All Aboard charity shops 'struggle' as recession hits

One of All Aboard's charity shops in north west London

One of All Aboard's charity shops in north west London

Britain’s leading Jewish charity shop organisation is struggling in the face of unprecedented challenges, the chairman of its trustees has reported.

The All Aboard stores are a familiar sight for shoppers especially on London’s high streets, but the impact of the recession and the growth of online businesses has hit profit margins, Jeffrey Pinnick said.

All Aboard operates 18 shops in London and Manchester. They sell donated second-hand goods with proceeds divided between almost 60 Jewish and non-Jewish charities.

They range from nationally-renowned organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Research and Great Ormond Street Hospital to smaller independent charities such as the Southend Aid Society and a number of Jewish schools.

While some charity shops have experienced a boom as shoppers hunt for bargains during the economic downturn, All Aboard has seen a falling off in donations and a reduction in the number of people volunteering to work in the shops.

Mr Pinnick said that profits were around only 10 per cent of the shop’s turnover each year. Accounts filed with the Charity Commission show that, in 2012, with an income of £1.95m, All Aboard was able to donate only £110,000 to charity.

Mr Pinnick said the burden of spending £1.84m on overheads, including staffing and shop rents, was increased by the fact the stores close on the busiest trading day of the week — Shabbat — and also on Yom Tov days.

That decision, made when the shops opened 25 years ago, now equates to a reduction in income of around £300,000 a year, he claimed.

Mr Pinnick, a former Board of Deputies treasurer, said: “People do understand that this has to run as a business first. The net profit goes 100 per cent to charities. The chief executive’s salary is not excessive. All the trustees are unpaid.”

He accepted that members of the public who donate clothes, toys and goods may be surprised to learn that each shop has a paid manager and paid assistant. Their salaries account for around 40 per cent of the annual income.

While volunteers also donate their time to work in each shop, Mr Pinnick said changes in society meant fewer people were coming forward to help.

“We have a great groundswell of support from volunteers, but women are more involved in working than in previous generations. We have to hire more staff. All charities are suffering.”

Combined with the growth in online sites such as eBay and the prevalence of “cash-for-clothes” businesses, All Aboard was now “struggling”, he said.

“We have a wonderful supply of donations and everybody says the quality of our goods is great. That allows us to keep our prices higher. But eBay means people have the opportunity to sell their own goods rather than donate them.

“There are vans that drive around giving people money for their old clothes. Primark can sell something new cheaper than we can sell it second-hand.

“The charity shop industry has got to keep ahead of the game. That’s the challenge we have.”

Last updated: 9:51am, September 9 2013