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Goodwill online pairs unusual with high bid

Published Oct. 31, 2002
Updated Sep. 4, 2005

Mention the words "Goodwill store" to some people and they might think of old clothes, lumpy sofas and stereo equipment dating to the Reagan administration.

But Goodwill Industries' sales efforts are a good deal more up-to-date, and some of its merchandise far more upscale, than its trademark thrift stores would suggest. The nonprofit group has a small but growing presence in cyberspace with www.shopgoodwill.com, an online auction site where much of the more unusual or pricier merchandise that's donated to Goodwill is now sold.

The eBay-style site, which is run by Goodwill Industries of Orange County, Calif., auctions merchandise posted by about 80 Goodwill chapters across the country, including Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc. of St. Petersburg. The proceeds go toward supporting the organization's employment and assistance programs for the disabled and the poor.

While Goodwill and the Internet may seem like an odd pairing at first, the one-person's-junk-is-another's-treasure ethos that pervades online auction sites fits Goodwill's inventory like a glove.

Glance at the auction offerings on the Web site. There's an Elvis dartboard decorated with shots of Young Elvis and Fat Elvis (minimum bid $27); a Washburn "banjolin," a stringed instrument that's a cross between a banjo and mandolin ($123); and a 1968 Barbie doll carrying case with six dolls, including three Barbies and a Mod-haired Ken doll ($54).

The sales volume isn't huge. Nationwide revenue for www.shopgoodwill.com is expected to top $4-million this year, which is dwarfed by the $1.02-billion in sales that Goodwill Industries' stores posted in 2001 and is about one-tenth of what eBay sells on an average day.

Goodwill-Suncoast's online sales tripled in the fiscal year ended June 30 but Michael Ann Harvey, the chapter's director of brand marketing and media relations, declined to specify how much was raised. She said it was a small fraction of the $15.6-million the chapter raised through its thrift stores in the past fiscal year.

Still, the rapid growth in online sales has left the chapter feeling "very encouraged by what the possibilities are in the future," Harvey said.

Among the items that the Tampa Bay chapter has sold: a Gibson guitar and case for $625, an antique Roseville vase for $550 and a 12-seater Ford van with a chair lift for $4,000.

The organization thinks online sales could prove to be a far greater source of income in the future, Goodwill-Orange County communications director Denise Higuchi says. She pointed out that the 80 chapters that sell merchandise through the Web site represent about half of the 175 Goodwill chapters nationwide.

Merchandise that is sold on the Web site previously had been sold through Goodwill thrift stores. But Higuchi said the exponentially larger audience provided by the Internet can push prices far above what they might have been in the stores.

About the time the Web site opened for business in August 1999, Goodwill-Orange County found an etching of a nude that was about to be shipped to one of its stores for sale.

It was later discovered to be an original drawing by Pablo Picasso. Once posted on the Web site, it sold for $1,801, Higuchi said.

Once would-be donors realize that their contributions to Goodwill could fetch top dollar on the Web, the organization hopes more big-ticket donations will roll in, Higuchi said.

To find a local Goodwill donation center, go to www.goodwill-suncoast.org.

_ Louis Hau can be reached at hausptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.