In this installment of Meet the Merchant we speak to Maureen Highland, the executive director of the Petaluma Educational Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Alphabet Soup Stores, which generate revenue to support local schools. Highland shares some background on the organization, including the importance of community engagement, and how Clover has helped a decades-old store grow during a pandemic.
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Clover: Thank you for speaking with us today, Maureen. Tell us how you first became involved with the Alphabet Soup Stores.
Maureen Highland: So, I’m the executive director of the Petaluma Educational Foundation. I’ve held this position for six years and have been involved with the organization for ten years. We are a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit, which owns and operates the Alphabet Soup Benefit thrift stores as part of the foundation umbrella.
The Alphabet Soup Stores generate revenue for us to fulfill our mission to serve students in all transitional kindergarten through 12th grade public, private and charter schools in our community—38 different campuses, with about 12,000 students enrolled annually.
Clover: How long have the Alphabet Soup Stores been in business?
Highland: The first store opened in 1994, and we expanded to a second location about eight years ago. Our original location, now known as Soup’s Clothing Store, sells clothing and the new location holds our housewares, linens, furniture, art, and books.
Clover: Do all of your items come from community donations? Do you have other ways that you source your inventory?
Highland: They are all donated items. We don’t purchase any items. We don’t do any consignment. Everything that comes into the inventory and is sold on the floor is out of the generosity of the community making those donations to us. A lot of donations come from our school families.
Clover: That’s excellent. How else is Alphabet Soup Stores supported by the community?
Highland: We have a huge volunteer family of community members who have always followed our stores and love shopping with us. They fill every shift—working the register, sorting inventory, and stocking the shelves. They all do an incredible job. Before COVID, we had about 80 regular volunteers. Now, we are working to build that number back up.
Alphabet Soup Stores is turning 28 this year, and many of the people who originally started the retail operation are still volunteering with us today.
Clover: Tell us about your decision to choose Clover. Were you working with another POS provider beforehand?
Highland: No, actually. We had a good, old-fashioned cash register and credit card processing machine. We implemented Clover in order to reopen after the pandemic because we knew we needed an option for contactless transactions. Our POS setup at both stores allows for that.
As a nonprofit, we are very limited in budget, so we don’t spend a lot on the bells and whistles. We’re happy to have a POS partner that gives us business insights without breaking the bank.
Clover: What other components of Clover have been valuable for reopening the stores?
Highland: We use the Virtual Terminal quite a bit since our offices are separate from the retail locations. It’s been very valuable and time saving, especially as we returned from the pandemic shutdowns. Our offices didn’t necessarily return in-person as soon as our stores did, so it was great being able to have our staff remotely tap into the system.
Since implementing Clover, we’ve been able to get more detailed reporting than we ever had in the past. We’ve been tracking what categories of inventory we’re selling at different points of the season, year, month, and even day-to-day.
That data has also helped us determine our operating hours for the stores. Coming back after COVID, we all had limited schedules we could keep. Looking at that minute-by-minute transaction history gave us insight into our customers’ shopping timetables. So we could really do a study on what was best for us.
Clover: That’s wonderful to hear.
Highland: We’ve been thrilled so far! Clover enabled us to reopen with the confidence that we could provide a safe shopping environment to our customers. Since then, we’ve realized there are so many other benefits to having the system that we continue to learn about day after day. I think in the next year we’ll tap into many more of the resources that are available and continue to look at the hard data Clover gives us to make some really sound business decisions.