(hillsboro tribune) Enterprising shoppers often visit the Goodwill Outlet store in Hillsboro — popularly known as “the bins” — to sift through 9-foot-long containers to find the elusive “get.”
Those bins piled full of unusual stuff are sometimes a boost to the region’s economy, providing money for both Goodwill and its bargain-hunting customers.
“They either make their entire living by reselling, or they supplement their existing income and they work here sometimes longer than the managers,” Emanuel says. “They may very well be here 12 hours a day. It’s eBay, it’s for-profit thrift stores, it’s swap meets, it’s garage sales.”
Toward the back of the building, there’s a loading dock that accepts 20 truck deliveries each day from Goodwill retail stores in Forest Grove, Beaverton and Hillsboro.
Although the Goodwill Outlet may at first glance seem like a dumping ground for unsold goods, the estimated 500 daily transactions with bargain hunters buying merchandise by the pound casts the retail space in a different light.
It’s all part of the cycle instituted by a Goodwill region that received 173 million pounds of donations last year. According to Emanuel, Goodwill of Columbia Willamette puts 94 cents of every dollar it makes back into its own employment and community programs.
Recycling and salvage
The outlet is the final stop for donations that have sat unsold in one of Goodwill’s retail thrift stores for three to five weeks. The merchandise is filtered into bins that are put out on the main floor and changed out three times each day. Whatever isn’t picked up in the outlet’s retail space then gets brought in the back, where 88 percent of it is recycled in some form.
“Our goal every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is that about 78,000 pounds of merchandise is either sold, recycled or salvaged,” Emanuel said.
While the average Goodwill retail store customer is female, Emanuel said, they’ve found that there’s a 50/50 gender split on shopgoodwill.com.
For locals, there’s the option to bypass shipping fees and pick up the merchandise themselves. It’s a popular option for people like Beaverton resident Chris Drabik, who was at the checkout counter early last week to pick up an Erector Set for his son. The set generally retails for $90, Drabik said; his winning bid was $30.
Whether through carelessness or bulk estate donations, items of great historic and monetary value sometimes slip into the Goodwill system. Sorters at each retail store are trained to filter out potentially valuable merchandise.
In fact, a 2006 painting at this very center set records for most expensive donation. The Frank Weston Benson watercolor was dated 1926. After it was authenticated, the piece — “Summer of 1909” — sold for $165,000 online.
Last week, the e-commerce site had on display a beaver fur top hat that dated back to the mid-19th century, as well as vintage World War II editions of The Eugene Register-Guard.
E-Commerce Operations Manager Joshua Peterson said that receiving big-ticket items isn’t terribly rare.
“I’ve been here for five weeks, and there have been two paintings that were to customers worth more than $4,000 each. Just this week, two watches were donated that we haven’t had authenticated yet, but if they’re authentic they’ll be worth certainly many hundreds if not thousands of dollars,” Peterson said.
Listed items are meticulously cataloged and fill several aisles of shelves that can house up to 20,000 items as they are being bid on.
But some items, like antique muskets, are considered specialty items with a guaranteed customer base willing to pay the assessed price.
“The highest price we can get is the best price we can get, because we help the most people that way,” Emanuel said.
Goodwill reports that total online transactions from this particular center in 2011 generated more than $4 million in sales.
Goodwill Industries of Columbia Willamette covers Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, extends to Battleground, Wash., and the Oregon Coast, then to Bend in Central Oregon, Emanuel explains.
Each Goodwill system is independent, and each is given its own territory and a lot of leeway in how it does business. Not all Goodwills take the superstore approach common throughout the Portland area, for example.
Regardless, Emanuel says, “our mission is always the same, which is to give opportunity to people with barrier to employment in the way of job services.”
This Goodwill region employs 2,200 people, two-thirds of whom have some kind of barrier to employment: physical or mental limitations, limited English skills, an inconsistent resume — and at times, a questionable legal record.
One of the services Goodwill offers includes job interview prep classes for inmates at nine different correctional facilities. Inmates who are six weeks away from parole are offered courses on how to speak honestly and openly with potential employers about any felonies on their record.
The self-described “trivia junkie” found that he took to items of mysterious origin.
“My historical interest is more on periods of American history with war, like the Civil War, so occasionally we’ll get uniforms from those time periods.”