Monday, December 8, 2008

Blue Hanger Bash: Process Analysis

After visiting the Blue Hanger on Springdale for the first time, I would have never guessed that it was affiliated with Goodwill. Though all Goodwill stores have various identities in terms of how the store is laid out and how it is managed, there is a huge disconnect between Goodwill’s Blue Hanger outlet and its normal stores. There is a discrepancy in how the two kinds of stores appear inside. Goodwill stores tend to be organized while Blue Hanger stores appear chaotic and messy within a large ware-house space.

These visual differences were most evident during the research phase of the project. Blue Hangers at both locations lacked the order of normal stores because all the goods were placed onto tables. Clothes on one side and “hard-line” items (furniture, house ware, and the like) on the other side served as the categories of things one could purchase at Blue Hanger. Goodwill stores have more than just two ways of sorting their merchandise. The stores have subcategories like “Men’s Jeans” and “Children’s Clothes.” There are signs, colorful and bright, that mark each area within the store, making it feel like a real shopping spot. The signs at the outlets were big and blue, containing all of the prices on one board, and the space at the Blue Hangers are more open with high ceilings, and since everything is set on tables, it’s easy to see across the place.

At Goodwill stores, there are a mixture of clothing racks and display shelves that sometimes disrupt a person’s line of vision. The Goodwill stores also had consistent branding among themselves that showed they were all part of the same organization; at the Blue Hangers, there were no ad campaigns such as “Brand U” and the “Hall of Fame” to tie the outlets back into the main brand. Even retail stores such as Gap and Bebe have consistent branding between its mall stores and its outlet stores. Blue Hanger at McNeil may have had an actual logo associated with the Goodwills, but Blue Hanger on Springdale did not, creating more conflicts between visual information and branding.

The interview section of the research phase also revealed a difference in shoppers’ demographics between Goodwill and Blue Hanger. Goodwill stores had people of various age groups and economic standings that shopped there. People came to shop for themselves, looking for great deals. They also came because they knew of Goodwill’s mission to help people with barriers attain jobs and wanted to support their community. Many consumers who shop at Blue Hanger came to buy things in bulk to resell online or elsewhere; the other major demographic were lower-income families. One notable age group absence from Blue Hanger were adolescents and young adults.

The systems analysis, the third research portion, gave some insight to why there were so many differences between Goodwill stores and the Blue Hangers. In a nutshell, donated goods were either sent to Goodwill stores to be sold at higher prices or sent to Blue Hanger to be sold at lower prices. If the items could not be sold at the normal stores, they too were sent to the Blue Hanger to be rid of. Ultimately, the donations that end up at Blue Hanger are either trashed or sold in bulk to buyers for cents at a pound. That is why the outlet sells things for a fraction of the price of normal Goodwill stores, a fact that Suzanna Burmeister, marketing director for Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, noted. She went on to mention that the lower prices at Blue Hanger stirs competition which may be why Blue Hanger is under advertised and not well known to young shoppers.

This set of information introduces several problems. Blue Hanger has a weak visual connection to Goodwill which includes the branding. The merchandise doesn’t always get sold when it ends up at Blue Hanger – a kind of last chance – but if new shoppers were introduced to the brand, there would be less things sent to the landfill (according to research done by the systems analysis team, about 20% of donated goods eventually end up as waste). Another issue is that Blue Hanger has a fantastic space that is not being utilized to promote itself. Rather than spending money on other costly venues like hotels, the Blue Hanger space can be transformed into a place to host events. This saves Goodwill money and promotes Blue Hanger at the same time, educating the public about its locations.

So what my group thought would solve the issues we identified best was to host a dance pre-party for people to attend before going out to down town. The party idea has the potential to attract a younger demographic and introduce them to Blue Hanger as a shopping option. This would also provide the opportunity for Goodwill to educate younger shoppers about its mission through advertisements leading up to the event, creating a stronger connection between itself and the outlets. Hosting the party at the Blue Hanger also makes use of the space that Goodwill already owns; the tables at McNeil are on wheels and be easily manipulated to form different formations to alter the layout. This could also be done at Springdale with a little bit more manual labor effort.

