Penny Lane Bargain Outlet has been a slam dunk, selling discount clothing and furniture to help finance programs and jobs for local young people. Yet what has proved a winning formula in Summerland, B.C. is not as replicable as it first appeared.
Deceptively simple in appearance, Penny Lane in fact fills a unique retail niche, pulling in customers from several nearby centres. From the first, it has been run like a business, if for social purposes. Similar initiatives, launched by nonprofits with well-established social service mandates and cultures, have faltered. Penny Lane's single source of overstocked items cannot provide a good selection of clothing for several stores.
Action is therefore needed both on the supply and demand side. A grant has been applied to research new suppliers and new product lines. Penny Lane has also discovered several other nonprofit thrift stores are interested in taking part in a "retail cluster."
The issue of culture remains unresolved, however. The shift from a programmatic, grant-seeking culture that responds to funders to an entrepreneurial culture that responds to markets is rarely smooth, but may be the key to of success.