Business First


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.

Can we replicate the success of Summerland's Penny Lane Bargain Outlet?
Cabaj, Paul
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