Perfect fit - how charity shops are saving the high street

P3 charity shop image

​Susan Smith believes charity shops are a boon to Scotland's high streets, and still have more to offer

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21st September 2018 by Susan Smith 2 Comments

Susan Smith

Susan Smith

Gone is the fusty mothball-ridden store stuffed with broken china

Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland’s (CHSS) brand new Bruntsfield boutique in one of Edinburgh’s more salubrious neighbourhoods is a lovely store, fitting in perfectly among the neighbouring gift shops, trendy bars and cafes.

CHSS is one of the charities that has turned its retail arm into a real success story, contributing to the 32% increase in charity shops across Scotland over the last five years and over 20% increase in profit, which we reveal in this month’s TFN magazine, which is out now.

Our report shows that far from bringing down the tone of Scotland’s high streets, charity retails is in fact reinvigorating town centres and attracting shoppers.

When TFN started its research into charity shops in Scotland’s town centres, we feared third sector retail may be falling victim to the demise of the high street reflected through the closure of thousands of mainstream retail units over the last few years.

However, what we found was an innovative sector that has seized the opportunity that vacant retail units have presented to expand and develop new and exciting offerings. They are quite simply turning a crisis into an opportunity.

Some are choosing to expand by opening retail park superstores complete with furniture, clothes and household products to compete with the likes of TK Maxx and Matalan. Others, like CHSS, are taking advantage of retro trends and the reuse and recycle culture which is seeing young people in particular looking for ethical and environmentally friendly goods.

Take the Magpie’s Eye in Glasgow as an example – run by an indie musician, it is specialising in vintage goods and specialist vinyl. It uses social media to reach new audiences, encouraging them along to the store to check out what’s on offer.

Gone is the fusty mothball ridden second-hand store stuffed with broken china, successful charity shops these days are increasingly trendy boutiques crammed full of designer labels and sought after antiques.

All of this bodes really well for the future of both charity retail and Scotland’s high streets. Increasingly, our streets are populated by service providers rather than people selling products – cafes, bars and hairdressers are opening while iron mongers and bookshops are moving into virtual stores online.

As this continues, there is an opportunity for charity retail to move into some of the spaces its cousins in the social enterprise sector are pioneering. Why not combine a café like Social Bite with a charity boutique, or emulate the award-winning Edinburgh Remakery, part retail unit part workshop teaching people to upcycle clothes, furniture and even electrical goods?

And what about the internet? If the appetite for good-quality second hand goods continues to grow, there is bound to be room for development there too. Could someone with a social purpose come up with a not-for-profit rival to eBay or Gumtree? 

It is heartening that our research suggests Scotland’s charity retail sector is in such good shape; I really look forward to seeing how it develops over the next decade.

Make sure you read our investigation into charity retail in Scotland in the latest TFN magazine –subscribe here.

22nd September 2018 by Paul

Great that charities are raising money this way. However I do have concerns when the likes of Cancer Research are comiting to long lease liabilities and big rents on retail parks. I have resently seen the latter charity pay nearly 40% more rent than a high street retailer, this reflecting that they don’t pay little or no business rates. I don’t think this is healthy for the high street, other retailers or the charities in the long term!

7th October 2018 by Joanne

I have concerns about the number of high street charity shops turning into high priced vintage boutiques - charity shops have been the only place I can afford to buy clothes for myself and family for over 20 years. Increasingly I cant even afford them.