Goodwill’s 10-year growth plan includes additional stores


While German major is saved, the board supported a decision to eliminate five others. Courtesy Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

If you’re a loyal customer or even just a fan of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, you’re in luck. The nonprofit has been growing lately and the plan is to do more of it, said Kathy Crosby, president and CEO.

“Goodwill needs to continue to grow its business so that, as government funding for services shifts or is restricted, we can continue to offer employment and training services to the at-risk populations of our community. Currently, we self-fund services to several populations where funding cuts have resulted in limited dollars being available, and we fund a depth of service beyond government-funded models,” she said.

“Store revenue allows us to maintain the highest level of service in preparing people for work, offering training in high-demand entry-level employment areas, facilitated job placement and retention support for a year after placement.

“We connect our program participants to services throughout the community as needed for personal stability. And we provide transitional employment in preparation for placement, career guidance, paid time to attend school and/or study, tuition support and other supports for our many employees seeking to move to a higher-level career to improve their family’s economic stability.”

“All of Goodwill’s transitional workers and employees are paid minimum wage or above,” she added.

Currently, Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids has 20 stores and five workforce development centers in its eight-county territory, Crosby said. Its newest store to open in Grand Rapids, Knapp North, is at 2345 East Beltline Ave. NE. But more locations are on the way.

“Goodwill has a growth plan that includes building additional stores over the next 10 years. We also are working to leverage our business skills to build other opportunities for learning and financial support,” she said.

“Our Blue Spoon (Catering & Event Planning), restaurants in the Downtown Market and the bus depot, and our food truck are part of that effort. Our board has been very instrumental and encouraging in our effort to innovate and grow. It is part of our current strategic plan.”

Here’s what’s in the works: First, Goodwill is rebuilding its store in Portland, since that location was destroyed by a tornado in June, she said. The replacement store will open in the spring and have a workforce development service center attached, which will be the first to have that design, Crosby said.

Goodwill also has plans for a store in Grandville, but Crosby said she wasn’t sure if it would be slated to open in 2016 or 2017.

Goodwill’s plans for next year also involves building a new store, workforce development center and donated goods processing center in Mt. Pleasant in Isabella County, one of the eight counties covered by Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids.

It will replace a smaller, outdated store and career center space that has been there for many years, Crosby said. The new store also will serve as a space to process donated goods, allowing Goodwill to support and develop stores and services in smaller communities such as Belding.

Goodwill just held a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month for its new store at 363 E. State St. in Belding. The 11,200-square-foot space, which will employ about 12 to 15 people, was formerly a thrift shop run by Grand Rapids-based Mel Trotter Ministries. Goodwill had plans to open in Belding in 2019, but its partnership with Mel Trotter offered an opportunity to advance the opening of the store.

“The Belding store is the result of a collaborative conversation started between Mel Trotter and Goodwill this past spring,” Crosby said. “Goodwill initially met at Mel Trotter’s request and offered insight and support regarding the donated goods business.”

Other surrounding communities with Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids stores are Wyoming, Standale, Jenison, Rockford, Lowell, Greenville, Ionia and Big Rapids.

Another source of great pride and community value to Goodwill’s growth, said Crosby, is Goodwill’s AmeriCorps program. This year, Goodwill will provide its more than 20 AmeriCorps members with “meaningful service experiences, help them network and gain employment at the end of their service year, and hopefully keep them in Grand Rapids,” she said.

Crosby said more than 85 percent of its AmeriCorps members over the past six years have stayed — a detail that helps Goodwill’s goal of retaining college graduates.

“I have worked for Goodwill for 35 years in three different communities. What is unique about Goodwill is its responsiveness to the work needs of each community where it exists.

“Our thrift stores have grown and improved as all Goodwills learn from each other across the country and as we have grown our business acumen. But being locally incorporated, having a local board to represent the community, means our services represent what the local community expects,” she said.

“What’s unique about working at Goodwill is we’re a social enterprise focused on the business performance our mission services. Our employees know their business skills provide the dollars and opportunities for people to be self-sufficient.”

There’s another unique aspect about Goodwill that keeps its stores humming, and that’s how well it uses social media to connect to its customers, particularly millennials. Its presence across four different platforms has allowed it to reach a broader market, Crosby said.

“Our Goodwill has focused on social media and gaining the attention of the millennial population as we’ve built our brand locally. There are a number of colleges in our territory, and our stores happily serve the needs of this group of shoppers,” she said.

“As we’ve improved our presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Foursquare, we have focused on certain segments of shoppers including millennials, do-it-yourselfers and cost-conscious moms.

“We have a loyalty program that helps us understand who shops with us and what they are looking for. We make better choices about what merchandise to move to the floor versus online or the boutique because of the investment we continue to make in this area. And we are focused on growing donations from groups consistent with filling our customers’ expectations.”

2015 was a good year for Goodwill, but 2016 looks to be an even better one. Not only will there be more stores to shop in, but there will also be a special birthday taking place.

“Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids will be 50 years old in 2016,” Crosby said. “We love being part of this community and we appreciate all of the collaborations we enjoy with businesses to employ those we prepare for work, support donation drives, provide program support and more.”

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