Work In Their Shoes with Sophie - Rochester Boutique

31 January 2019

Hello! I’m Sophie, and I work in the Marketing Team at Demelza. My role is to share the wonderful goings on here, from children, families, volunteers, fundraisers and more. I find it a real privilege to get to know the people of #TeamDemelza, as everyone comes with a unique story.

This year, inspired by our #NewYearNewYou campaign, I set myself a challenge to spend a day every month with one of the many teams that make up our organisation. Through a programme we have for staff called ‘Work in Their Shoes’, I’ll be showing you the many different facets it takes to make up Demelza as a whole, and recording it in a vlog.

My first target had to be Shop Manager Gemma and her lovely team at our Rochester Boutique, a hotspot for vintage lovers and a favourite of locals in the high street. Gemma was equally as excited to have me spend the day mucking in.

I arrived on a very chilly January Thursday to meet Gemma and Assistant Manager Debbie, and was delighted to find we were all wearing our Dr Martens, which I hadn’t realised was the unofficial team uniform. After a breakfast of champions – a cup of tea and a Jammie Dodger - I was shown around downstairs in the basement sorting room, which I prefer to think of as an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. Anyone who’s ever experienced life ‘behind the curtain’ at a charity shop will know what I’m talking about – the overwhelming urge to have a nose through the myriad treasures and the mystery of what might be uncovered.

After being given an overview of the sorting process, my curiosity was put to good use by going through a delivery which had just arrived from our Distribution Centre at Maidstone. This central hub is responsible for sorting through and allocating donated stock to our 26 Demelza shops throughout Kent, South East London and East Sussex. A lot of thought goes into this, as each shop is unique – like the book shops in Hythe and Herne Bay, our children and baby shop in Sheerness, or the bridalwear department in Canterbury.

Sorters at the Distribution Centre will earmark items they know will sell best at certain locations, because when they have a reputation for specialising in something, people come looking for it. I loved hearing that our shops look out for each other too, by sending items they know will get the best bang for their buck in other branches, raising more money for Demelza’s services. There’s plenty that comes in through the door as well as from our own distribution network, with locals popping in bearing bagfuls of items throughout the day.

Gemma and I settled into unpacking 15 sacks that were dropped off by Demelza van driver Alan, including a rather thrilling one sent from Michelle at our Eltham shop. I say thrilling with complete sincerity, because I uncovered some beautifully pristine vintage garments that were perfect for the Rochester Boutique. With our mutual love for fabulous fashion from bygone eras, it was lovely to bond with Gemma over finding a rare label (anyone remember ‘Yessica’ by C&A?), or by imagining the kind of person who would have worn an immaculate houndstooth power suit. Rochester only stock the ‘best of the best’, which may seem a bit snobbish, but once you’ve taken a look inside, you’ll understand why.

Gemma has put her menswear right at the front of the shop, which is a risky move – one that has been paying dividends. This is known as the ‘golden area’ where you put your big guns to draw people in. The trouble with a lot of charity shops is that quality menswear and accessories are scarce, meaning a lot of chaps don’t bother coming in to look. This isn’t the case here, because Gemma’s customers know that she has her finger on the pulse, and you’re guaranteed to find something that’s your cup of tea. In a trendy town full of students and tourists, the shop is a hive of activity all day long.

There are regular customers, and some real characters – a compliment which extends to the volunteers. Joy and Julie – who absolutely, definitely, always come as a pair - cracked on with sorting and steaming. Bianca has an extremely high threshold for what is good enough to go out on the shop floor. She’s an artist, whose mesmerising mosaic work is featured in one of the beautiful windows. Pat charms the customers at the till with her friendly manner – the kind of person who gets on famously with everyone. I loved hearing them all talk about the time they spend at the shop with genuine fondness and passion.

I was tasked with pricing an item I’d ever-so-slightly fallen madly in love with – a stunning silk beaded statement jacket in my favourite colour, emerald green. The guys at Rochester know a gem when they see one, and using the shop’s tablet, I scoured eBay and Etsy for some similar items to benchmark a realistic asking price. This was a pretty special one, so I spitballed an educated guess of £60, to nods of approval. Debbie and Gemma were confident it would sell by the weekend and it was hung front and centre of the window display on a wardrobe. Gemma and the team have been doing really well with profits, and it’s unsurprising. I was delighted to learn that they’re about to hit their target for takings two months early.

Upstairs on the shop floor, I ‘culled’ a few items with Gemma. This means taking items down that have been on the shop floor for quite a while or aren’t the usual standard you’d expect from the Boutique, with Gemma’s criteria being ‘anything beige and boring’! It won’t go to waste though, it’ll be redistributed or sent for recycling or ‘ragging’, meaning it will be bought by weight and sent to impoverished communities in third-world countries or the textiles will be repurposed into something else. Culling also makes room on the rails for more of the pieces that will get snapped up quickly – replenishing the rails is a continuous task.

One thing that truly amazed me was the effort that went into reducing the amount of waste that was produced – not just by Gemma and her team, but across all our trading outlets. There were so many kinds of recycling compartments that Rochester have reduced their waste output to the equivalent of one small carrier bag a day – pretty impressive once you’ve seen the sheer volume of things coming in.

I wholeheartedly loved my day. I got to choose a CD to play (The Specials), look at beautiful things all day long, and learn more about Gemma and her (quite frankly) incredible shoes. I went home with a pair of black velvet trousers that were the exact length for my little legs, and Gemma and I set off for home.

When I happened to return to Rochester on the Saturday, my favourite green jacket had gone. I hope it went to a good home where someone will treasure it with as much care as its previous owner, and though I’m sad it’s not my home, I know that the £60 it brought in could pay for a Music or Art Therapy session, or provide meals for families at Demelza.

I recorded a vlog during my day in Gemma’s shoes – head over to Demelza's Facebook page and give it a watch! You might spot a certain green jacket…


Until next time,