ImpactPHL Perspectives, Volume 8: ReStore - A Self-Sustaining Revenue Model to Further Local Housing Support in Philadelphia

About ImpactPHL Perspectives:

If you are curious about pursuing financial returns while influencing the positive growth of Greater Philadelphia and the world at large, then welcome to the conversation. ImpactPHL Perspectives is a multi-part series which explores the many facets of the impact economy in Greater Philadelphia from the perspectives of its doers, movers, shakers, and agents of change. Each volume is written directly by a leader in this space, to discuss best practices and share lessons learned, while challenging our assumptions about the returns - financial and societal - on engagement in the impact economy. For more of ImpactPHL Perspectives, check out the ImpactPHL Blog.


By Corinne O'Connell, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia

Shop. Donate. Volunteer - that’s the mantra at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s ReStore, our second-hand retail outlet at 2318 Washington Avenue. Many who hear “Habitat for Humanity” have some familiarity with Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing work, the phrase “a hand up, not a handout,” and President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter's the tireless commitment to the organization over years. However, few are aware of our furniture and home goods social enterprise, ReStore, that infuses dollars into our Homeownership and Home Repair Programs - two programs that provide affordable payment options, sweat equity, and volunteer labor opportunities for low-income populations that have housing needs in Philadelphia.

The ReStore model is simple yet effective. Individuals or businesses with furniture, home goods, appliances, and building materials they no longer need can donate them to our 16,800 square foot store in South Philly. For large pieces, we offer free donation pickups in one of our two box trucks, which make scheduled pickups six days a week. Donated items priced at a fraction of retail find new homes with our customers. The store is open to shoppers Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. 

"Recognizing that there are limited philanthropic dollars and partnerships avaialble, the Restore gives Habitat for Humanity a source of self-sustainable income." 

Our Washington Avenue store opened its doors in the spring of 2015. With a one-time ask and capital investment from the Haas Trusts, the Haines Family Foundation, and a catalyst grant from The Barra Foundation, Habitat emerged with a permanent stream of unrestricted funding for our programs. Recognizing that there are limited philanthropic dollars and partnerships available, the ReStore gives Habitat for Humanity a source of self-sustainable income, which also makes us more attractive to potential donors. 

And the store is a success — in our first year, the store saw $1M in sales, with year two falling just shy of the million dollar mark. Traffic in the store is high, and we average 2,500 transactions a month, up 15 percent from last year. In total, the ReStore has generated enough income to fund the construction of one new Habitat home, and repairs on 17 homes of low-income Philadelphia families. 

The ReStore’s impact in Philadelphia goes beyond sales numbers and dollars raised for our programs. With six full-time staff and four part-time employees currently, the ReStore creates jobs in Philly. It also promotes green, environmentally friendly practices, diverting about 1,000 tons of materials from landfills each year. Reduce, reuse, recycle, ReStore — that’s mantra number two. We are continually looking for ways to make our store more efficient. Most recently, a capacity building grant from the McLean Contributionship funded the purchase and installation of a freight elevator. With this new elevator in place, the ReStore staff can maximize the use of our extensive basement storage. We can accept larger and more frequent donations, and can save seasonal items to maximize profits. 

"And the store is a success — in our first year, the store saw $1M in sales."

The success of the ReStore takes a village. In addition to our staff members, we rely on the help of 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers annually to keep store operations running smoothly. In a typical volunteer day, one might price sofas, assemble chandeliers, dust antique desks, or serve as a cashier on one of our registers. 

Families in our Homeownership Program are required to do 350 hours of “sweat equity” on construction and repair sites and at our ReStore in place of a down payment on homes. For future homeowners with mobility issues who might not be able to spend hours building houses, the ReStore provides a feasible alternative to get hours done and connect with the Habitat community. 

As we grow as an organization, we continue to evolve our ReStore operation as well — and if and when the time feels right, Philadelphia might get a second place to shop with us. 

Corinne O'Connell has spent nearly 20 years in the affordable housing sector. Her strong belief that everyone deserves a decent place to live - as a human right, has motivated her from her early days with Project HOME - and most recently, the last 8 years with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. Promoted in June of 2017 to CEO of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, O'Connell is responsible for the strategic implementation of their $7M annual operating budget to build and repair homes in partnership with families in need. She's an alum of St. Joseph's University and also holds a masters degree from Seattle University in Nonprofit Management.