croix Vocational Centre Thrift Store is a social enterprise whose proceeds directly support the programs and services for SCVC. Participants gain employment experience and vocational training as they help with our day-to-day operations in the store. The store helps to cover a 40-50% government funding shortfall and is essential for continued operations. Unfortunately, The funding has remained around the same since 2012. As we all know, which we are not going to get into today. Costs have gone up significantly since then.
The timeline is fuzzy but we have been in operation as a thrift store since the mid-80’s. In its earliest days it used to be called ‘The Sunshine Workshop,’ which I truly and love and hope to incorporate more into our present day operations. More recently, as we have grown, we were able to hire a full-time employee dedicated solely to the management and operations as a store, in the spring of 2022.
So that is who we are and where we have come from and now where are we going.? I am so happy to report that since my involvement with the deep dive cohort at the Pond-Deshpande centre, we have doubled our staff. We went from one, me, moi, to two. I joke, but this was actually huge and before this happened, I was drowning. My fellow-future employee found me one Saturday morning crying in the children department. (as you do) I had just been away for the day and had come back to the store and it was slightly a disaster. I had gotten there early and had been cleaning for about an hour. You see it takes about 1 day for the thrift store to descend into chaos. We have this unique retail challenge that presents us with varying sized product every single day. It is a unique challenge that I love, but when we are short staffed, it doesn’t take long. One person can’t do it, they just can’t. So that was definitely a low point for me, – Olga started 3 days later. And I haven’t cried in the children’s department since.
Part of me thought that this is what social enterprise is. There is no money, there never will be and you just need to toughen up. But that’s not really how I want to operate in my life. There is money, somewhere out in the abyss, and I just needed to find it, for someone to say to me, “Hello friend,-did you know about this?” To tell me about a 6 month long working NB grant that is available for us. And this has allowed us that much needed breathing space to continue to grow, to operate more smoothly as a store, to cover the gaps, which in turn is noted by our customers and they tell others and then the magic happens.
We are also in the process of purchasing a Point of Sale System! Again, this is a really big deal to me and this was 100% because of connecting with other social enterprises who are farther along the path than we are. It is identifying needs and connecting with available resources. It’s not rocket science, but it does help when there are lights along the path, and organizations dedicated to helping us noobs navigate our way.
I have also been able to play around with online sales and it has gone really well for us. In the very near future, I hope to incorporate an online sales platform for our store to help us increase our sales and scale up in growth. And I am pretty sure I am going to cry again when it goes live. happy tears this time.
Ideally, we would also love to find a better way to reuse textiles that are not fit for sale. Textile recycling, making and selling quilts, clothing, and other sustainable project ideas- all of these become possible when we aren’t in survival mode.
We would also like to be in a healthy place, financially, to be able to hire our participants to work in the store. Currently, everyone who helps out is a volunteer. We would love to see the store be a true source of income for our wonderful participants.
I would say, It is easy for me to do what I am doing. I love adding value to my community and giving people the option to shop better, reuse, repurpose, and to be generous. And for the most part, customers love being involved with the purpose of the store. I am blown away by people’s generosity and customers regularly rounding up their final bill. They also want to feel like they are helping and being involved in making someone’s life better and in turn making their community better.
We provide this very important aspect of social value. Our Social Enterprise is important. I will say it again. I have the best job in the world. If you are here, then you are also probably amazing and involved in incredible work, and I look forward to connecting with you, my fellow social enterprise wonderful people.
So we too can be wonderful people working together.