What started with just a few people and a small idea 15 years ago has become one of the finest thrift stores in Grand Rapids.
New 2 You, a self-sustaining nonprofit founded to offset the tuition of Grand Rapids Christian Schools’ students, has grown much past its original location and design, having contributed $6 million in tuition dollars over its lifetime, and $330 per student for the 2018-2019 school year alone.
Now in its 15th year, New 2 You is just getting started. “We’re growing,” says General Manager Karen Witte. A committee has been formed to determine the next steps for the evolving store.
Witte reflects on the strong foundation on which the nonprofit was built. In 2004, New 2 You was founded on the three-legged stool model. “In order to be successful, you have to have three important things of equal value. If you do not have all three, you should not even start.” These three elements are a healthy customer base with a good location, ongoing donations of goods from the community, and a large volunteer base to offset labor costs. “You have to have a lot of volunteers,” says Witte. And indeed they do.
As general manager, Witte oversees the 175 volunteers that donate their time each week, sorting donations, steaming garments, running the cash register, washing donated glassware, or organizing the sales floor. New 2 You relies on these volunteers to keep the store — which typically earns $1.1 million each year — humming along at a healthy pace. The store’s volunteer base is made up of students, grandparents, and parents of current GRCS students as well as members of the greater Grand Rapids community. “It’s an important touchpoint and connection point with our parents,” says Witte, who appreciates each and every three-hour shift.
“Volunteers are really good people to work at New 2 You,” says store Board Member Ken Baker, who notes that the majority of the current volunteer base are grandparents. The challenge is attracting more current parents and community members.
And these valued volunteers are the lifeblood of the operation. They prepare and sell thousands of individual items each week. On a typical Saturday, notes Witte, the store averages approximately 300 transactions for about 1000 customers totaling $5000 to $6000. “That is a lot of goods, a lot of transactions, a lot of things that we have to sell,” she says.
These goods are donated daily at New 2 You’s convenient drive-through drop-off station. Donors are greeted at their car and assisted with bringing in boxes of clothing, jewelry, home goods, etc. “Our donors give us great stuff,” says Witte.
The ease with which community members can donate was part of a renovation four years ago that reimagined an intentional donation space. “This was a pretty big thing that happened over five years ago, right when I started,” says Witte, who adds that the parking lot, entrance, and signage was also redesigned to make the store as inviting as any typical retail space. This, along with the cultural shift toward shopping at thrift stores, has contributed to New 2 You’s increasing popularity over the years. It has earned the award of the “Best Thrift Store in Grand Rapids” two years running by Grand Rapids Magazine. “That’s a big distinction for us,” says Witte, who adds that the store was in competition with other local nominees like Goodwill and Salvation Army.
Looking forward, Witte, Baker, and the staff and board members at New 2 You will continue to strive for excellence as they combine a stellar location with a steady flow of quality donations and a dedicated group of volunteers. “That need is still there,” says Baker, who supports the mission of offsetting tuition for the thousands of students that call GRCS home.