Replenishment Measurements for Re-stocking the Bookshelves
This verse is a playful piece about re-stocking the books at Second Chance – another of the invisible systems behind stock management which is a little more involved than you’d expect.
The text is inspired by an efficient system I was recommended by the manager: within each bookcase or subject category, you shuffle up all the books so that you can see exactly how much space needs re-filling – e.g. a foot-long gap, or the space for a couple of medium-sized books. Then you bring up from the book storage room downstairs only what you need to fill those gaps.
Described in this piece are the actual measurements I made, and observations of idiosyncracies, such as the Cookery section overspilling into the next shelf, and the Travel books actually being spread throughout – how appropriate – you could almost claim there's a subtle underlying design here!
While Non-fiction is split into several subject categories, these are quite fluid, often spilling into each other – there simply isn’t time to be completely precise, and the shop’s priority is to keep all the bookshelves filled up, whatever the subject. There’s also the theory that if books aren’t too strictly organised, then customers will hunt around more widely rather than only look at certain shelves.
Books are a large part of Second Chance’s stock – I counted 11 bookcases of different sizes! The organization and pricing of books also seems to inspire the most debates and discussions. There seem to be two main schools of thought on how to present books in a charity shop:
1. Price all books the same (e.g. £1.00 for paperbacks, £2.00 for hardbacks) and don’t categorize them, except into Fiction, Non-fiction and Children’s. This system is very low maintenance.
2. Value books individually, and categorize by subject. This system obviously takes much more time and work.
In Second Chance, both these views are held, by different staff, and while the system tends towards the latter, in reality, because of the vast amount of stock, it’s a bit of a combination of both. There are two part-time book volunteers, who like to sort and price books individually, and their work makes the book section a bit more considered and specialised.
There are also more ways to value books than I realised, e.g. by their presentation and condition, popularity, topicality, collectability, and also by the quality of their contents. One of the book volunteers is a very literary and literate gentleman (who has been invaluable in proofreading my pieces) who has enormous respect for the content of books. He believes in valuing them according to the quality or rarity of their contents, rather than their presentation or condition. Hence he may give a higher price to a rare classical text or translation, despite it being in the form of a worn paperback.
It’s fascinating to learn of all these choices that charity shops make, the reasoning behind them, and the results. The way in which stock is priced and sorted influences the type of customers, how fast the stock turns over, the sort of donations the shop attracts, etc. I’m curious as to which of the above-mentioned systems would make the most money over time, all these things considered?
Below: a couple of categorization conundrums found in Second Chance:
Religion or Literature? Religion or Cooking?
Garment Grading in Second Chance: The Culling and The Hanging
Second Chance: December
Germander's verses written in December during her hosting at Second Chance, and some of the stories and photos behind them, are displayed below.
The two pieces above are about the work that goes into sorting clothes and preparing it for sale - there is a lot more to it than simply pricing and hanging things!
A lot of care goes into choosing which donations to stock in the shop, and how to display them - these things affect how customers view the stock generally, and their attraction to it. For example, coming across items that are worn, drab, or have defects, might lower a customer's expectations of the rest of the stock and put them off looking through the rest of a rail.
In the 'culling' stage, donations are initially sorted, checked for defects, and assessed whether they are likely to sell. It's been very interesting going through the donations with the manager and learning all the things to look out for - from obvious defects to bad design, cheap workmanship, or subtle signs of an item being overwashed - or underwashed!
Because the stock seen on display seems to be clean and fresh, many people assume that charity shops have washing machines, so they think it's OK to donate unwashed clothes. However, the fact is that clothes which are obviously dirty or un-fresh are unsellable, and have to be culled straightaway. I've been pleased to see there is no wastage however - the culled clothes are collected by a recycling company who find other uses for them, including exporting them to the third world.
The 'hanging' part is also more specialised than you'd expect: there are at least a dozen different sizes, shapes and types of hangers, and choosing the right one is important to not only make sure that an item won't slip off, but also to display it to its best potential - a pullover or jacket on the wrong hanger can look limp and shapeless, but a longer, wider or more curved hanger could flatter its structure or shape.
Determining who a garment is for (men's or women's, adult's or child's?), which way around (front or back?) and its size, from inconsistent and often foreign clothes labels, is also a skill to be learnt! All these findings then need to be translated into sizer cubes - those little coloured cubes with the sizes on which are fitted onto the hanger hook.
Next, the clothes are steamed (see here for a piece on this), then priced, for which there are further guidelines, and then they can be hung. Clothes are displayed on rails or carousels by 'colour-blocking', which means arranging garments by colour, rather than size - which looks better, and many customers prefer this.
Here at charity shop level, you can see the effects of shops like Primark, which bring large volumes of cheap clothes into the market. These end up as large volumes of donations of trendy but cheaply-made clothes, which is a mixed blessing! It's interesting to observe how the ongoing boom in charity shops must be fuelled by the great availability of low and mid-price clothes, which people buy easily and dispose of easily. I was reminded by one of the volunteers that charity shops are a relatively modern phenomenon: in the past, people had only a few sets of clothes, made their own, repaired what they had, and handed outgrown things directly onto others - there was no excess.
And finally, I learnt some new subject-specific vocabulary: the technical term used in the textile industry for 'bobbles' (those rounded clusters that build up on overwashed or overworn clothes), is called 'pilling', and there are even terms for each of the four stages of pilling: fuzz formation, entanglement, growth, and wear-off!