At the Christian Storehouse thrift store in Millsboro, manager Linda Draper runs a tight ship.

At the Christian Storehouse thrift store in Millsboro, manager Linda Draper runs a tight ship.

With more than 100 registered volunteers, as well as a small administrative staff, Draper has her work cut out for her, especially since the Christian Storehouse is not only a thrift store, but also a nonprofit resource center where assistance is available to local residents in need.

“Our sales have never been higher, which is a blessing,” Draper said. “As the need increases for assistance, we get the money. [God] provides everything we need.”

With more and more consumers looking to save money wherever possible, thrift stores are seeing a financial boost and are beginning to operate more like bona fide businesses, complete with customer service and security training. Most local thrift stores donate almost all profits to charity, which sets them apart from other retail stores but does not excuse the need for good business practices.

Sussex County’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program recently held a thrift store seminar, which provided training and networking opportunities to store owners, employees and volunteers.

Linda Rogers, volunteer coordinator for RSVP, which is regulated by the State Office of Volunteerism and sponsored by the Corporation of National Community Service, said the amount made by local thrift stores and funneled back into the community ranges from $2,000 to $500,000 annually, per store.

“It’s quite a big business,” Rogers said, adding the seven Sussex thrift stores that partner with RSVP cover their individual expenses and then donate their net income to local causes.

For example, she said, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore made enough money last year to build a house in Sussex County and two houses in Guatemala. According to Habitat officials, it costs around $100,000 to build a house.

At Christian Storehouse, proceeds are used for a plethora of services, including stocking its in-house food bank and providing assistance to those who need help paying the electric bill, the lot rent or the mortgage, to name a few.

Rogers said local thrift stores also act as recycling facilities for items that would otherwise end up in a local landfill.

At the recent seminar, Brenda Whitehurst, Southern Delaware market manager at the Delaware Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, coached participants on customer service. Whitehurst said it was the first time in her 20-year career that she’s conducted a workshop for thrift stores.

“It was perfect because it’s the only way I shop, so it was personal for me,” Whitehurst said. “I love thrift store shopping; it’s a stress reliever. In every state I visit, I get the phone book out and look for thrift stores.”

Whitehurst said even though the stores are staffed mainly with volunteers, providing great customer service is vital.

“Customers are your business and without customers, you would not have a business,” she said. “That’s with any business that provides a product or service.”

Whitehurst said she frequents the same area thrift stores, where some volunteers know her by name.

“Nothing makes me happier than when I walk into God’s Way in Milford and Arthur at the counter says, ‘Hi Brenda,’” she said.

Cpl. George Camacho of the Delaware State Police also addressed the thrift stores during the seminar, stressing the importance of crime prevention.

“[Thrift stores] are businesses and have a lot of money exchange,” Camacho said. “It’s vital to have a system in place that all employees and volunteers are aware of, just in case something happens.”

Camacho said he touched on preventative measures such as hanging a bell above the front door, installing video cameras and even hanging a measuring tape next to the entrance so employees are more apt to remember the height of any criminals.

Draper and the crew at Christian Storehouse know all too well how vulnerable they can be to crime, as the facility was robbed this weekend while it was closed. Draper said the perpetrator stole cash from the store and caused damage while trying to gain access to the main office. She said the perpetrator was scared away by an employee checking in on the facility and has yet to be caught by police.