Reece Caizzo Brown on Newlife's commitment to charity, environment and experience

As familiar high street retail names disappear or scale back their store numbers, some operators with different business models are thriving, and expanding.

Newlife presents a unique – and growing – offer in towns and cities around the UK. The charity retailer uses its profits to help disabled children in crisis, and provides an environmentally-sensitive way for other brands to clear stock.

The retailer has partnerships with more than 200 brands, which provide it with end-of-line, sample and returned products, rather than using their own outlet stores. Newlife removes labels to protect the brand equity of the donors, then offers the products to its customers at bargain prices. The White Company, Missguided and outdoor brand The Regatta Group are among its partners.

“We are pretty unique as a charity and a social enterprise, and absolutely unique in the way we operate,” says Newlife head of communications and marketing Reece Caizzo Brown, who is responsible for the design of the retailer’s stores.

Reece Caizzo Brown
Reece Caizzo Brown

Those stores must reflect not just Newlife’s fundraising mission, but a far broader commitment to CSR (corporate social responsibility). As Caizzo Brown points out, Newlife’s commitment to the environment doesn’t stop with its strategy of helping brands dispose of products. “Being green is part of everything we do,” he says.

This extends to the bespoke in-house construction of upcycled merchandising units, the use of handmade and found resources, and the provision of feedback to the partners that donate products. This helps them better learn how their products are performing at a lower price point, in an effort to avoid future waste. “Partners get transparency and understand their product a bit more,” says Caizzo Brown.

New products arrive thick and fast – sometimes with minimal notice – meaning that Newlife needs a firm grip of its logistics operation to get them to stores. It also seeks to make sure products aren’t on show in branches that are too close to the stores of the original donors.

In-store, the volatile nature of the stock requires flexible and adaptable merchandising systems and quick reactions on the ground. “Flexibility is the key… that’s something we do really well,” says Caizzo Brown.

But despite the rapid pace, Caizzo Brown is focused on creating a high quality customer experience, and one that he says is far away from more traditional charity stores which rely on customer donation of products.

“Our stores generally have the feel of a high street,” he says. Newlife works hard to avoid clutter and bring a clear offer to its shoppers: “It’s our ethos to give to the customer journey something that doesn’t cheapen the experience. They should still have a good shopping experience.”

A clear and pricing strategy helps customers navigate. Fixed price points start at £1.49, rising in stages to £8.99 before moving on to ticketed prices. Occasional ‘job lots’ might see a large volume of a particular product arrive, but generally ranges are merchandised by gender, age, and size.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can pick up a gem for £1.49. If you’re up for the hunt it’s definitely the right place for you,” says Caizzo Brown.

This constantly updated range may be a shopkeeping challenge, but it is also a factor in driving regular visits from some loyal customers, with numbers boosted by extensive local advertising. “We have the same general problem that all retailers have: you have to drive footfall,” says Caizzo Brown.

By swimming against the tide Newlife, which is actively seeking more stores to cope with the amount of stock it is now offered, can benefit from the large number of empty stores now available on troubled high streets. By providing a valuable service when other stores have closed it may be driving footfall to other stores. The majority of Newlife’s sites are in the kind of secondary town high streets that have seen many national retailers withdraw.

The constantly changing stock has been one reason why Newlife has been slow in developing ecommerce sales – the varied stock levels could make fulfilment of online orders a big headache. But Caizzo Brown says it is learning lessons that could see it develop more of an online presence.

“The model works at all levels. We are a simple structure that has a massive impact,” says Caizzo Brown. Newlife has eight stores, employs more than 400 people, offers volunteer placements for people who are finding it hard to get into the labour market and has sales of more than £12m – profits from which go to its charity work.

“I’m so very proud of all of our stores,” says Caizzo Brown. “Behind the scenes we are already having conversations about the next one.”

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