Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Goodwill Hunting*

What’s that old adage? There’s no such thing as bad publicity? I’m not so sure that the proprietors of Best Value Recycling store will find that much good comes from their grand opening announcement that received front page, above-the-fold billing in today’s SJ-R. It wasn’t the typical Chamber of Commerce christening with the red ribbon and eager business folks posing with over-sized scissors.

To summarize the story: two former Goodwill administrators, fresh from resigning in disgrace, have started a new concern with a business model remarkably similar to that of their venerable, not-for-profit former employer. Only they’ve added a little twist, one that has them keeping the proceeds from donated items that they resell, rather than going through all that bureaucratic hassle of distributing it to the needy.

I’m actually glad that this was exposed as a bad idea. I’ve been planning a 5K Run/Chilli Cook-off/Candlelight Vigil to raise donations for a new car I’ve had my eye on. In retrospect, I suppose that people probably wouldn’t be keen on soliciting pledges to benefit a cure to the malaise that my decrepit “ride” is causing me. I’ll just turn to plan “B” and start hanging out in front of Schnuck’s with a kettle and a bell.

I’ve always enjoyed engaging in a little armchair PR consulting, and this Best Value Recycling story is ripe for second-guessing.

The “no comment” approach they took with the press never looks good. They had to have known, given their checkered relationship with Goodwill and the nature of their business, that eventually reporters would be calling. So the savvy thing to do would have been to formulate a position beforehand, one that doesn’t make their new enterprise come across as a tribute to greed and malice. For the life of me I can’t figure out what that position would be, but then again, I’m no Rebecca Rausch. I’m sure there are political hacks out there who could have advised them how to spin this thing to their advantage.

The owners do seem to be aware that the public might look askew at their scheme. They’ve positioned Best Value as pro-environment recyclers, as if they aren’t really targeting the demographic that normally donates to Goodwill, but rather to those who choose to throw unwanted items in the trash. I suppose they are after that niche market of fly-dumpers who create blights upon the cityscape. So if you need a threadbare sofa pocked with cigarette burns or a Kroger-era shopping cart, Best Value Recycling is your eco-friendly alternative.

Opening their business in proximity to their old stomping grounds wasn’t the best tack to take either, not if they didn’t want to be perceived as sticking it to their previous employer. They may have not deliberately chosen a location near Goodwill, but it appears that way and the newspaper sure didn’t miss that angle.

The real estate agent who is leasing the property to Best Value came across okay in the article. You can’t blame him for signing an agreement with a legitimate, if questionably conceived, business. He also didn’t clam-up in the face of scrutiny, although he might have toned it down a bit. His declaration of admiration for Goodwill was a little over-the-top and I’m sure if you got a couple of drinks in him he’d say the same thing about the Salvation Army.

Although Goodwill got to play the role of the do-gooder-done-wrong in this story, they don’t come out of it completely unscathed. The article reminded readers that local directors of this altruistic organization draw six-figure salaries, so there is some profiting going on. Sam Madonia used this point to talk-up the Saint Martin De Porres Center, an organization that doesn’t charge for the goods they collect and is run completely by volunteers. Given the choice, I’d rather conduct my charitable doings with someone doing the Lord’s work than with someone who has to worry about the alternative minimum tax.

As for Best Value, they are certainly within their rights to carry on in a resale racket that disguises itself as an alternative to a not-for-profit organization. If they want to also mass produce some cookies, give them cutesy names, and have the parents of pre-pubescent girls sell them at the office, they can do that too. I have a feeling, however, that they won’t be in business for very long and that the Girl Scout’s will keep the cookies-for-a-cause market cornered for some time to come. But if you see a bell ringer in front of your favorite grocery store in the coming weeks, be sure to give generously. You'll make a real difference in a poor blogger's life.

*I know this is too obvious, but coming up with headlines is harder than it looks.

5 comments:

The 26th Man said...

Dan, I'll go to your 5K/chilli supper/vigil if you go to my trivia contest/donut sale/concert. I could use some more beer.

Regardless of what one thinks about Goodwill's administrative costs, they do some good deeds, and Best Value is going to siphon away money to fund those deeds.

The best way to avoid that is to not donate to Best Value and to not patronize their store.

And the headline is fine. It is entirely appropriate. Sometimes, the best headlines are the most obvious, "Seinfeld" references notwithstanding.

Monkey Boy said...

Dan,

In regard to the Goodwill vs. St. Martin DePorres donation quandary I think you are missing a valuable point. Goodwill employs mentally handicapped persons who otherwise might have little or nothing to look forward to on a daily basis. Therefore my advice would be to split those donations and help everyone.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

That's pretty compassionate advice for a boy who's half monkey.

Monkey Boy said...

Monkeys are known for both their compassion and dung flinging.

Anonymous said...

Madonia is a fat assed blowhard.