Op shops were hit doubly hard at the height of the pandemic due to restrictions on donations and retail shopping. Vinnies responded by making the most of its volunteers and small team of paid staff to fulfil its mission – supporting people in need across the state. From producing food hampers to incorporating a new digital sales strategy, Vinnies was able to deliver on their goal of serving their customers, not just with goods, but with dignity and respect.
These innovations earnt Vinnies Victoria the Customer Service Team of the Year Award at the 2022 Retailer Awards, presented by the CommBank.
“The most important thing was keeping our customers and team safe,” said Vinnies Victoria Executive General Manager of Commercial Services, Jeff Antcliff. “We moved quickly when government recommendations changed, meeting and exceeding them throughout the whole pandemic.”
Because Vinnies is focused on serving its community, they knew that operational continuity was essential. With a team that is 96% volunteers – the youngest 14, the oldest 96 – the challenges were made even more difficult. Antcliff says the response from their volunteers was incredible. “We were also able to tap into other support, like our fantastic corporate partners, to help us leverage our extensive fleet and logistics team. Everyone stepped up and did extra to enable us to support our communities.”
Transitioning to a digital business
Vinnies had to make a hard pivot in how it communicated with its team of more than 6,000 people across Victoria.
“We rapidly shifted to using tech-driven communication methods like holding regular Teams and Zoom calls to keep everyone across the state updated on the latest changes,” says Antcliff. “We also emailed daily COVID-19 updates because we wanted everyone to have the latest information no matter where they were or what communication channel they were using.”
Because COVID-19 restricted Vinnies’ retail operations, the organisation had to find ways to continue supporting people in need of goods and services. To do this, they created and implemented an eBay strategy and transformed how its material aid team organised and delivered essential goods like bedding, furniture and supplies.
For the eBay strategy, Vinnies developed a stand-alone business. Starting with a few hundred items they expanded to offer more than 3,000 one-off pieces such as unique items of clothing.
Positive outcomes from challenging situations
It would have been easy for Vinnies Victoria to throw up its hands when things became challenging at the beginning of the pandemic. Antcliff says the adversity led to meaningful growth and change for the organisation, influencing their work into the future.
Together, corporate partners and individuals stepped up to serve the community. “Our corporate partners saw our challenges increase and helped provide meaningful solutions,” says Antcliff. “WeWork, for example, gave us a lot of office furniture that helped people juggling schooling and working from home. What we couldn’t give away we were able to sell to help fund future operations.”
This support is critical to the Vinnies Victoria mission, says Antcliff. “We know that education is the best way to get people out of poverty, so we’re supporting families now and in the future.”
The quality of the goods donated by individuals also dramatically improved through the pandemic. Those goods were managed by Vinnies’ material aid team – delivering mattresses and furniture to people as directed by their membership team. The customer service teams coordinated the deliveries, a challenge made greater by rule changes. “We worked hard to make it as seamless as possible for the receiver and make it economical for the business,” says Antcliff. “Strong support from Vinnies’ offices and shops meant everyone worked together to create a great outcome.”
Antcliff says Vinnies don’t do it for the awards but welcome the recognition. “It’s a wonderful acknowledgment from the retail industry of how much our 6,000+ strong team has achieved.”
CommBank is committed to supporting Australia’s not-for-profit organisations achieve their vision. For more information on how we can help you, visit commbank.com.au/notforprofit or commbank.com.au/retailers