The event itself was not the only vehicle to market Blue Hanger. At the dance party, people could buy clothes from Blue Hanger to add to their existing outfits to go to down town later. The party idea did have some obstacles, though. One issue was how people would come and go from Blue Hanger to down town. Another “problem” was how something could be called a party without alcohol, especially when it comes to the college demographic that the party was supposed to target.

Another way of promoting Blue Hanger had to be considered. The idea to use actual blue hangers as advertising came; hangers would be hung en masse on car door handles, at bus stops, street signs, and anywhere with anything that a hanger could be hooked to. The paper wrapping around the hanger had printed messages such as “Have you seen my pants?” or “Have you seen my jacket?” to attract people and come take a closer look at the hangers. On the reverse side was the answer to the questions, “Find it at the Blue Hanger.” The address and Goodwill’s website for more information were also included on the answer side. Rather than focus on designing posters, the guerilla style of advertising felt more suitable for targeting teens and young adults who may feel unaffected by ordinary advertising means.

This proposal left out the aspect of transforming the Blue Hanger space and utilizing it in a fun and creative way. Rather than nixing both ideas, a combination of the two seemed plausible with more tweaks to the events idea. The focus would remain on manipulating the Blue Hanger space using the events and blue hanger advertising as tools to educate new shoppers about the outlet.

The dance party turned into a bash of sorts, including do-it-yourself workshops to modify clothes, a fashion show to showcase the workshop results, and live bands and DJ’s to provide music and entertainment for the day. These ideas appealed to students interviewed from McNeil High School and the University of Texas. Many of the students knew about Goodwill but not about Blue Hanger; some who knew about Goodwill associated it to an older image. The live music and craft events break away from the older image associated with Goodwill and allows for a fun alternative to typical parties.

A big event with all three parts is an ideal way for Goodwill to attract a lot of younger shoppers, bringing them in to the space so that they may buy goods and alleviate the problem of many things being trashed or sold at an even more reduced price. As an added bonus, there could be an admission fee that can be reduced if people bring donations with them. These donations and the admission fee means higher, potential gains for Goodwill’s finances.

The space transforms when tables are moved around to form work stations, stages, and a runway. Blue Hanger undergoes another kind of change when people come to it for reasons other than shopping – to come for creative purposes. Still, Goodwill has the option of splitting the events up for smaller activities that may be more manageable.

The workshops use Blue Hanger’s resources, putting them to good use so they don’t end up being thrown away or sold at low prices. Participants can modify clothes or make other objects with the guidance of volunteer designers and crafters who are willing to donate time to Goodwill’s cause.

Held separately or in conjunction with the clothing modification workshops, a fashion show can take place to showcase either the workshop results or fashions found at the Blue Hanger.

A battle of the bands event works well on its own, highlighting Austin’s culture and influence on live music. In a combined event setting, music played by bands serve as the backdrop to a whole day’s event and as music for the fashion show.

The modularity of these events reflect the way the space in the outlet locations can be easily mutated with new formations of tables that symbolize an activity experience instead of a consumerism experience. Using blue hangers with messages to promote a new Blue Hanger also fits into this theme of flexibility within the space and the events themselves. The hangers can go nearly anywhere and promote either the events or just Blue Hanger itself.

These proposals benefit both Blue Hanger and Goodwill in the long run. Blue Hanger benefits from selling more goods to reduce waste; ultimately, Goodwill gains money out of this, more than what they would have from selling bales at cents per pounds. Educating a younger demographic also holds the possibility of these new shoppers becoming more connected to their community and be willing to help people find jobs by shopping at Goodwill. And if the events become successful, Goodwill can also use the Blue Hanger spaces for annual bashes and other fund-raising galas to promote itself. They can save money by doing this instead of paying fancy hotels for space that they already possess.

Goodwill and Blue Hanger utilize their own resources and untapped resources (younger shoppers, creative events) to help bring donations and funding in to reach their mission goals.

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