Students Create a Family Store Boutique

By: David Ibata

Of the thousands of donated articles of clothing coming into The Salvation Army’s Family Stores every day, there are always the diamonds in the rough – designer labels that ordinarily go on the racks mixed in with everything else.

Seeing an entrepreneurial opportunity, students in an east Georgia university town went to the local Family Store, separated the Polos, Hollisters and other higher-end labels from the rest of the stock, and set up a corner of the store with a special display – the “East End Boutique.”

“We’re sort of like a personal shopper with a cause,” said Joshua Shook, an Augusta University senior who helped set up the boutique with about 40 other students at the Augusta, Georgia, Family Store in February. “We are trying to find brands we know people will like and enjoy and at the same time raise money for The Salvation Army to benefit the charitable works they do.”

Shook and fellow senior Kariel Hutt appeared on a local talk show hosted by WJBF-TV personality Jennie Montgomery. (The segment can be viewed at .)

To create the store within a store, Hutt explained, students determined how they’d market the boutique with its separate space, racks and displays, and the higher prices they’d charge. They selected boutique offerings from the store’s inventory; they also contributed items of their own.

“We tagged (clothes) how we wanted to tag them, we had hangers and mannequins and everything set up,” Hutt said. “It’s a real fun project to do.”

The idea was Kevin Cain’s. The Augusta University assistant professor who serves on the Augusta Area Command marketing committee teaches a course in entrepreneurism and thought a lesson involving the local Family Store would be worthwhile. “We had some staffing issues at the stores, where sorting was becoming a major issue,” Cain said.

Students set up the initial display. Cain said he may now may take things to the next level: “Putting up some lattice, some wicker chairs and other things to make it different from the rest of the store.” Another idea, he said, would be “to do a pop-up shop – taking the higher-end items and pulling them out for a separate retail experience at the (Augusta) Kroc Center one weekend in April.”

Paul Wilson, Family Store operations manager, said students put out about four racks with about 250 pieces at the front of the Wrightsboro Road store, one of three operated in the area by the Augusta command. February sales got a bump, and the store exceeded its monthly goal.

“I’ve seen a much larger influx of college-age students, and I’m sure these boutique items are a big part of that,” Wilson said. “To be fair, we’re located next to the college. The students I’ve talked to say they’re on a tight budget – most students are – so they’d come to us anyway. (But) this boutique definitely caught their attention and helped bring them in.”

A designer shirt, for example, might have a retail value new between $30 and $50. It’s offered for $15 to $20 at the East End Boutique, compared with a shirt that goes for $3 on the regular racks.

“We actually have a section of racks dedicated to clothes that still have tags on them, but it wasn’t as focused as this,” Wilson said. Now that the students have set up the boutique, “we will definitely continue it. We’ve found once customers are accustomed to having something, we’d like to keep it going.”