Metrolina Habitat ReStores is a group of 12 Habitat for Humanity ReStores in the Charlotte metro area. Habitat ReStores help support local Habitat for Humanity affiliates to fund safe, affordable housing options in the communities in which they serve.
ReStores are more than your average resale shop. While stores focus on building materials, furniture, appliances and home items, you never know what interesting things you’ll find on the sales floor. The Catawba Valley store, given it’s proximity to major furniture manufacturers, is especially rich for finding new or nearly new treasures.
While the stores are relatively close together — in the Charlotte metro area — they are spread out, from Hickory, NC to to Matthews, NC to Rock Hill, SC and cover a service area of 3,500 square miles, with a diverse population of 2 million people in seven counties.
The behind-the-scenes organization of the group adds to the complexity. Each store is attached to an affiliate (the house-building arm of Habitat). The Metrolina group is made up of nine affiliates operating 12 stores. Three affiliates have multiple stores. Resources, let alone retail sales floor square footage, varies greatly.
Because there were so many moving parts, there was little to no unifying messaging or collaboration happening from a marketing perspective. Often, volunteers at the stores were creating collateral and running social media accounts for the ReStores.
Habitat ReStores, while non-profit revenue generators, are still businesses. Management watches labor costs, profit margins and issues a “regular” retailer would monitor. Because they are non-profits, they are typically fiscally conservative and want to make sure they are getting the most bang for their marketing buck. In this case, traditional advertising (outdoor, broadcast and print) were not viable options given the relative cost.
When the group was created in early 2012, they agreed to pool a percentage of store revenue to hire a PR/Marketing firm.
Most of the partner stores can’t afford full-time PR/marketing on their own, so Rachel Sutherland Communications was brought in to bring the group together, unify messaging and level the playing field while celebrating the differences between stores. A tall order, to be sure.
RSC set out to build a PR plan that focused (and still does) on awareness, education and donations while keeping the tight budget in mind, while leaning heavily on social media. Facebook and Twitter followers for non-profits grew an average of 42 and 37 percent (respectively) in the last year, according to the 2015 Social Media Benchmark Study for Non-Profits. That same study found that social media is growing three times faster than e-mail marketing.
First order of business was cleaning up social media for individual stores: Did every ReStore have a presence? Was it separate from the affiliate page? Is it named properly? Who has access? One of our affiliates had at least four accounts on Facebook that had been started on behalf of the ReStore, none of which could be accessed because someone moved away or left.
From there, RSC launched strategic PR, as well as complimentary social programs, including assembling a blog team of shopper advocates who share their expertise through the ReStore filter. The blog team takes quarterly field trips and invites the public to join them — we’ve had a few fan moments on the sales floor when followers join the team to shop.
RSC launched Metrolina ReStores on social media, first on Facebook and Twitter, then Instagram and YouTube following soon after. Social media growth on Facebook and Twitter clocked in at a minimum of 500 percent growth in followers in the first year, and is on track to maintain that triple digit growth through 2015.
Metrolina Habitat ReStores had a banner 2015, growing in size, donations and funds raised to create decent, safe and affordable housing in the Charlotte metropolitan area. The group opened a new store in Denver, NC this year, bringing the total of retail storefronts to 12. The member ReStores raised set sales records as well, topping $10 million.
The group also saw a 20 percent increase in earned media PR placements in 2015.
“We’ve seen 6 percent sales increases in the past two years – and now we’ve had a 10 percent jump from last year,” said Meg Robertson, executive director of Habitat Metrolina ReStores. “The goal for 2016 is even higher, she says, as each Habitat for Humanity affiliate has waiting lists of families in need of housing.”