Opening Habitat HM’s first ReStore

Today, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga’s Burlington ReStore is the top performing ReStore in the country, but did you know it had humble beginnings?

In the spring of 2001, while the affiliate was planning its first build, the Board of Directors decided the affiliate needed ongoing funding to be sustainable. Many affiliates operated ReStores across the country and it seemed logical to proceed in the same way. Habitat Canada cautioned that the affiliate was still in its infancy.

A committee was formed with the mandate to have the store opened in the spring of 2002, with sufficient space for the store and the affiliate offices. Several members joined, including Chris Norman, a Home Depot employee, a commercial real estate agent, and Brian Duncombe, Treasurer, to name a few. Chris recruited Roger Goulet who eventually became the Chair of the committee and the driving force in the creation and operation of the ReStore in the first two years.

Roger wrote the  business plan and led the committee through the launch of the ReStore. Habitat Canada noted at the time that it was the best business plan for a ReStore they had ever seen. For Roger, it wasn’t a challenge.

“The business plan was the easy part, we had to operationalize it,” he said.

Roger’s team established many of the principles that the ReStore still operates with today:

 

  • Operate on a busy street
  • Develop and leverage relationships with retailers and suppliers for repeatable product opportunities
  • Focus on high-end items. Don’t compete with garage sales or flea markets
  • Treat volunteers and customers well. Without them, we don’t have a business

But start-up capital would be needed. The affiliate had very little funds, and any funds available were being directed to the build. Thanks to a seed loan of $65,000 from a generous supporter, the ReStore was a go. The Board approved the plan in the fall of 2001 and the search was on for suitable properties.

Finding a suitable building between 10 to 15 thousand square feet in a location that met our needs proposed a huge challenge and an even bigger time constraint. Eventually, the search was narrowed down to the Appleby Line location. While the property did not meet all the requirements – it was only about 8000 square feet – there was room for the affiliate offices, it was in a growing area of the city and it had high traffic volume.

To prepare the store for opening was the next task at hand. The committee obtained donations of shelving from Home Depot and White Rose, some of which are still used today. The ceiling was spray-painted, the floors cleaned and the racking painted and erected. Focusing on high-end products, the first manager Tom Greggain and the committee received donations from various corporate donors of end of line, over-supply, returns. Just like today, volunteers were the main staff and were trained on cash, pricing and product testing and repair.

We were as ready as we would ever be and opened the doors on August 21, 2002.

The months ahead were challenging as the affiliate worked to finish the build and learn how to operate a retail location. At times, money was tight and there were staffing issues and product procurement challenges. Could Habitat Canada have been right? Were we too inexperienced to run the store?

But sales eventually stabilized and increased. Additional focus was put on the store in 2003.  ReStore members started to find “end-of-line” and “scratch and dent” donated products from local companies, and slowly built relationships with retailers for “return to vendor” items.

By 2004, sales of $397,000 contributed $171,000 to affiliate operations. Payroll was met, loan obligations were fulfilled, and challenges were tackled. At each board meeting, Jack Bolzan started the Treasurer’s Report with, “Thank God for the ReStore!

On reflection, Brian Duncombe has a view words. “I think it was the toughest thing we did to sign the 5-year lease on Appleby Line, but looking back, that was the key thing we did.”

Roger said he is proud of the way the ReStore has evolved and expanded from what his committee put in place. With those values, we continue to help customers in new ways, divert waste from landfills and help build homes for families in need.

Follow this link to find out how you can help support your local ReStore

 

By: Susan Goetz & Terry Quinn