By Francesca Lyman/InvestigateWest
Charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army have traditionally dominated the $10 billion nonprofit thrift-store industry, but they face competition from a growing number of for-profit companies.
Even with shopping malls and brick and mortar retail stores rapidly going out of business, America’s retail scene is seeing fast growth of secondhand stores, especially the for-profit kind that are part of a $19.8 billion used goods industry.
“Demand has never been higher for used goods in the marketplace,” says Eric Farley, a consultant in the recycling and resale business, who describes an invisible river of goods crisscrossing the nation, collected from donation bins and home pickups primarily to for-profit sellers. “Every day, millions upon millions of clothing and goods are travelling in 50-foot trailers and rail cars from one market to another.”
Today, there are at least 500 for-profit thrift stores advertising some benefit to charity, owned by at least 20 regional or national branded chains, operating in the United States and Canada, according to an InvestigateWest count.
Because for-profit thrift stores don’t have a trade organization or other centralized tracking system, it’s difficult to know exactly how many exist. It’s an ever-changing landscape, as some stores open up shop and others go out of business—as a few have during the retail downturn, compounded by the pandemic economy.
Based on information from publicly available sources, including business reporting services Dun & Bradstreet Hoovers and IBISWorld, government records, and others, here are thumbnail sketches of those surveyed.
America’s Thrift Stores
Operates 21 stores in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee with revenues of $133 million (Alabama Thrift Stores, Inc., Birmingham, Ala..), $7.5 million (Mississippi Thrift Store, Inc. in Biloxi); $2.7 million (Alabama Thrift Stores, Tuscaloosa, Ala.); $1 million (America’s Thrift Store, Inc., Lawrenceville, Ga.); $115,000 (America’s Thrift Stores, Inc., Marietta, Ga.); $87,000 (America’s Thrift Store, Mobile, Ala.,); $69,000 (America’s Thrift Stores of LA., LLC., Baton Rouge, La.); $46,000 (America’s Thrift Store, Pell City, Ala.); $29,000 (America’s Thrift stores, Dothan, Ala.); $23,000 (Jasper, Ala.); $72, 000 (Amber’s Stores, Inc., Ocean Springs, Miss.); as well as $57,000 from a subsidiary (ATS Operating, Irondale, Ala.). Athens, Alabaster and Riverdale locations don’t list revenues on Hoovers.
Its charity partners include Make a Wish Foundation of Alabama, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Adult and Teen Challenge Mid-South, Home of Grace, Louisiana Adult and Teen Challenge.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta received a failing grade from Charity Navigator, but Louisiana Adult and Teen Challenge, part of Greater New Orleans Teen Challenge, receives the charity watcher’s highest score.
Bought by Alpine Investors, a San Francisco private equity company, in 2012, which owns 70% of the company.
Alpine Investors claim the thrift-store chain claims it gives a “significant portion,” to charities but its actual percentage to charity is not disclosed. Some of their ads claim that in-store purchases contribute to a charity. The charity receives a bulk rate based on donations.
Carolina Value Village
Operates six stores in North Carolina with revenues of $1.2 million; ($23,000 for Carolina Value Village, Charlotte, NC.); $9.7 million according to Zoominfo.
Its charity partners are the National Kidney Foundation and National Kidney Services.
Family Thrift Center
Operates 40 stores and outlets in Texas and Arizona with revenues of $1.6 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet. Also does business as Thrift Land Inc.
Works with a pickup service, Charity Clothing Pickup. Another by the same name, operating in Florida, Massachusetts and Texas, partners with Vietnam Veterans of America.
Red, White & Blue Thrift Stores
Operates 22 stores, in California, Colorado, Oregon, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and Michigan. Its Pittsburgh stores cite revenues of $4.4 million. According to Dun & Bradstreet, management company M & M Management, of Ventura, Calif., has revenues of $40 million. Owned by M & M Management of Ventura, Calif., with 413 employees. Unlike others, Red, White & Blue posts signs around its stores disclosing it is for-profit.
Its charity partner is Vietnam Veterans of America. Stores go by the names Valley Value, Mile High and World Thrift.
CharityWatch warns consumers about Vietnam Veterans of America through articles, and gives the organization an “F” because its accounting practices tend to mask its fundraising costs. Vietnam Veterans of America reports spending 69% of revenue on its programs. However, CharityWatch’s analysis of the group’s tax form and audited financial statements show that only 21% of its budget goes to their mission. CharityNavigator declined to rate the charity because it is not a 501c3 registered nonprofit. The Better Business Bureau reports that the Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., “did not disclose” vital information and is currently under review.
