Encouraging uniqueness, by Jacob Miller

Creative, innovative, and unique….

…that is what our customers look for, and in return this is what I am on the hunt for when recruiting.

Think about it…it is not the charity shops that do things well or ordinarily that we remember but its stores like: Barnardo’s Vintage, Marylebone CRUK, CHS Scotland or the Mary’s Living and Giving which are known around the world. Of course, there must be a mix of stores in the market and even of product within those stores, but it is the flair, vibrancy and unusual that sets these apart from some 12,000 charity shops in the UK.

Pic: Barnardo’s Vintage, Cheadle

I have been fortunate enough to work within organisations that have supported, encouraged, and harnessed all that is unusual and my endeavours to be different from the norm.

Too often our industry thinks “this retail principle is the way” and so we all colour-block similarly, put our ladies fashion at the front and de prioritise the low-income products. We give our teams budgets and stretch targets and KPIs that focus narrowly on what we know works in retail. Yet we miss the essential – we are not mainstream retail – we are, and have always been, creative, innovative, and unique.

Yes, of course we can learn from and should base our decisions in fact and “tried & true” methods but that is not what draws forth new customers or stretches our organisational reputation across the world.

A different approach?

Imagine the growth, excitement, and true ability to reflect local community if our staff had KPIs not only focused on income but on how many customer names they remembered, how many local community events they participated in, how unique their store is from others on the street, even how often they engaged with the other managers from ‘competing’ charity retailers.

I wonder if we asked how many mentions their store received in local press or about their ability to work with and connect to local government and community organisations if we would see not only a stronger industry but a workforce more connected to arts and community engagement and less like the retail and fashion machine, which we know is having to reinvent itself to stay relevant.

Treasure troves

We have seen industry change from small, church-associated “dumping grounds” to High Street grooves filled with young people discovering treasures. Along this journey as an industry, we have utilised the implementation of retail strategies but have often forgot to have vibrancy and edge – uniquely reflecting our local communities.

Pic: Highland Hospice shop, Fort William

Success is in never turning away from the creative, innovative, and unique – the free champagne, the drag performances, the morning yoga, the pop up at a world-famous museum, the instore sewing class – these are the reasons while I am still in this industry.

Drag queens help open East Lancs Hospice’s first boutique | Lancashire Telegraph 

The budgets, and KPIs we can all get from any mainstream retailer.


Jacob Miller is “the brain behind […] the most stylish thrift emporium in the southern hemisphere!” and Retail Operations Manager for Hobart City Mission in Tasmania, Australia.

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