At first blush, ReNewWorks’ internal workings don’t appear all that unique.
“Our problems are similar to other businesses,” said Kandi Graber, enterprise manager of the Everett-based consignment shop. “How to advertise, whether we’ve hired enough staff, and what products we’ll carry.”
However, ReNewWorks’ business model is far from standard.
“This business plan has the elements of consignments, donations, and newly purchased items,” Graber said. “You’re not going to find many businesses in the United States or Canada with this model.”
According to Graber, consignment stores and shops selling both consigned and new items are plentiful, but, “Adding a donation side to the model wasn’t in existence before ReNewWorks,” she said, describing the three-pronged approach she uses to curate the high-end, vintage furniture and home décor sold in her shop.
ReNewWorks is one of three social enterprises created by the Housing Hope program to eradicate homelessness in Snohomish County. Its 2,800-square-foot warehouse and storefront is filled with furniture, based downtown, and partnered with GroundWorks and Kindred Kitchen (formerly CafeWorks). All three are social enterprises operated under the HopeWorks nonprofit, created in 2011 to provide job training to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.
Graber played a role in launching ReNewWorks and was working in a similar business that didn’t have a donation program when Housing Hope asked her to help. She volunteered for a year, assisting with the business plan, and then went to work there in 2013. Her long days now are filled with reviewing photos sent by local furniture donors, arranging daily deliveries and pickups, fielding the program’s popular social media pages, planning the next advertisement or fundraising event, and getting out to make weekly community outreach stops.
According to Graber, Housing Hope had realized its participants couldn’t go to work because they lacked the skills to meet everyday needs. “The HopeWorks concept was designed to help the homeless learn (and/or) relearn critical job skills,” she said.
Today, HopeWorks’ job-readiness program involves a two-week pre-internship training, followed by a 13-week on-the-job-training program through a HopeWorks social enterprise. All students are considered equal, regardless of tenure, and they learn everything through hands-on experience.
“At ReNewWorks, the students shadow and learn things like customer service, phone etiquette, and salesmanship,” Graber said, adding they’re also taught important life skills such as making eye contact, using good verbiage, and role-playing.
Graber said she was unsure initially about how the job-training aspect would work, but immediately saw a big social upside. “The people who know our story appreciate the fact we are helping people work,” she said.
Managing the training aspect of the business keeps Graber passionate about the cause, because she feels the HopeWorks program is much more than an internship. “Children are involved in about 80 percent of what we do,” she said. “We’re teaching them about work, school, and different trades, and that breaks the cycle of poverty.”