In its disclosure to the state of California, the chain contributes 12.8% at its Community Thrift Store and 15.4% at its Valley Thrift Store in California, according to its 2018 filing, its most recent. The company posts signs disclosing that the stores operate as a for-profit corporation.
Savers, Inc./TVI, Inc./Value Village
Operating 295 stores in the United States, Canada and Australia, Savers, Inc. is the largest for-profit thrift store chain in the world with up to $1.67 billion in revenues, according to Dun & Bradstreet. According to Zoominfo, estimated revenues of this company was $3 billion.
Also known as TVI, Inc., it owns such subsidiaries as Apogee Retail, LLC. (a soliciting agent), Unique, and Village des Valeurs in Canada. TVI is, itself, a subsidiary of Evergreen AcqCo 1 LP, its corporate parent.
The Better Business Bureau has flagged the company for suits and government actions, and rated it with a C- in many locations because of these government actions and consumer complaints. Value Village/Savers declined to comment on this.
Southern Thrift Stores
Operates three stores in Greater Nashville, also known as L & R Thrift Management, LLC. Revenues are unavailable.
Does not market itself as a charitable organization online, but contracts with a pickup service, the ARC of Davidson County and Greater Nashville, which is a charity.
An affiliated solicitor, J & I Advisory, was fined in 2015 for misrepresentation by Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office.
Sunshine Thrift Stores
Partners with National Kidney Foundation of Florida, Metropolitan Ministries, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation. Percentages to charity are not disclosed.
All of charity alliances show excellent charity ratings.
Texas Thrift (City Thrift, Music City Thrift)
Operates 24 stores going by different names across Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi.
Connected to Brook Valley Management, Birmingham, Alabama, with $4 million in revenues, and United Thrift Management, Inc., (Hoover, Alabama) with an estimated $2.6 million in revenues. It does not disclose its percentages to charity.
Its charity beneficiaries are unclear. Its website advertises that it buys from “worthy nonprofits.” It solicits customers: “When you’re ready to clean out your closet or simply change up your wardrobe, stop by one of our stores to recycle your gently worn items at the charity bin we host at each of our stores. Now more than ever, second hand shoppers are helping support their local communities and keeping perfectly good textiles out of landfills.”
Once operated 15 locations with $147 million in revenue, through Norquist Salvage, according to Zoominfo, but recently changed hands, reducing it to four locations in Texas and New Mexico.
Past charities included Big Brothers, Big Sisters, ARC, Las Trampas, but the current owner is exploring but has not yet worked out a charity partnership. The chain’s California filings reveal no charity partnerships at the moment.
Thrift Stores of Ohio
Operates 11 stores in Ohio, with an estimated $42 million in revenues, according to Dun & Bradstreet. Its website states that it purchases its merchandise from “nonprofit organizations, liquidators, importers and local manufacturers.”
Charity beneficiaries include National Kidney Services of Ohio and nkfpickup.com. The amount it donates to charity is not disclosed.
Operating online with revenues of $28 million, according to Hoovers, and upwards of $500 million according to other online sources, such as Inc Fact. ThredUP is “a fashion resale website” giving consumers a chance to buy and sell their secondhand clothing online. Consumers may also donate.
That $5 bag that this store will “donate to your favorite charity” will be worth a lot more when given to a nonprofit store, said Kris Kewitsch, of the Minnesota-based Charities Review Council.
Value Village Atlanta
Operates 12 stores in Georgia and owns the trademark for the name “Value Village” under 2 Peaches Group LLC, which is listed in Dun & Bradstreet records as a freight-forwarding service with revenues of $3.2 million.
Charity partner American Kidney Services sent 18% of its revenues to the national American Kidney Fund in 2017, according to calculations based on its nonprofit 2017 tax return. It came under scrutiny by the Better Business Bureau for “Standards not met” in 2017, and in December 2019, BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance flagged the charity for misreporting fundraising costs as program. The BBB is awaiting a response. It received a failing score from Charity Navigator.
Operates 13 stores in Ohio and Michigan, and another in Dallas, with revenues of $3.7 million (Lakewood, Ohio), and $5.3 million (Value World, Inc. in Solon, Ohio), according to Dun & Bradstreet.
The Dallas store partners with American Kidney Services and American Kidney Fund; the latter has a good rating. American Kidney Services received a failing score from Charity Navigator. However, American Kidney Fund has the highest rating from Charity Navigator.
Francesca Lyman is author of The Greenhouse Trap: What We’re Doing to the Atmosphere and How We Can Slow Global Warming, with World Resources Institute; and Inside the Dzanga Sangha Rain Forest. She has written for Seattle Met, Crosscut.com, Popular Mechanics, Ms. Magazine, MSN, New York Times, L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and others, and wrote the Your Environment column for MSNBC.COM. She has contributed to InvestigateWest since 2014.