Trade South bolsters The Salvation Army through customer service focus
By: Brad Rowland
For officers, employees, and soldiers of The Salvation Army, the Trade Department has always been an invaluable resource, and that continues in the USA Southern Territory as 2023 approaches. However, many innovations have taken place in what is now referred to as Trade South over the years, with a renewed mission of customer service and an overarching viewpoint to equip the field with the tools necessary to continue the mission of The Salvation Army.
Trade South features a 13-person team that includes tailors, buyers, sales and marketing staff, graphic designers, and an expansive customer service. Jeremy Rowland, director of Trade South, heads the operation with a broad focus and many specialties.
“We handle the internal distribution of Salvation Army resources to the field,” said Rowland of Trade South’s overall charter. “Everything from uniforms to kettles to ministry resources to branded wear is under our purview, and we also handle everything from supplier and manufacturing partnerships to stocking and distribution of items.”
Trade South offers thousands of products in several categories. From a clothing standpoint, Trade South works under a national manufacturing partnership to outfit Salvationists with uniforms, and uniform wear also includes sweaters, belts, ties, and coats. Trade South also offers a dynamic range of branded wear that includes t-shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, and hats. Aside from clothing, the offerings include sheet music and musical instruments, an extensive book collection, keychains, Christmas supplies, pamphlets, custom printing options, and much more.
In addition to physical goods, Trade South helps to save The Salvation Army millions of dollars with far-reaching national contracts and direct purchasing programs.
“We find that people may not know that we handle 40 national contracts and direct purchasing programs,” Rowland said. “These are outside companies that handle a wide range of activities, and we maintain those partnerships to bring discounted rates while working directly with prominent companies.”
Rowland notes the programs also take broad advantage of The Salvation Army’s collective buying power to facilitate discounted pricing for the field, and a centralized website is now active and curated for these purposes. The site, which can be found at discounts.mytradesouth.com features detailed explanations and walk-throughs on the use of 40 programs and contracts to best utilize the offerings and initiatives.
Beyond the discount hub, mytradesouth.com could be considered the centerpiece of Trade South’s operation. Approximately 70 percent of purchases are now made through the website, with the entire catalog available online. This includes more than 5,000 products that can be ordered either on account or via credit card. The launch and growth of the web portal is central to Trade South’s push toward meeting customers in the field where they are.
“Our website growth really falls under our goal of customer service,” Rowland said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for the customer, and we want to be able to network and know the individual needs to facilitate those comfortable and open discussions.”
In fact, the focus on customer service permeates each layer of Trade South’s efforts, including the building of a dedicated team focused on these relationships. Joi Harris, lead customer service representative, is renowned for her personable approach and takes pride in investing into others.
“I enjoy being able to help others, and it brings me great joy to be able to get the resources needed to those in the field,” Harris said. “I feel it is very important that we provide excellent customer service, and I want every person that we encounter to have a great experience, whether it’s in person, by phone, or by email.”
Chris Dana, sales and marketing manager, shares that amid supply chain challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trade South was able to make crucial improvements to streamline processes in a modern way.
“COVID supply-chain challenges prompted us to adjust in a few ways that worked well for us to make things better for the field,” Dana said. “It encouraged us to alter some of our processes, and it actually led to more streamlined supply orders in some cases from a future planning perspective.”
“No longer are the days when we bring in five years of inventory to purchase in bulk,” said Rowland. “Our whole new business model is that we bring in products, things that are relevant and trendy and impacting the world today, and once they sell out, we can move on to the next thing. We never want to stay in the past and assume the same things will work. There are stock items, especially in things like uniforms, that we have and will always have, but there is constant innovation in products and designs.”
The overall streamlining clearly goes to the desire of Trade South to meet the needs of the field and, by proxy, enhance the work of The Salvation Army.
“Our main goal here in Trade really is customer service,” said Rowland. “Our job is to get what people need when they need it. And we’re also charged with getting it to them quickly to support the ministry of The Salvation Army, no matter what it is, every single day.”
“The customer service team really tries to capture any inquiry and phone call that we get immediately,” Dana said. “We’ve set it up in the office to roll from person to person with that in mind, and we don’t want customers to be waiting or scrambling to track things down. I think we’ve had a lot of improvement in those areas, and we’ve gotten that feedback from the field, which is gratifying and affirming of what we’re trying to do.”
Trade South can also be seen on-site at special events like Bible Conference and Commissioning, with field deployment in the form of booths or smaller sales operations. Individuals are also welcomed to visit the Trade South store at Territorial Headquarters, with Rowland encouraging those with ideas for custom orders to contact Trade South directly.
All told, outsiders may not naturally view the sale and distribution of goods as ministry-related activities, but Trade South feels passionately that the work to equip others is vital for The Salvation Army and its officers, employees, and soldiers.
“Our purpose statement is ‘serving those who serve.’ Our whole goal is to serve the field the best way we can,” Rowland said. “We want to resource the field quickly with exactly what they need to do their ministry. We view Trade as a ministry. This is a ministry for us. Even though we’re on the back end, this is a ministry, and we understand the impact it can have to make things easier for the front-facing ministry of The Salvation Army.”