Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 26, 2012

Find a deal, help good cause at ReStore

Huntington, W.Va. — A week ago, if you had gone to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore looking for, say, some flooring tile, you could also have found a genuine traffic signal, a row of seats from the Veterans Memorial Field House or an ancient scale from a defunct downtown department store.

You could still find the tile today, but not the other stuff. Buyers snapped up the once-in-a-lifetime goodies almost as fast as workers put them out on the floor.

But that’s no reason not to go anyway, because chances are by now there are other unique items for sale.

“The key is you’ve got to keep coming back,” said Scott Withrow of Ashland, who stops by the store about once a week for items he can use at his rental properties. He found an intercom system recently for $75 that he would have paid more than $300 for at a retail store.

The bargain is made sweeter because the money goes to Habitat. “That means something to me,” he said.

Bringing unusual merchandise to the store at 240 Third Avenue is a major part of the sales strategy of new manager J.B. Miller, who spends most of his waking hours finding, fetching and stocking the store.

“I keep thinking, what can I bring here that has never been here before,” he said.

Last week, Miller had miscellaneous department store fittings like a drinking fountain, a roll of candy wrapping paper, display bases dating back to the early days of video games and telephone switching equipment from the early decades of the 20th century.

That was all in addition to the building materials that have been ReStore’s stock in trade since it was established in 2006. ReStore is a retail fundraising arm of Habitat For Humanity, the non-profit organization that builds low-cost housing.

There are other ReStores; the closest outside Huntington are in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Charleston, W.Va.

Everything sold at the store is plowed back into the Huntington Habitat, which has put up four houses in the past year.

The primary line of merchandise is building materials and home furnishings, all of it donated.

Miller likes to describe it as “anything you could use to build a house.” Depending on what is donated, you might find doors, windows, kitchen counters, sinks, bricks, concrete blocks and paint.

There is an appliance section and miscellaneous pieces of furniture.

Some is new and some used. It is all in better condition than might be expected from donations.

Regular donors include big-box retailers like Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart. He also gets some furniture from Big Sandy and other retailers.

He also has an arrangement with Big Sandy, which no longer carts away old furniture when customers buy new pieces. Now, Big Sandy gives its customers a flyer with information about ReStore and they may call the store, which removes the piece from their home and puts it on the sales floor.

Miller, formerly a long-time radio personality in Huntington, took over management in December with plans to jump-start sales. He cleaned the store thoroughly, rearranged stock to highlight fast-moving items, and hit the phones to hustle new merchandise.

His new strategy is to continue selling building materials while bringing in unexpected things that will bump up traffic and keep merchandise moving.

After 37 years in radio, Miller knows a lot of people, and that helps him reel in donations.

In recent weeks, he has emptied out — and sold — the interior of the Ashland Bob Evans and scavenged furnishings from what was originally the Anderson-Newcomb store in downtown Huntington, in addition to scoring the lights and seats.

The seats came his way because he’d made the acquaintance of Huntington’s parks board director. The parks department was responsible for disposition of the arena’s effects.

Miller called director Kevin Brady, who had been a guest on his show. Brady offered him 600 seats; Miller accepted 148. That was how many he and his crew of volunteers could unbolt and carry, in rows of four, out of the arena.

When Huntington upgraded its traffic signals, Miller called the contractor and inquired about the old ones. It turned out the contractor is an enthusiastic supporter of Habitat.

He soon had shelves full of traffic signals, but not for long. The day he brought in the arena seats, the buyers were lined up, and many bought lights too. “We sold 40 in two days and got 20 more. They’re probably our biggest seller to date,” he said.

Among Miller’s changes is hiring a technician to check out appliances. That means they all have a 30-day guarantee and work when they go out the door. “All the appliances are plugged in just like the big retailers.”

Some of the donated furniture is new; overstocks, discontinued items or slow sellers from retailers. The store also takes donations of used furniture but it has to be unstained and unripped.

Miller’s secret is never losing sight of the mission: raising money for Habitat. That means keeping merchandise moving. He prices items at least 70 percent below typical retail value. Anything that doesn’t sell in three days is discounted, and the discounts multiply the longer the item is in the store.

“I’m reselling for a purpose, to build houses. The goal is to get it here, get it sold and build more houses,” Miller said.

“The prices you can’t beat,” said Donna Stewart of Huntington. “I come here every two weeks when I get paid.” Her recent bargain coups include a couch, two chairs, a dining table and chairs, and a lift recliner.

Miller plans to continue seeking out unusual items, but makes it clear that ReStore is not going to morph into an antique store. “It’s just the thrill of the hunt. If I can find it and you can use it, I’m going to put it on the floor.”

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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