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Getting to know… John Coles

With over 40 years experience, Retail Development Manager, John Coles talks to us about turning pre-loved into profit for Little Valley

What role do the charity shops play in supporting the shelter’s  operations?

Our shops play a vital role in being the voice of the charity and its good works across its locations, along with raising funds to look after all the animals who need love and caring for at the shelter. The shops are one of the main sources of income for the charity and this will grow as we look to open new shops working under budgeted guidelines.

How do you decide on the locations for new charity shops?

There are many factors that go into deciding where a new shop should open. As well as geography across Devon, footfall in relation to population, where the growth in housing is, and a need to be seen in a location, we make sure the rent is in line with the budget, the shop has plenty of storage and preparation areas, and our stock suits the local demographic.

What challenges do you face in running charity shops compared to traditional retail stores?

Having worked in both, the main challenges in charity retailing are that you never know what you are or will be selling one day from the next. The work that goes into sorting donations and sometimes not knowing what you are getting your hands on. We often get items that we just can’t sell and we need to pay to have them disposed of, but on the whole most of our donations are gratefully received. We rely heavily on our wonderful team of volunteers who give their time for free and support our staff in all areas of the shop.

Can you describe some of the most unique or valuable items that have been donated to your shops?

In the time I have been at Little Valley, I have seen everything from the valuable to the unusual, and at times the ‘really? did they donate that?’ Tiffany jewellery to valuable paintings to eclectic wheelchairs and even new toilets! You name it, we have most likely sold it.

How do you engage with the local community to encourage donations and support?

In a lot of instances word of mouth is a great source in getting new customers. Social media plays a vital role in this too, our shops are also part of the community and a bit of a local hub.

What strategies do you use to ensure the shops are profitable and sustainable?

Many things are used to continue the positive income from the shops, but an overriding passion from the shop teams and working hard to maintain sales is the best strategy. We employ managers and deputies with retail knowledge and it helps to have a love for animals too! We assist the shop staff with training and information on many aspects of trading, and we are also a member of the Charity Retail Association.


Can you discuss any recent successes or milestones the charity shops have achieved?

Our current shops have maintained a positive set of results overall which gives us a sound base to move forward in the coming years, a settled team is paramount to achieve success. All of our shops have successes and milestones like sales growth; improving profit so more money goes to the animals; our volunteers who have worked for many years and still have a positive attitude. Success is measured in many different ways however big or small and our shops have an abundance of both. I thank them all.

What are your future plans for expanding or improving the charity shop operations?

In retail we are looking at online as a major growth potential for us along with opening more shops, if the right situation arises. We are about to open a larger shop in Brixham and plan to open a new shop in Tiverton soon.

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