Morris Habitat for Humanity Restore is The Store That Builds Homes.
Using volunteer labor and donations of money and used furniture, Morris Habitat for Humanity is a local nonprofit organization building and rehabilitating houses in partnership with families in need. Habitat houses are affordable because there is no profit included in the sale price and no interest is charged on the mortgage. The family’s monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund which is used to build more houses.
In the next four years, the local nonprofit Morris Habitat plans on serving over 200 families through new and rehab homebuilding, home preservation and international homebuilding programs. Volunteer visits will total over 45,000, and our Restore activity will keep another 3000 tons of used furniture and other reusable items out of landfills while providing funding to support our overhead. As advocacy increases, so will the evolution of families becoming homeowners, transforming communities and the economy in an upward direction.
Morris Habitat for Humanity is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.
The ReStore is a good deal for you, the community and the environment! Our Randolph local nonprofit creates a steady source of income for Morris Habitat by selling new and used furniture and home furnishings donated by individuals and businesses. It promotes sustainability by diverting hundreds of tons of materials from the waste stream each year.
The first ReStore opened in April 1991 in Winnipeg, Canada, followed by the first U.S. store in Austin, Texas. In 1994, Kathy Hourihan, a recycling coordinator for the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, first brought the idea of a ReStore to the Morris Habitat board. A visit to the ReStore in Tampa, Florida, convinced her to promote the concept here, and finally our first warehouse opened on May 12, 2007, in Mine Hill.
Kathy continued her volunteer work as a board member, chair of the publicity team, Bike & Hike planner and kitchen cabinet pricer for the ReStore. Her employer gave the ReStore its MCMUA Recycling Award in 2007 for “restoring faith in reuse” and in 2014 for “restoring our habitat.” Still growing after 10 years, this local Randolph nonprofit store’s success can be attributed to people looking for a bargain and to a greater interest in reuse and recycling.
The Morris Habitat board of directors was doing serious research into the feasibility of a ReStore by 2004. Their guiding force was Don Kuhn, president of the board during the crucial start-up period. He wrote the business plan and many policies for store operations. You may recognize him today from his continuing volunteer work as a pricer of fine art donations and as a constant helper on the sales floor.
Another board member at the time, Bill Keefe, drafted the financial projections for the business plan. Gordon Lorig joined the board in 2006 and worked with volunteer property acquisition sleuths and a commercial realtor to search for properties to rent.
Even though Bill Keefe predicted that we might lose money for as long as three years before the ReStore would start to show a profit, the board voted unanimously to move ahead. After the store opened in 2007, Don Kuhn continued his leadership as the first chair of the ReStore Advisory Team, and board liaison Beth Everett monitored store operations. With this close oversight from the board, the ReStore became profitable in only eleven months, and is still growing after 10 years.
The husband and wife team of Mark Bippes and Lise Greene guided the ReStore Steering Committee members as they prepared detailed financial and business plans. Mark led the work of the committee for several months as its first chair until he left in 2005 to supervise our Baker Street construction project in Dover. Lise secured the help of her colleague Mark Allyn at Montclair State University to produce a business plan. Students in his entrepreneurial management class conducted surveys and market analysis studies, while committee members visited the four existing ReStores in New Jersey as part of their research.
Volunteer property sleuth Jane Dwyer worked with Steve Sander of Weichert Commercial Brokerage to find a large amount of warehouse space in a flex-park zoned for both light industrial use and retail sales. This combination is uncommon in Morris County, but Steve suggested the Iron Mountain Industrial Park in Mine Hill. The location met our needs of around 20,000 square feet at a reasonable rental rate with easy access for trucks from Route 46 plus ample parking for the public, volunteers and staff.
Morris Habitat had outgrown its small office space in the Woman’s Club of Morristown. The new location in Mine Hill allowed us to combine all operations under one roof along with the new retail store. We gained a larger office area plus storage for construction materials and tools used for our home-building projects. Since we leased only part of the warehouse, Mark Bippes and his helpers prepared the space by constructing a 28-foot-tall dividing wall. Our move was assisted by the mayor and council of Mine Hill, zoning officer Al Thompson, and landlord John Crimi, president of County Concrete Corporation. Nancie Ludwig led the Newcomers’ and Neighbors’ Club of Randolph in planning and hosting a marvelous grand opening event for the ReStore on May 12, 2007. We were very thankful that ShopRite of Parsippany donated all of the refreshments served that day, and they even delivered them.
The new store did have some drawbacks: fairly chilly in winter and too hot in summer, warehouse lighting rather than traditional retail brightness, and a location in the middle of an industrial complex off Route 46 that challenged customers to find the store. In spite of all that, the ReStore formula worked! With initial advertising and word-of-mouth, the store quickly became a mecca for bargain hunters.
A few years later, we opened a doorway in the dividing wall and expanded into the whole warehouse. Artist Patricia McWhorter of Oak Ridge beautified the walls behind the cashier station with a huge mural of trees seen through the frame of a house under construction. The painting included a whimsical white cat, a squirrel and birds to welcome shoppers. In the years that the ReStore was in Mine Hill, much was learned about running the business. It was an incubator for the current store location in Randolph on Route 10.
As the Morris Habitat ReStore began operations in Mine Hill in 2007, several companies offered vital donations that got us off to a strong start. Investors Savings Bank Charitable Foundation provided a grant used to purchase our first box truck for picking up donated merchandise. Frazier Industrial Company of Long Valley donated steel industrial shelving and sent workers to set it up for display of building supplies for sale. SERVPRO of Southwest Morris County donated cleaning services for office carpeting for two years. ReCommunity Recycling, our neighbor in Iron Mountain Industrial Park, weighed each truckload of donated items to establish the tonnage of usable materials diverted from landfills each year. Thanks to the support from these companies, the ReStore was profitable by 2008.
