Harbor Habitat ReStore refreshes inventory in online auction

Bernard Patterson, director of the Harbor Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Benton Township, shows off a selection of furniture Thursday, which was recently won in an online auction with Wayfair. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Bernard Patterson, director of the Harbor Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Benton Township, shows off a selection of furniture Thursday, which was recently won in an online auction with Wayfair. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Things are different now at Harbor Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

In addition to a new setup and look, the nonprofit organization now has several new couches and chairs lining the entry as customers walk in.

At 2302 Plaza Drive in Benton Township, the ReStore participated in its first online auction with Wayfair – an e-commerce company that sells furniture – to add to its aging inventory. Bernard Patterson, director of the nonprofit organization, said he heard of other businesses doing this and thought it would be a good way to refresh ReStore’s inventory.

“We wanted to be more than just a classic thrift store,” Patterson said. “We were looking for high-quality furniture options. It brought in a whole new customer base. We’ve been getting great results for it.”

Angie Seger, Habitat board president, said once the idea was brought to their attention, board members crunched the numbers and decided it was a feasible option.

Seger said it was an easy decision for the board because they weren’t seeing a lift in the store’s sales month over month. However, the numbers were flat because there was not sufficient inventory to meet customers’ demand.

“We have become pickier in the types of donations that we accept,” Seger said. “Bernard’s motto is, if you wouldn’t put it in your home, I wouldn’t put it in my store. This just helps us with our goal.”

Habitat ReStore’s main intent is to sell new and used furniture at a 50-75 percent reduced rate to help build, restore, renovate or recycle houses for qualified Habitat for Humanity families.

Roughly two months ago, ReStore bought a truckload worth of furnishings through the online auction. Broken down, it was 40 items that at market value would have been worth $24,000 – had they paid full price.

They have sold about 35 percent of the new furniture thus far, Patterson said.

A good fit

It wasn’t as easy as going online and picking what items they needed.

Patterson registered with different websites, who would then send him lists of items being auctioned per truck load. It gave the buyer an idea of the quality of the merchandise. Officials then gave competing stores an idea of the total value of what was in each truck load up for auction.

If the process outpaced ReStore’s budget, Patterson was forced to drop out of the bidding. It took several weeks after the board approved the idea for Patterson to get into an auction in which ReStore found a reasonable price.

“It took weeks to find the right amount of merchandise that would fit in the store,” Patterson said. “It had to have a certain number of couches, chairs and other items. Because of that it took longer than we expected. But we see this as something we will continue to do.”

Erin Hudson, executive director of Harbor Habitat for Humanity, said the auction works for ReStore because sometimes the donations don’t coincide with the demand.

“We can’t control what’s donated, when it’s donated or how much is donated,” Hudson said. “Rather than have our customers come to an empty store and waiting for the donations, this was an opportunity to get a higher product at a discounted price.”

Hudson said appliances and furniture are the most in demand items at the ReStore.

In addition to the influx of newer items, ReStore has taken on a new look. Hudson said it has been dramatically cleaned up and reorganized under Patterson.

Patterson and his staff have added a bit of Menards flair by hanging up the lights, plugging in the TV sets and refrigerators to show they are clean and working.

“We made the store more customer friendly. We cleaned it top to bottom,” Patterson said. “We made it look more like a department store than it had been in the past. You can actually move among the furniture and see everything.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 4, 2016)

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