Monday, December 8, 2008

The Blue Bash Program

Goodwill has always been where I dumped all my tired clothes after spring cleaning my room, where I bought last minute Halloween costumes and where old “stuff” was sold to people who couldn’t afford new “stuff.”

I realized how ignorant I was to Goodwill after receiving a tour of the Goodwill Headquarters of Central Texas by Suzanna Burmeister, the marketing director. I had never heard of the mission, to enhance the quality and dignity of life for individuals, families and our community by providing job-related services for people with barriers to employment” and I had never heard of the Blue Hanger, even though I went to high school within a mile of one. After a week of extensive research with peers further educated me on the intricate system that employs the Goodwill mission, I felt equipped enough to find and assess issues that I recognized. Brandon Gamm, Meagan Greenwalt, Nicholas Nguyen and I teamed up and collaborated a proposal to use the Blue Hangers as an event space creating an identity for the Blue Hanger within the company’s system, attracting local youth to the Goodwill brand, and decreasing the amount of excess goods that are sent to landfills.

I further propose a name for the concept, The Blue Bash Program, and a focus on the Blue Hanger on McNeil Drive taking advantage of its interior, developing concentrated awareness and gaining revenue in a middle class area.

There are two Goodwill Outlet stores in Austin. The original Blue Hanger is on Springdale Road in east Austin, next to the “Blue Theater” hence the name and the newer Blue Hanger is on McNeil Road, in north Austin. Goodwill does not invest money on advertising, organization, or interior design of the Blue Hangers for fear that attention will be diverted from the main retail stores and it is evident. The result is a warehouse of waist high tables full of unorganized goods. The sparseness of interior in the space is not ideal for a comfortable shopping experience but lends itself to events such as concerts, fashion shows and “do it yourself” workshops. By taking advantage of the unique characteristics of the Blue Hanger with “Blue Bash” events, Goodwill’s image will become a part of Austin culture.

Nick Nguyen and I interviewed high school students from McNeil High School, in close proximity to the Blue Hanger on McNeil Drive, and college students at the University of Texas at Austin. The feedback from our questions confirmed that the Blue Hanger lacks an identity and the public does not understand its connection to Goodwill. High school students expressed reluctance to shopping at Goodwill and, with the exception of one, had never seen or heard of the Blue Hanger. College students had a more positive reaction to the subject in question but had the same ignorance as the young interviewees.

Shopping at the Blue Hanger is vastly different from shopping at the regular retail locations of Goodwill stores. The lack of organization, low cost arrangement and warehouse aesthetic provides an experience that is similar to the average garage sale or flea market. The product is piled haphazardly on four by eight feet wooden tables, lined up in long rows throughout the concrete space. The customers that are most common at the Blue Hanger are underprivileged families, bulk buyers and individuals from the local crafting community looking for cheap materials. The demographic of shoppers at the Blue Hanger lacks youth, despite the high percentage of young people in Austin.

The outlets can be seen as a recycling center as it prevents low quality donations from going straight to landfills. When items are donated to Goodwill they have three weeks to be sold in the retail stores before they are shipped to these outlet locations where they are sold for a low price. The turnover of product on the sale floor is high because the outlets receive a high amount of unwanted donations that need to be processed. Anything that is unsold on the floor is organized in the transportation warehouse adjacent to the outlet store. “Soft line” goods, anything made of textile, and excess cardboard are each compressed into large blocks, which are sold by the pound. “Hard line” goods, anything that isn’t made of textile including shoes, furniture, and home décor, are auctioned in bulk. Excess goods remaining from this process, approximately 20% of Blue Hanger items, end up in the landfill.

Goodwill Industries will utilize the Blue Hanger on McNeil Road as location for “The Blue Bash Program” in order to cater to the middle class families of the area.  The Blue Hanger on McNeil Drive is surrounded by neighborhoods with higher economic standing and lower crime rates. Shoppers at the McNeil Blue Hanger are less aggressive than those at Springdale. Also, the interior of the McNeil Blue Hanger is more developed with air conditioning, indoor bathrooms and tables with attached wheels.

The high schools that are in close proximity with the McNeil location are highly competitive, expecting students to participate in extra curricular activities, organizations and charitable work. The program will be targeted to students seeking opportunities for charity, entertainment and creative expression. Events for students interested in music, fashion or art can occur individually or together. Organizations such as National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society and Student Council will have the option of sponsoring events to raise money for Goodwill as a charitable donation. Goodwill will also have annual competitions that will become a tradition for students to participate in and attend, providing friendly competition between neighboring high schools. Winners will be chosen by audience applause, pushing competitors to invite their friends and family. At the events, entrance fees will be minimal and include a donated item. Items will be left out for a “swap-o-rama” style way of getting youth to participate in the exchange of goods. Parents will be comforted in the safe location of the Blue Hanger and youngsters, eager for a change in scenery, will be more apt to participate in events held outside their high school atmosphere.

Bands and artists seeking exposure come to Austin because it is known for live music so it was no surprise when students that Nick and I interviewed at McNeil High School communicated an interest in concert type events.  Lunden Atkins, 17, is in a band with friends and says he would play at a hypothetical Blue Bash event. The Blue Bash will have the option of hosting a Blue Hanger Battle of the Bands or a non-competitive concert for one of the other competitions.

Thrift fashion is popular in Austin and young students are always searching for ways to set themselves apart from the crowd with their attire. Jessica Litteken, 16, said she enjoyed thrift shopping because of can always find something unexpected and unique. The Blue Bash Program will have a second option for an event that involves a fashion design competition, culminating in a fashion show. Students must use Blue Hanger clothes to put together outfits that can be worn and walked down the runway.

The crafting community in Austin is predominately an older crowd but young artists are open to creative workshops if there is an incentive. A “Do It Yourself” competition will be the third option by The Blue Bash Program. Students can learn basic construction methods and then compete to create items, such as small furniture, home décor or Halloween apparel that would appeal to their demographic. Items will be auctioned at Goodwill locations and the winner will be one that is sold at the highest bid.

The rows of tables, acceptable for regular shopping experience at the Blue Hanger, can be easily transformed into a stage, a runway, and workshop stations. The stage and runway are simply formations of tables with plywood boards laid on top for a smooth surface. Tables holding swappable goods are bunched in small clusters along the wall near the warehouse entrance. The openness of the swapping area will encourage movement and be a contrast to the constrictive daunting rows that are used during the day. DIY stations are aligned at an angle along the wall to be inviting. An ideal Blue Bash, hosting each type event simultaneously, would fit each necessary element with ease. If events are separate, extra table can be stored in the warehouse.

The Blue Bash Program will change the Goodwill image amongst youth from old grungy rummage to funky, creative and sustainable. A middle class community will have a new relationship with the system, developing committed donors and supporters. Ultimately, revenue will increase and the mission will be easier to achieve and promote. 

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