The 2019 Charity Shops Survey – what does it tell us?

Once again, our open and collaborative sector has come together to help produce a really useful benchmarking tool. The 28th Charity Shops Survey is a vital piece of kit for any charity retailer, mapping the highs and lows of the year just gone and gathering thoughts and concerns for the future. 71 charities representing almost 6,500 shops completed the 2019 survey, published by Charity Finance.

At the Charity Retail Consultancy we use the survey a great deal, so thought we’d share our thoughts on what the latest edition can teach us:

Profits are up

Firstly – good news! Once again our sector sees profits up on last year. With an increase of 5.9% on 2018, growth has accelerated and is certainly a huge turnaround from 2016 when we saw an almost 12% fall in profits. We think that those poor figures a few years ago really made people sit up and think – and make radical changes to turn things around. The move to specialist shops, larger stores, selling online, cutting costs and driving income generators such as Gift Aid have all helped, despite some of the ever present challenges around stock and volunteer numbers.

Where charities are taking a more innovative approach there have been some fantastic results. For example, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland have a Community Hub, Boutique & Clearance model making sure their shops really reflect the needs of their local communities. They are one of the few charities growing their chain, increasing by 5 stores last year and were rewarded by a 31.4% growth in profit.

Lots of the highest profit growth was seen in hospice chains. We work with many hospices and see how they can increase engagement and support by telling their powerful and moving local stories through their shops. Always popular with donors and customers, making that extra effort to really show how the hospice helps the local community can bring supporters even closer to the cause and generate extra income via increased donations and volunteer numbers.

Pic: Martin House Children’s Hospice shop, Yeadon – showing messages and images from the hospice to tell their story on the high street

Shop numbers are down

For the second year in a row, shop numbers have fallen. We don’t see this as a negative thing – more the sector getting its house in order, really looking at how much each store contributes and closing those which don’t cut the mustard. Have you got shops in your chain which don’t make a profit or are marginal in their contribution? Sometimes it can be hard to walk away, but it’s important to ensure the charity is investing its money wisely. Our retail reviews help to identify the true profitability of each shop in the chain and if there is potential to do better – sometimes repositioning a store’s offer, improving processes or upskilling the team can make all the difference. However, if you’ve tried all that and the shop still can’t turn a profit, it could be time to make some tough decisions and invest the money elsewhere.

The other influencing factors on shops numbers declining are the rise of the superstore – opening fewer, large format stores – and a cautious approach to expansion whilst charities ensure their base offer is working as well as it can be.

Despite the 2 year decline, however, retailers are still optimistic about the future and 87% of charities operating between 26 and 100 shops said they planned to open new shops next year.

Recruiting volunteers is still hard work

Volunteers are the backbone of our sector – their gift of time, skills, enthusiasm and hard work keeps the wheels of over 11,000 charity shops turning each year. However, the number of volunteer hours per shop per week has fallen again after a brief peak last year.

Almost everyone is in the same boat – everyone wants and needs more volunteers and many of you are effectively competing for the same people’s time. So what to do? The most successful charity retailers know that in order to attract volunteers the whole organisation must genuinely embrace and celebrate everything they bring. We’ve blogged about volunteers and how best to recruit and retain them – and as volunteers ourselves, we have first-hand knowledge of what a ‘good’ volunteering experience looks like. The Consultancy can help you with volunteer recruitment, training, retention and reward – get in touch if you want to find out more.

Superstores are really profitable

For the first time this year, the survey looked specifically at results from those charities running large format superstores. Sue Ryder is the biggest player in this field at the moment, with 50 of these stores, primarily based on retail parks and trading from warehouse style units. The survey showed that profits from this type of store are nearly three times more than a ‘traditional’ shop at £1,604 per shop per week, despite higher staffing and running costs.

We have been working with several charities recently who are all looking at developing an out of town or superstore offer – there are some great examples out there to learn from, not least the brand new Oxfam superstore which has attracted national media coverage and was listed as one of the best new retail concept stores in the world by Insider trends.

Pic: Oxfam Superstore, Oxford

If you are considering expanding into this new type of retail offer and want some help and support with the process, the Charity Retail Consultancy can help you.

And finally….

Overall, the sector is in good shape. We have once again bucked the mainstream retail trend of declining sales from bricks and mortar and continue to bring a vibrant, profitable, cause related offer to high streets all over the country. The survey results tell a great story and look forward with confidence to next year.

If your charity has contributed to the survey this year – thank you. And if not, make sure you do next year. Deadline for completion is usually around July so make sure you’re on the list to receive the form – every charity that takes part receives a free copy of the results and the more that take part, the more comprehensive and valuable the data becomes.


For reviews, staff & volunteer training, feasibility studies and much more, contact us to see how The Charity Retail Consultancy can help improve your retail operation:


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