Reporter’s Note: A few weeks back this reporter found a listing on Craig’s List for filing cabinets. The Visalia Rescue Mission had received a donation of an abundance of them. Since the Valley Voice was in need, a reply was made to the listing and an appointment set to check them out. Valley Voice purchased several units for its archives, but what was also found was an enormous thrift operation.
The Visalia Rescue Mission (VRM) has served the local homeless community since 1984 by providing shelter, meals and programs to aid those in need. Its thrift business has become a major aspect of fundraising for the Mission.
VRM has two well-known thrift stores in Visalia – Rescued Treasurers on Mooney Boulevard and Simply Chic Boutique, downtown on Main Street. But there is also has an aggressive online component which includes Craig’s List, eBay and Amazon.
Jennifer Mejia is the thrift marketing coordinator. She is responsible for all listings on the three online sites, as well as promotion for the stores through Facebook and other social media outlets. Her job, which was created in January of this year, is diversified and takes her in different directions every work day.
“I enjoy it a lot,” she said. “There’s a lot about it that’s fun and it’s challenging. Plus, I get to work with great people.”
Mejia started with VRM last year at the Simply Chic Boutique. She had heard about the possible marketing coordinator position being developed and was asked if she would like to fill it. She jumped at the opportunity.
Mejia has enjoyed thrifting since junior high school.
“In junior high, most girls like what is new, not vintage,” she said.
But Mejia was not like most girls, and her interest brought her into her new career.
While prior to 2015 VRM did have an eBay store, there was no one person dedicated to working it before Mejia started the job in January. Since then, all VRM online stores have vastly grown.
The Amazon store has more than 400 books listed. It is Mejia’s responsibility to list all of them before she ships them to an Amazon warehouse, where they will be shipped when purchased. She also does all eBay listings, which she ships herself to any buyer within the US, or to an eBay shipping outlet, if someone should have the winning bid from outside the country. If Mejia feels that something is better suited for local sale, but does not really fit into either Rescued Treasurers or Simply Chic’s potential inventory, she may just list it on Craig’s List.
She has to be flexible and adaptable as she may not know what change may occur in any given hour of a day. When a large number of filing cabinets was donated to the mission, she quickly listed them on Craig’s List. She spends much time checking and answering her e-mails for this type of listing as well as questions regarding eBay listings. When items are listed on Craig’s List, she sets appointments with potential buyers to come view the items at the VRM warehouse, where her office is located.
“Craig’s List is more instant,” she said, in that people respond quickly and set appointments. This can be time-consuming for her, more so than responding to potential eBay buyers.
When a stack of books has accumulated, time-permitting, she sits down for Amazon listings and ships them off to clear her desk. EBay listings can be made one at a time, in her spare time.
But every item listed anywhere needs to have a competitive price set. This takes research.
“Google has become my friend,” Mejia said. “These days, with the internet, there is no excuse (not to know the value of an item). But there is a supply and demand issue too. Much is calculated into an item price.”
Within the warehouse, each type of item has assigned price workers. These VRM employees become familiar with their type of item and what the potential worth might be. Different price workers are set for housewares, books, clothing, shoes and handbags, toys, appliances and furniture. These men and women also look out for a potential valuable find to draw to Mejia’s attention. Most of these items, if appropriate and shippable, are designated for eBay, especially designer bags and shoes.
Amazon provides a continual updated pricing guide that provides potential prices for books according to popularity and condition. The VRM has a handheld scanner that is regularly updated with the latest Amazon evaluation lists.
“Before we started doing this, expensive textbooks would just sit on the shelf at Rescued Treasurers,” Mejia said.
Now, when they fit into the VRM’s ranking requirements, they end up listed on Amazon.
The VRM thrift business employs 55 people, part and full time, including the pricers and sorters, delivery personnel and store employees along with Mejia. Current Mission Life-Change Academy students assist as a part of their work study program.
Donations are accepted at the warehouse as well as donation bins around Visalia and Tulare. Donations are also picked up free within the area, with morning pickups available Wednesday-Friday, and afternoon pickups on Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
VRM also has a vast recycling business which includes electronics and non-operational appliances. However, some items that are not acceptable as donations for resale or recycling include: tires, mattresses, florescent light bulbs, car seats or cribs, used toilets or sinks and cabinets.
All donated items are sorted in the warehouse, cleaned and priced or designated for recycling there. Trucks regularly transport items for sale to Rescued Treasurers and Simply Chic Boutique.
“It’s fluid,” Mejia said.
“We want to do the best that we can for the Mission,” she said, “and to honor the donation.”
Mejia said that each physical store has its regular customers with “some who stop in every day, just to see what is new.”
Likewise, the eBay and Amazon storefronts have repeat customers and 100% feedback ratings, she said.
Lead pricer, Robin Baker, has worked for VRM for four years. A Mission Life-Change Academy graduate, she enjoys the people she works with and giving back to her community.
“I love it here,” she said.
For the Rescue Mission and so many people who enjoy shopping, thrift is here to stay.
“The joy of thrifting is somebody finding something they need or want,” Mejia said.
That joy should continue well into the future.
Rescued Treasurers is located at 2523 S. Mooney Boulevard. Simply Chic Boutique is located at 100 E. Main Street. The warehouse is at 500 E. Race Street.
To schedule a pickup of donations, call (559) 730-3180.
This is part one of a two-part series on the Visalia Rescue Mission. Watch for the next story on what the Mission does within the community and its other fundraising activities in the next issue of the Valley Voice.