Caledon’s Biggest Thrift Store Thrives Thanks to This Secondhand Superhero
For Catherine Adair, Evolve Caledon’s tagline – Shift to Thrift – is a mission.
The thrift store is a treasure trove. You might go there on a mission and find exactly what you’re looking for, or you might find something you don’t know you need until you see it on the shelf. That unpredictability keeps Catherine Adair busy.
Catherine is manager of retail operations for Caledon Community Services, which encompasses Evolve Caledon, a cavernous store on Industrial Road in Bolton, as well as a nearby drop-off and sorting facility. Last fall, Evolve reorganized and consolidated its operations so its retail space now covers more than a third of an acre filled with clothing, books, small appliances, dishes, glasses, videotapes, record albums and more.
Catherine likes Mondays because the store is closed and there are fewer distractions, such as birds in the building, shoplifting or staff calling in sick. “Mondays are when I get a lot of work done that’s not customer- or staff-related and that I don’t have the opportunity to do during the week,” she says. Still, she always gets an early start.
5 a.m. Catherine is up. “It’s nice and quiet. I take a look at what my day looks like, have my coffee and get out the door.” It takes a little more than 20 minutes to drive to work, so she arrives early and thrives on the morning routine.
7:30 a.m. She’s at her desk, and this day, she’s focused on her month-end financial reports. Because Evolve is a nonprofit organization, all its proceeds stay in the Caledon community. “It’s one of the biggest money makers for CCS, a consistent fundraiser for the organization, supporting the other programs,” she says. Another advantage of the close connection with CCS is that they often hear about people who need help.
“If a social worker identifies a client as needing assistance, we provide a gift certificate, so they can come in and purchase what they need. It’s not just about raising funds; it’s also having the ability to assist people when they’re in situations and need something physical.”
11 a.m. Catherine goes online for a regular Monday morning meeting with a staff member who used to be based in Caledon. Now she manages a Shopify account for Evolve – from Alberta. “We send her the photos and descriptors, and she does all the behind-the-scenes stuff to keep the online shop operating,” says Catherine. Planning for the Shopify presence began during the Covid pandemic, when the thrift store was shut down. Formally launched this past January, it has proven to be a great success.
“We’ve been doing quite well with online sales. It’s all pickup, so customers order and once the order is ready, they can come in anytime during regular business hours, usually within a day or two.”
Evolve’s regular live auctions were also shut down during the pandemic, but Catherine is getting ready to start them again, though they will not be held as regularly as in the past. Instead, shoppers will be invited to place their bids online. “I’m not yet entirely sure where we’re going with that, but we’re planning a couple of live auctions during the year, and we’re going to work on launching the online one for which our Shopify site has an app ready to go.”
12:30 p.m. Catherine brings a lunch and eats at her desk, but work continues. Right now, she’s planning the auction inventory and her office is crowded with a stack of guitars and other interesting items. “I want to be very mindful of the product to make sure we don’t run out of things that are enticing. That was my expertise when we were doing live auctions and the online component is very different from in-person.”
Fortunately, Evolve hasn’t experienced supply-chain challenges. Caledon is a very generous community and donations come in consistently, so consistently that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. “It’s a good problem to have,” says Catherine. “I think it’s because more people understand that it stays local and we take proper care of things, not like just dumping stuff in a bin.”
Evolve cannot take some things – certain furniture, for instance, and large appliances – but donations pretty well cover all household needs. In fact, about the only thing in chronically short supply is men’s clothing. Catherine explains that men tend to wear things until they wear out or fall off, so they are in no condition to sell.
Some donations do stand out. One was a piano that went into the auction. Though pianos are notoriously hard to get rid of – sometimes you can’t even give them away – one generous donor offered a piano with extras. “It had been in a flood and had been properly refurbished,” says Catherine. “The family who donated it also included a professional move, and proper tuning once the piano had settled into its new home.”
Other items stand out because they’re so much fun. “We had a life-size Marilyn Monroe cutout that we put in the auction. One of my staff members – Mike – posed with her. We took pictures and put them on social media. People just loved it and she went well in the auction.”
Catherine finds social media is a good source of valuable information. “There’s an ebb and flow to what people want, and we get a lot of good data from Shopify,” she says. “It tells us what people are searching for, so we can highlight more of what they want. If they’re looking for one of those one-off unusual things, that might be something to put in the auction.” Social media also helps with pricing, which is always a challenge.
Catherine checks other thrift stores too, to see what they’re charging – and she takes pride in getting Evolve’s prices just right. “We feel pretty good with what we’re doing, and we put a lot of thought into the pricing component.”
4:30 p.m. As Catherine gets ready to hit the road, she says, “It’s a long day, but it’s pretty terrific, very enjoyable.”