Once the ReStore was established, we focused on marketing to attract shoppers and donors. A creative web site was developed and maintained by two volunteers, Pavia Kriegman and Leanna Povilaitis, to keep all of our details available on the Internet 24/7.
We grew our ReStore email list in order to keep shoppers informed of sales and other news. Volunteer Bob Alimonti designed and sent the colorful weekly email newsletters and managed a variety of targeted email lists for all of Morris Habitat.
Major sales events were planned to draw in shoppers. We found that the best advertising for events is step-in signs placed on highways in nearby towns a week ahead of the event. Volunteer Ned Levine took on the vital task of placing hundreds of these signs and carefully removing them the day after each sale. Ned also served as the second chair of the ReStore Advisory Team.
In 2010, we hired consultant Lauren Kaplan of Thinking Kap Marketing Solutions. Lauren’s work is one of the key reasons our store is successful. She instituted the practice of focusing our promotional efforts on tentpole events of 3 major sales a year to introduce new groups of people to the ReStore. Advertising pieces were redesigned with a consistent look and feel. Lauren helped train our directors and donation coordinators on marketing and on the importance of tracking our donors in Salesforce. Co-marketing initiatives brought value to many of our business partners. Her detailed marketing plan for the move to Randolph in 2012 earned her the Marketer of the Year Award of Excellence from the Community Builders & Remodelers Association of New Jersey.
Volunteer Ned Levine worked with real estate brokers Barry Cohorsky and Joe Vindigni to find a larger, centrally-located and air-conditioned warehouse with offices visible from Route 10. Randolph Township manager John Lovell and landlord Scott Dickerson handled many tricky details to make the move possible. Architect Seth A. Leeb designed the interior spaces, while Frazier Industrial Co. of Long Valley took apart their steel industrial shelving in Mine Hill and set it up again in Randolph. Partner Green Visions occupied the far end of the new warehouse and accepted electronics products for recycling. Designer Kurt Schleicher of S3 Media created the interior banners for the Randolph store, designed brochures featuring a comfy green couch and developed graphic images to make our annual Lucky Duck and Make a Deal sales events memorable.
The force that kept the ReStore moving ahead was our team of financial watchdogs, volunteer CFOs Sue and Joe Monico. With an unbelievable amount of energy, they kept the books, did monthly financial reports, reminded the ReStore Advisory Team to focus on securing donations, drove the box truck to donors’ homes, unloaded the truck and arranged displays on the sales floor. They also organized annual give-away days and planned the logistics of moving unsold merchandise to Randolph. Always smiling, Sue and Joe were willing to fill in whenever and wherever we needed brains or brawn.
After the walls were painted, the floors scrubbed, and the merchandise neatly arranged in the warehouse in Randolph, the ReStore reopened at 274 South Salem Street, just off Route 10 West, on May 2, 2012, 17 days after the last day of business in Mine Hill. Later that year, the ReStore was given a Business Achievement Award for positive impact from the Township of Randolph Economic Development Committee.
The ReStore is successful because of continuing donations of building supplies, furniture and appliances from local companies. Ten notable businesses have been outstanding supporters for many years. Proceeds from their donations helped to accelerate our program growth through 2016 from serving 9 families annually to serving 38 families annually in our homeownership, home repair and international homebuilding programs.
Special thanks go to Shehadi Commercial Flooring, formerly B. Shehadi Rugs & Carpet, which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of new Persian and Oriental rugs, tile and wood flooring. Their high-quality donations in our early years helped to drive customers to the ReStore, establishing it as a household name in Morris County.
We are grateful to nine other companies who have generously donated products worth over $50,000.
Valuable donations often come to the ReStore because of many companies and agencies that refer their clients to us. The top three corporate supporters who have referred clients the most times are organizer Ready-Set-Organize of New Vernon and two estate sales agents, Remmey Antiques & Fine Art of New Vernon and Liberty Antiques of Stirling. Remmey Antiques & Fine Art has also contributed high-end antiques & collectibles for our ReStore Collection.
In addition to referrals from organizers and estate sales agents, we are thankful for the help of appraisers, realtors, builders, contractors, move managers, cleanout services and municipal building departments. All of these supporters are doing a vital job of spreading the word about the ReStore as a worthy place to donate.
Pete Albanese and his wife Jean were regulars in the warehouse and office for several years after he retired as a bookseller. His skills were used as master carpenter, repair man and customer service specialist. Jean researched prices for donations, ordered missing parts and worked in the office. We miss them greatly since they moved out of the area.
Mel Oppenheimer volunteers as our in-store marketer and software specialist. He started as a donation pricer, and next put his experience in designing signs to work. He is responsible for the large and attractive sign identifying the ReStore at the end of the driveway on Salem Street and for all the colorful banners that advertise sales and events inside the store. He coordinated all of the events in 2017 to celebrate our 10th anniversary. His more complicated projects included working with staff in the donations department to evaluate and set up customized software to increase the efficiency of our operations. Because of his efforts, we are now using NexTraq software to schedule and track our two trucks that pick up donations. Vonigo software allows donors to select their own pick-up dates online and cuts down on a lot of back and forth emails with the staff. We can’t wait to see what imaginative thing Mel will do for us next.