CASA calls in pros for a new strategy

Published October 4, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - With help from retail experts and an army of volunteers, the CASA Collection Thrift Shoppe has been freshened to look more like a department store than a cluttered attic.

CASA, or Community Action Stops Abuse, uses proceeds from the store to support victims of domestic violence. Roughly a third of the items donated to the store are given to agency clients.

Brian Jennings, a retired marketing executive, and Fred Kilgore, a retired accountant, developed a business plan designed to increase profits at the store.

They and a core group of former Casual Corner employees spent the last several months painting and cleaning the place. They moved shelves that were loaded with housewares and electronics, racks filled with clothing and rooms packed with furniture, organizing the space to better showcase the merchandise.

Furniture, for example, now is displayed more as it might be used in a home setting. Dining room tables have centerpieces, place settings and linens; beds have comforters and decorative pillows.

"It sounds like common sense, but it hasn't been our thinking," said Deborah Williams, CASA's development director. "Even though we made money for our program, we weren't thinking like retailers."

More than 900 volunteer hours and $15,000 in cash and in-kind gifts went into the effort.

The challenge now is for the agency to attract more volunteers who have retail experience and to acquire higher-quality, gently used merchandise.

Williams calls Lorraine Krepfle, one of the Casual Corner crew, as they are known in the store, "the queen of organizing, painting, cleaning and negotiating. We've seen a big change," she said.

"When those ladies decided they wanted something," Jennings said, "they didn't look to anyone else to do it. They did it."

A team visited the Naples Shelter for Women and Children's Options thrift store, which brings in $1-million a year in sales, Williams said.

Granted, the area is thought of as being more affluent than St. Petersburg, but Williams said she thinks strategies adopted by the CASA outlet can raise its annual sales from $350,000 to $500,000.