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Vinnies awarded for overcoming pandemic challenges

(Source: Supplied)

Vinnies Victoria not only maintained its community support during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also expanded its services to meet the challenge. These innovations were recognised at the 2022 Inside Retail Awards presented by CommBank. 

Op shops were hit doubly hard at the height of the pandemic due to restrictions on donations and retail shopping. Vinnies responded by making the most of its volunteers and a small team of paid staff to fulfil its mission – supporting people in need across the state. From producing food hampers to incorporating a new digital sales strategy, Vinnies was able to deliver on its goal of serving its customers, not just with goods, but with dignity and respect. 

These innovations earnt Vinnies Victoria the Customer Service Team of the Year Award at the 2022 Inside Retail Awards, presented by the CommBank.

“The most important thing was keeping our customers and team safe,” said Vinnies Victoria Executive General Manager of Commercial Services, Jeff Antcliff. “We moved quickly when government recommendations changed, meeting and exceeding them throughout the whole pandemic.”

Because Vinnies is focused on serving its community, it knew that operational continuity was essential. With a team that is 96 per cent volunteers – the youngest 14, the oldest 96 – the challenges were made even more difficult. Antcliff says the response from their volunteers was incredible. “We were also able to tap into other support, like our fantastic corporate partners, to help us leverage our extensive fleet and logistics team. Everyone stepped up and did extra to enable us to support our communities.”

Transitioning to a digital business

Vinnies had to make a hard pivot in how it communicated with its team of more than 6000 people across Victoria. “We rapidly shifted to using tech-driven communication methods like holding regular Teams and Zoom calls to keep everyone across the state updated on the latest changes,” says Antcliff. “We also emailed daily Covid-19 updates because we wanted everyone to have the latest information no matter where they were or what communication channel they were using.” 

From left: Carmel Bono, Evelyn Banavas, Neil Harvey, Liz Randle, and Stephanie Shave.

Because Covid-19 restricted Vinnies’ retail operations, the organisation had to find ways to continue supporting people in need of goods and services. To do this, it created and implemented an eBay strategy and transformed how its material aid team organised and delivered essential goods like bedding, furniture and supplies. 

For the Ebay strategy, Vinnies developed a stand-alone business. Starting with a few hundred items it expanded to offer more than 3000 one-off pieces such as unique items of clothing. 

Positive outcomes from challenging situations

It would have been easy for Vinnies Victoria to throw up its hands when things became challenging at the beginning of the pandemic. Antcliff says the adversity led to meaningful growth and change for the organisation, influencing its work into the future. 

Together, corporate partners and individuals stepped up to serve the community. “Our corporate partners saw our challenges increase and helped provide meaningful solutions,” says Antcliff. “WeWork, for example, gave us a lot of office furniture that helped people juggle schooling and working from home. What we couldn’t give away we were able to sell to help fund future operations.” 

This support is critical to the Vinnies Victoria mission, says Antcliff. “We know that education is the best way to get people out of poverty, so we’re supporting families now and in the future.”

Neil Harvey and Evelyn Banavas accept the award.

The quality of the goods donated by individuals also dramatically improved through the pandemic. Those goods were managed by Vinnies’ material aid team – delivering mattresses and furniture to people as directed by their membership team. The customer service teams coordinated the deliveries, a challenge made greater by rule changes. “We worked hard to make it as seamless as possible for the receiver and make it economical for the business,” says Antcliff. “Strong support from Vinnies’ offices and shops meant everyone worked together to create a great outcome.”

Antcliff says Vinnies does not do it for the awards but welcomes the recognition. “It’s a wonderful acknowledgment from the retail industry of how much our 6000+ strong team has achieved.”

CommBank is committed to supporting Australia’s not-for-profit organisations achieve their vision. For more information on how we can help you, visit www.commbank.com.au/notforprofit or www.commbank.com.au/retailers 

Things you should know:

The information and statistics in this article have been obtained from St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria. The bank believes that the information in this article is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made, based on the information available at the time of its compilation, but no representation or warranty, either expressed or implied, is made or provided as to accuracy, reliability or completeness of any statement made in the article. Any opinions, conclusions or recommendations set forth are subject to change without notice. The Commonwealth Bank does not accept any liability for loss or damage arising out of the use of all or any part of the article.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124 AFSL 234945.