Planning, timing as well as a good story generates great media attention

Written by Jim Walsh - July 2020

Ask any Irish consumer which is the largest retail network in the country and you will probably hear names such as Dunnes, Tesco, SuperValu, Lidl or Aldi.

Most would be surprised to be told that the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) with 234 charity shops throughout the country, is a larger network than any one of those named.

 

A major difference from the large supermarkets is that the Vincent’s shops each have a small management team, just a manager in many cases, with staffing provided by volunteers and CE workers.

Working around the clock for weeks to get shops ready for the 8th June phase of the easing of Government restrictions was therefore a mammoth task. Particularly as many of the volunteers were cocooning because of their age.

The Vincent’s shops closed their doors on March 16th following the introduction of HSE and government restrictions. This resulted in a considerable loss of income which would have been recycled directly back into the community.

To ensure the well-being of customers as well as staff and volunteers in the shops before re-opening, a robust and detailed action plan was put in place for each shop in relation to cleaning, sorting donations, assisting customers, signage and a range of other issues. The objective was to ensure that all Vincent’s customers could be assured that they were entering clean, well-organised shops, which are adhering to all the recommended social distancing and health and safety requirements.

Because of the nature of the shops, their size and resources, the decision to re-open each shop was a local one. It was decided to open as many as possible on 8th June but not to communicate with the public until there was a critical mass of shops ready.

So with almost 100 of the 234 shops ready to open on 8th June, a media plan and an announcement  timed for 2nd June was prepared with the support of Walsh:PR.

The timing was perfect as that week there was considerable media interest in this reopening phase.  The media response to the Vincent’s story was enthusiastic to say the least. The reopening announcement prompted tv and radio interviews on RTE TV 6.1 News, RTE Radio 1 Drivetime, RTE Radio 1 Today with Sarah McInerney along with stories in most national newspapers and local media in most of the counties where shops were re-opening.

 A strong social media campaign also brought the story into the public domain. Not only were the shops enthusiastically welcomed back by their local communities but donations of clothes and other goods began arriving immediately the news came out. Some shops were receiving 20/30 bags of clothes a day.  All clothes donated were quarantined for 72 hours before going on sale.

Vincent’s charity shops are a very important aspect of the service SVP provides. The profits generated from the charity shops, some of which also supply furniture, are recycled into local Conferences (branches) around Ireland to support those in need.

 

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