Goodwill of Orange County’s Huntington Beach location has all the hallmarks of a typical thrift store. There are the shelves of used kitchen appliances and stacks of pictures frames, racks of clothes and, of course, bargain hunters.
But this Goodwill location, which is known as an OC Goodwill Boutique, has a notably different ambiance than most thrift stores. It’s one of a handful of “boutique” stores that Goodwill has been opening throughout Orange County since 2012. The goal is to attract more Orange County shoppers by offering a glamorous retail experience.
“[The Huntington Beach OC Goodwill Boutique] has a completely different feel, it’s much more open, we’re not using kind of the mass capacity fixtures that you’d find in a regular store,” said Eric Smissen, visual specialist for Goodwill of Orange County.
Smissen spent more than 20 years working for Nordstrom before moving to Goodwill. Now he’s putting his knowledge of higher-end retail design and merchandising to use. His job is to help dress formerly run-of-the-mill thrift stores with design touches like cleverly outfitted mannequins, exposed brick walls and well-lit dressing rooms.
And it’s not just the layout that’s a little different in OC Goodwill Boutiques. On the racks, shoppers are likely to find highly sought-after labels like Coach, Michael Kors or Marc Jacobs.
The Orange County boutique stores are not the first of their kind. Goodwill Industries operates across the country taking donations of items like clothing and house wares and selling them to raise money for programs to assist disabled workers, veterans and other job seekers with barriers to employment. There are about 60 “boutique” Goodwill stores nationwide, but each one is a little different.
Frank Talarico Jr., president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County, said when his branch decided to start opening high-end thrift stores in 2012, they wanted to take the concept further than other branches had.
They opened their first OC Goodwill Boutique in Tustin. In the years since, the nonprofit has opened three more in Lake Forest, Anaheim, and now the Huntington Beach store, which was remodeled in June.
“As a matter of strategy we need to make sure that we’re using the boutique model to expand into those ZIP codes simply because to do it with a traditional store is just not going to happen,” Talarico said.
For Talarico, the most obvious way to reach out to more donors and customers and serve more people in need in Orange County is to appeal to the county’s more affluent residents. Now, Goodwill employees in Orange County do an extra round of sorting when items get donated. They pull out name brands to supply a more curated collection to the four boutique stores.
“We took a real hard look at who our market is and understood that they are not just after real good bargains and shopping value, but the shopping experience is one that we have to be really competitive in,” Talarico said.
Customers in the Huntington Beach boutique seem to notice the difference in the store’s layout and selection.
Local resident Camille Hoffman was visiting the OC Goodwill Boutique for the first time. “Everything looks a little more organized. It looks better, it looks nicer,” she said.
Regina Cox, who is a regular Goodwill shopper, said, “I actually found a Michael Kors [purse] it was like $24. It was practically brand new—a real Michael Kors. So you find bargains.”
Even though the added design elements mean the boutiques cost more to build and launch than traditional Goodwill stores, Talarico said the investment has paid off.
“The market likes it, they enjoy it, they come more often and buy more when they do come,” Talarico said.
According to Goodwill, customers to the Huntington Beach boutique spend nearly $10 dollars more in each transaction than they do at other Orange County locations. And in its first full month after its remodel this summer, the boutique’s sales were up nearly 10 percent compared to the same period last year.
Talarico says he hopes to keep expanding the concept. He’s set a goal to open two boutiques per year in Orange County for the foreseeable future.