DDA delivered its last load of clothing to Value Village on October 20, 2019 – eight days before our delivery contract ended. We had to be sure we could sell everything we had at the donation station, and since our contract was cancelled due to an oversupply problem, Value Village asked us to load trailers to be sent off elsewhere in B.C.
We at DDA have been preparing for this eventuality for some time. Our partnership with Value Village started in 1979 – when the Board at that time agreed to sign a contract with Bill Ellison, who started a business in San Francisco selling used goods cheaply in well laid out and clean stores. His parents had worked with the Salvation Army, so he learned the thrift trade as a youngster and decided he could turn a profit by partnering with charities in communities to pick up and deliver gently used items to his stores. DDA was the first partnership he developed in Canada and from this origin, Value Village spread across Canada, brought used goods to thrift shoppers and enriched the budgets of charities to provide services otherwise unfunded by governments. In Canada, community living agencies, Big Brothers and the Canadian Diabetes Association dominated the pick-up and delivery market but in the U.S. many other charitable causes also benefitted.
Bill Ellison was a “handshake” sort of dealmaker. Our early contracts used language like “O.Ks” – units by which we were paid.
What’s an O.K? Approximately a big garbage bag full of clothes. What’s “miscel”? Miscellaneous items like toasters or used hockey sticks. Over the years, as Value Village grew, weight measures were introduced along with standard corporate language and a more sophisticated headquarters culture. About fifteen years ago, the company negotiated with bankers to borrow money to expand and when “Wall Street” gets involved, they bring a greater focus on profitability. They are clearly not charities.
Value Village developed “Community Donation Centers” to encourage people to drop off their clothing directly to stores, an area of their business that experienced significant growth over the years. Charities receive money for these “on-site donations” but not as much as for delivered goods because there is no cost to the charity. Over time, our on-site donation revenue increased while our delivery revenue decreased because people were rewarded with discounts and other promotions for dropping their goods off directly at Value Village stores. This trend accelerated when the media reported stories about people dying while climbing into bins, which prompted municipalities to pass by-laws stating that all bins had to be certified by an engineer to be safe. The engineer we were working with said he could not guarantee that a plastic knife would be 100% safe in all circumstances and could not certify our bins, although they had an open chute that had never been associated with any deaths anywhere.
With Value Village’s oversupply problem due to the on-site donation trend, there was no sense in them continuing to purchase delivered goods from DDA, a local charity, when Big Brothers and the Canadian Diabetes Association are present across Canada and can adjust their supply based on store demand. Value Village, however, continues to partner with DDA as we will continue to receive credits for on-site donations until at least the end of February 2020.
The end of our Value Village business brought a sad farewell to over 40 years of community recycling service. We are proud to have diverted hundreds of thousands of pounds of used clothing and other items from Lower Mainland landfills through our partnership with Value Village. The revenue we generated has added strength and resilience to the Developmental Disabilities Association and Foundation that will serve us for years to come. We are grateful to have had such a wonderful opportunity to help our communities environmentally.
We are also exceptionally grateful to all of our community partners – the schools, clubs and other organizations that participated in our Cash4Clothes program, our bin hosts, our municipal partners – thank you so much for your support. DDA was also very fortunate to have a dedicated Board of Trustees who guided our business development – Rick Hamilton, who led and participated for over 20 years, John Neilson, Brian Wilson and the late Bill Adams – who all supported us with their leadership, knowledge and enthusiasm.
We could not have generated this non-government revenue without the dedication of our staff. We already miss Deanna Barlow, who managed the business. She started working at DDA when she was 16 and never left. Deanna was a valued member of our senior management team because she brought her business perspective to all our discussions and enthusiastically led projects. She lived our mission and will forever be part of the DDA ‘family’. We are also grateful to Jay Biddle, who worked for DDA for over 30 years, often mentoring other drivers, and Kamal Grounder, whose picture you may have seen on our trucks, always smiling while he went over and above the call of duty. We will miss them both very much.
Luckily, we are able to keep most of our other business employees and will be mobilizing them elsewhere at DDA. In this way, the legacy of our business will live on, even if we no longer deliver.