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Neighborhood second-hand shop franchise project all about building up peoples' confidence
A St. John’s second-hand retail clothing shop’s success as a social enterprise has its founding organization looking to expand the brand’s presence.
And not only might this help other communities in Newfoundland and Labrador — Choices for Youth is looking to bring on board socially-minded non-profits based elsewhere in Canada.
Neighbourhood opened its doors at the corner of Pearson Street and Torbay Road in St. John’s in 2018. In two-and-a-half years, the business has trained and/or employed more than 50 at-risk youth involved with Choices for Youth.
A non-profit headquartered in St. John’s, the organization strives to help young people secure housing and employment, working with them to unlock their potential. It oversees a variety of programs and has a number of active social enterprise ventures, one of which is Neighbourhood.
“At Choices for Youth, we believe fundamentally that social enterprise is a catalyst for economic empowerment and social change for young people in our community by offering a job that unlocks training opportunities, skills development and personal supports,” explained Chelsey MacNeil, the group’s director of education, employment and social enterprise. “We see that as the secret ingredients or the formula to assist young people in reaching their goals or to get wherever they see themselves in the future.”
Knowing that youth who have faced challenges in life may not get everything they need from traditional employment programs, Neighbourhood provides a transitional environment where inexperienced workers can build their confidence with access to the supports they need to succeed.
“Young people attain skills by sorting donations, managing inventory, anything from customer experience and merchandising — all those youth employees are involved in every part of the process in terms of managing and operating that storefront,” MacNeil said.
“Most young people who enter into Neighbourhood, it gives us an opportunity to start small with some part-time employment, but many of those young people then move on to full-time employment and then subsequently get jobs in the community in competitive employment or go back to post-secondary.”
✨We are accepting donations!🌟 Are you making a New Year’s resolution to get organized, free up space, or just let go of...Posted by Neighbourhood on Tuesday, January 5, 2021
For a number of years, Choices for Youth has explored a provincial expansion to reach communities beyond the St. John’s metro area. Knowing too that there’s growing interest in social enterprises amongst consumers and at a government level, the organization decided to pursue a research project on franchising the Neighbourhood operation. The provincial government contributed $45,000 to the $50,000-project, which has Choices for Youth working with Halifax-based consultant Common Good Solutions.
“Without this support with the provincial government, this would remain on the shelf as an ambition,” MacNeil said.
Nova Scotia pilot store
Under this franchise model, Choices for Youth would open more locations or work with other not-for-profits engaged in social enterprise. Right now, the organization is considering setting up a store in the Conception Bay North region, about a one-hour drive from St. John’s. Additionally, Choices for Youth is working with Summer Street, a not-for-profit serving people with intellectual disabilities in New Glasgow, N.S., to establish a Neighbourhood store as the pilot location for the franchise project.
MacNeil expects to see both locations open in 2021.
“When we see the Canadian social enterprise movement gaining that traction, we also see an opportunity for social enterprises to think about scaling to new markets, but not necessarily for the same reasons as a corporate entity would,” MacNeil said. “We’re looking at how might Neighbourhood as a model help contribute to not only St. John’s, Newfoundland, but how can that model be replicated and scaled to create more localized solutions ... by leveraging those efficiencies of what a franchise model could offer.”
"...how can that model be replicated and scaled to create more localized solutions ... by leveraging those efficiencies of what a franchise model could offer.” — Chelsey MacNeil
MacNeil believes in the potential of the Neighbourhood brand to help communities and populations that, similar to at-risk youth, commonly encounter barriers to employment.
“From a model perspective, we really do feel like we have a substantial amount of expertise at this point,” she said. “We understand the inventory systems. We understand the social values that Neighbourhood stands by in terms of inclusion. We feel like we have a deep understanding of the target market segments and overall a strong operations focus.
“When we look at building that model out, yes, I think it will involve expanding Neighbourhood in some other locations across the province ... But there’s also an opportunity for another organization that is perhaps looking for a turnkey model that would allow for them to achieve their social mandate.”
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John's.