I nominate Goodwill Industries’ main Arlington outlet as the local model for line efficiency.
For years, during Saturday errand-running, I would swing by the Goodwill location at Arlington Boulevard and South Glebe Road with the naïve idea that I would do my good deed of dropping off excess clothing and housewares and duck in and out in a jiffy.
Didn’t happen. My mood inevitably would be soured by the sight of a long line of idling cars snaking out of the parking lot. Recalibrate.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one miffed. Last spring, Goodwill of Greater Washington retained an outside consultant, I was told by Brendan Hurley, the group’s chief marketing officer. “The Arlington location is the sixth-busiest distribution center in the country,” he says, “so we redesigned the process to make it more efficient.”
The primary object for each trained distribution attendant in the parking lot, Hurley confides, “is to convert donors into shoppers—to get them to drop things off then walk right into the store,” where many of the previously received items are sold.
For speed’s sake, the approach lane for cars is mapped out as an entry-to-exit assembly-line loop designed to keep drivers in their cars.
Sit back and relax and let the staff pull out all your blouses, garden tools, end tables, lamps, TVs, stereos and boxes of LPs since they know exactly which bin or awaiting truck each category belongs in. “When the donor gets out of the car, it actually shows things down,” Hurley says.
You wouldn’t want to delay Goodwill in its dual mission of “a hand up, not a hand out.” Founded in 1902 by a Boston clergyman, the nonprofit collects used household goods and then hires and trains disadvantaged people to repair them for reselling or as gifts to staff.
The Washington-area operation—which dates back to 1935—comprises more than a dozen intake centers and stores. In 2012, its collections diverted more than 20 million pounds of merchandise from landfills, Hurley says.
Donors get a tax deduction (you provide your own estimate, though items worth more than $500 require an appraiser). We also get the good feeling that comes from sharing material resources, decluttering our homes, greening the environment and putting needy people to work.
Donating to Goodwill, however, is not taking out the garbage. There are limits to what you can unload. “Furniture that is covered in animal hair, broken, worn, torn, stained, or missing parts; bean bag chairs and sleeper sofas are also not accepted,” say the rules. Ditto for pre-cable televisions, large appliances, mattresses and bed pillows, unsealed puzzles and games, food and cosmetics, and any item unsafe by federal standards.
In Northern Virginia, Goodwill “is expanding,” Hurley says, noting that the Arlington center feeds stores on Columbia Pike and in Falls Church on Annandale Road (at the Route 50 site of the old Jefferson Theater), where “there is no wait time,” he adds. To avoid the lines, come early, he advises. The last week of the year is Goodwill’s busiest time—perhaps due to those tax deductions.
The season moves me to say peace on earth and Goodwill towards… those waiting in line in front of you.