Major thrift stores in Ontario in jeopardy as demand outpaces supply

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Published June 28, 2024 at 4:43 pm

Anthony Urciuoli/hamilton.insauga.com photo

Looking to save as many dollars as possible is becoming increasingly commonplace, as the cost of living outpaces the means most households can maintain in Ontario. As a result, shopping for clothing and other amenities secondhand is a sought-after remedy to ease the burden on wallets across the province. However, what happens when the supply of thrift goods can’t meet demand?

According to a release from The Salvation Army earlier this month, a critical issue is emerging within one of the largest players in secondhand retail, as the demand for pre-owned household items is eclipsing the rate at which they are being donated.

“The disparity between sales and donations in these regions is deeply concerning,” said Ted Troughton, managing director of Salvation Army Thrift Stores, in the official release. 

Details in the release address an increased need for items like bakeware, mixing bowls, pots, pans, small kitchen appliances, cushions and household lighting appliances, as a new wave of the thrifting public is pursuing these items en masse. 

“New people are coming into our stores that traditionally don’t shop in these locations and are looking to make their dollars go further,” Troughton told insauga.com.

The end result is that non-profits like the Salvation Army are faced with a double-edged sword. Troughton notes that as the provincial desire to hang on to old appliances severely curtails donations, the urge to buy pre-owned has devoured what little inventory there is. 

“There are people who are in a position where they have goods, they can donate goods, however, there are a lot of other people who are trying to make what they have last longer. On top of that, you have situations where people are trying to figure out how to spend their money in the best way possible,” says Troughton. 

When asked which regions in Canada these issues are the most prevalent, Troughton noted that Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec and smaller pockets of Ontario are seeing the highest degree of donation disparity. 

One of these said pockets is in Brampton and Mississauga, where despite donor trends being a cut above the rest of the country, consumer demand has been growing by a seven per cent margin each year. 

Additional concerns for Salvation Army locations are the rise of third-party services that flip household items, such as Facebook Marketplace. While these platforms are perfect for selling individual used products, Troughton hopes to tap into the potential of households that have let things pile up. 

“We understand that people have to make ends meet, and we get that. However, there are likely people in adjacent situations where they may have a lot of stuff in their basement, garage or storage locker — items that can be put to better use for people who require it,” says Troughton. 

As the Salvation Army pleads for the better nature of stockpiling Ontarians, another major player in pre-owned retail is going through similar struggles  — and that’s Goodwill. 

Scott Louch, Chief Operating Officer for Goodwill Great Lakes, has also been monitoring the shifting landscape of donation habits throughout his jurisdiction in Ontario. In his observations, Goodwill locations throughout the province have seen a dip in donations, however much more sporadically. 

“There are certain stores across our territory that are considerably lower in donations in the last year. However, there is no considerable solid trend that I’m seeing, it is kind of hit-and-miss. So we haven’t been able to track any trends but it still has been challenging,” Louch told insauga.com. 

When looking at the Salvation Army’s press release, Louch found some connective tissue to problems Goodwill has been facing. However, while demands have been increasing for certain pre-owned goods, for Goodwill, what separates them from the Salvation Army is the specific products themselves. 

“I would say it’s all textiles for certain, men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, workwear too, and other items. However, overall, there is just an increased general demand for everything. I couldn’t particularly pick a certain set of commodities — we need everything,” says Louch. 

Louch also notes that summer can be a slower time for donations overall, as springcleaning has likely already hit provincial households. This coupled with the high-traffic shopping trends of the season, less supply and more demand is a common sight throughout the summer months. 

As for the general state of fluctuations in the province, Troughton noted that public donations can help organizations like his by stating, “Has it ever been happening on this level in the past? No. However, we have had ups and downs, ebbs and flows, spring cleaning and COVID. As we look at it now, we are really in that situation where the more we get out, the better of a position we’ll be in, it’s just that demands keep growing.” 

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