At 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Goodwill thrift store on 38th Street in Tacoma had sold $383 worth of goods since opening that morning, and regional manager Danya Gerhards could see holiday items were among the most popular so far.
Store analytics used to come in the form of text messages she queried from store managers to see how the daily profits were doing, or in a weekly report detailing what sort of items were the most and least popular.
Now, standing in the middle of the Goodwill, Gerhards called up a slew of charts and tables on her tablet with real-time data that updates every 15 minutes with budgets, sales, and transactions separated by department for the whole region and broken down by store.
Over the last eight months, the Goodwill of Olympics & Rainier Region — which includes 37 thrift stores — embarked on a major technology upgrade that will influence the daily actions of each store, and this overhaul was made possible by a $3-million-plus market value donation from Microsoft.
“This is part of a larger initiative Microsoft has to serve every nonprofit around the world, equipping them with the technology they need to move their impact forward, but we’re especially grateful for this partnership, because of the impact it makes in the local community — a community that we all live in and care about. I can’t wait to see where we can take it,” said Justin Spelhaug, general manager for technology for social impact at Microsoft.
During a press event on Wednesday, leadership from Goodwill and Microsoft unveiled an advertisement of the partnership on the back of a Goodwill donation truck and toured reporters around the 38th Street Goodwill for a behind-the-scenes look at the daily operations of the store.
“This is kind of the boiler room of our business,” said Greg Medlyn, senior vice president of retail operations, extending his arms outward at the warehouse backend of the thrift store, where donations are dropped off and sorted before making their way into the retail side of the store. “The (retail side of the store) is pulling the levers and saying we need more steam, and this is the place that really generates it.”
The new system Goodwill is using, Power BI, tracks what customers are purchasing and allows store managers to assess in real-time if employees on the backend need to shift gears and, say, prepare more women’s clothing for retail sale, because it’s a popular department that day.
“We’re going to use our labor better and make sure we’re filling in the items on the floor that are getting purchased by customers,” Medlyn said. “It might be shifting to doing more kids; it might be linens; it might be other textiles; it might be hardware; it might be electronics; but the closer we can (understand our) transactions, the better we can transition our folks back here.”
Once an item is dropped off at Goodwill, the store has five weeks to sell it or move it off the shelves to make room for new donations, so it’s critical for staff to be strategic about what it’s putting out for sale. At the end of the day, revenue profits fuel Goodwill’s nonprofit workforce development programs — which range from culinary arts to warehouse and transportation logistics to military veteran services — so every dollar counts.
Other tech upgrades from Microsoft’s donation included a data server to support the Power BI analytics platform and a Windows 10 upgrade, which addresses basic security and productivity issues.
“This will allow us to run our organization more efficiently and more productively,” said Lori Forte Harnick, president and CEO of Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, of the donation. “Ultimately, we’re better serving our customers, because our customers are seeing the products on the floor that they want to buy and we’re better serving our donors. When they bring in goods, they want us to get the best value out of those goods as we possibly can.”