30 Years in Retail, A FNHC Q&A Review with Lily Caswell

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As part of our 30 years in retail celebration, we sat down with Lily Caswell, FNHC’s Head of Retail, to discuss our 30 years within the industry and to share more details about what you can expect from us in the future.

Here’s what Lily shared with us…

What do you think of FNHC reaching 30 years in retail?

“It’s a brilliant achievement and great testament to how well the Charity is supported and cherished in the community. Be it shopping, donating or volunteering, an incredible amount of people have helped us to grow our retail offer over the past three decades and raise vital funds to provide hospice care to thousands of people across Buckinghamshire and its borders.”

How have things developed in FNHC’s shop offering as well as charity shops as a whole?  

“The modern hospice movement as we know it today started in 1967 with most hospices like ours being built following huge community fundraising efforts in the 80’s and 90’s. Like ours, most hospice charities started opening shops to support their fundraising a few years after the hospices opened. I guess this is because shops need investment to open (our first shop roughly cost £10k in set up costs – in 1993) as well as management to check they are operating safely and legally.

Our first shop didn’t have proper shop fittings – instead, they used regular furniture to display and store stock, including bookshelves and dressers (I am sure it was really charming!). There was a ‘make-do’ attitude, and a lot of care was taken to save costs. In the last 20 years, charity shops have become a bit more commercial and more selective about what they sell in order to compete on the high street and attract more customers. In 2002, when I started working in charity retail, only 32% of people shopped in charity shops, and now it’s over 70%.

The last 30 years have also seen increasing numbers of specialist charity shops. The first charity bookshop opened in 1987, and there are now lots of specialist charity shops alongside the more traditional community shop. At FNHC, as well as our ‘standard’ shops we have a specialist vintage shop in Buckingham; a Furniture Showroom in Aylesbury; a fashion boutique in Marlow; and we think we are the only charity to have a shop on a farm (Haddenham)!

When we are looking for new shops, the criteria is likely to be similar to what it was in the 1990s. For charity shops to succeed, they need to have a strong community around them, as it is the community that supports with donations, volunteering and good footfall. In terms of the property, it needs to be easy for people to drop off donations and they need to have reasonable back-room space to sort the donations that people kindly give us. I would have thought low rent was a key factor in the early days (whereas now, charities know they must pay the same rent as any commercial business). As a hospice charity, we only open shops in communities supported by the Florence Nightingale Hospice.”

How many staff and volunteers work in FNHC shops, and how has this changed over the years?

“Like most charity retailers, our shops were largely volunteer-run in the 1990s, with Shop Managers and staff being introduced as the shops got busier. Charity shops will always be the best they can be if they are run with a strong partnership between volunteers and staff and this was just as true when our shops opened as it is now.

We currently have 40 staff and an amazing 560 volunteers within our retail operation. Our volunteers currently give us 1,569 hours per week (which is 81,588 hours per year!). It is only because of this incredible gift of time from our volunteers that our shops can run as well as they do.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze us is the length of time that some volunteers give to the Charity. We are proud to say that we have volunteers within our retail team who have been volunteering for over 25 years.”

What has 30 years in retail resulted in for the Charity, and what are the current targets of the department?

“The estimated turnover for the FNHC shops over the past 30 years is over £17 million, with 100% of the profits going to provide hospice care. We currently have 13 shops (and online) and it is our aim to get to 20 shops in the next three years. With the increasing need for hospice care, we hope to be able to make £4m turnover a year from our shops to provide sustainable profit to help fund vital local hospice care for decades to come.”

Thank you, Lily, for taking the time to share these insights into FNHC’s retail operation. None of this would be possible without the continued support of the community. So, a huge thank you to you all!

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