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Second-hand, not second class

Situated between family-oriented co-tenants such as fast food restaurants, fabric or craft stores, and dollar, toy and shoe stores, Savers/Value Village offers a niche all its own.

Dressed like a big-box category killer, this Bellevue, Wash.-based thrift store chain offers high quality second-hand clothing, accessories and furnishings. It typically renovates existing buildings for its retail outlets, which have an average selling ground of 20,000 sq. ft.

Suitably, the company's story begins in 1954 on Mission Street in San Francisco. Bill Ellison, the son of Salvation Army officer Ben Ellison, opened his first "for profit" store, Savers, through Salvage Management Inc.

In 1972, the management company name changed to Thrift Village Inc. (TVI) and currently operates with Thomas Ellison, grandson of Ben Ellison, as CEO. TVI and sister companies, Savers Australia Inc. and Value Village Stores Inc. (Canada), operate 180 stores in the United States, Australia and Canada. The Savers name is used throughout Australia and the U.S., excluding Washington, Oregon and Alaska. In these states and in Canada the stores use the Value Village name.

Walter Scott, vice president of real estate for TVI, says the company's success is maintained by "offering an aggressive price mark-down/automatic rotation of stock based upon a five-week cycle." While competitors' merchandise becomes stale to the customer, TVI's merchandise remains fresh and new. The result is higher sales per square feet, increased customer frequency and a better selection.

A constant incorporation of new goods as current merchandise sells is how the company maintains its vigor. The retailer's current prosperity has made TVI's 23-unit expansion for 2001 possible in Canada, Australia, and eastern/western United States. In addition, 27- 31- and 36-store roll-outs are planned for the succeeding three years.

TVI is typically found free-standing or in strip centers. The company targets middle income families, particularly homemakers with two or more children. As with any retailer, high visibility and access to major thoroughfares is a top priority. Since most Savers/Value Village stores are revamped, all site and building "contenders" must have basic retail parking ratios of five spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. (free-standing) or four spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. (in-line).

"Design of our stores is constructed with the same tenant finish package and signage store construction to create a uniform trademark," says Scott. Generally, stores have open ceilings with strip lighting and tile floors.

TVI strives for the same general design elements of a big-box discount store. But it takes a unique cream-of-the-crop approach to second-hand merchandise. "TVI contracts with local nonprofit organizations to purchase, on an exclusive basis, large volumes of merchandise," Scott says. "Merchandise is `creamed' for the highest quality products with the most current composition and styles."

It is TVI's belief that with such strong community support and such a loyal customer base, Savers/Value Village will remain a leader in the thrift retail industry.

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