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Friends and Neighbors: Charles Brite - A light for change at The Lighthouse Thrift Store

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Charles Brite, The Lighthouse Thrift Store director, sits at his desk Monday, Nov. 12.
(Sarah Reed/Democrat-News)
Charles Brite didn't set out to become the change The Lighthouse Shelter Thrift Store needed, but over the past year he has been exactly that when he accepted the position as The Lighthouse Thrift Store Director.

"Charles was interested in possibly another position that I had at the shelter ..." Executive Director of The Lighthouse Shelter Debbie Wallace said. "Charles had applied for a position, or was thinking about applying for a position that was open in another part of our organization. I was walking back to my office and he was sitting there waiting on me to get information, and it was like a car hit me. I thought this is the right person that I have been looking for for the thrift store. So, I sat down and explained that to him and what it entailed, and he said he would absolutely love that so I said you're hired!"

The thrift store has been open for eight and a half years now, but according to Wallace she has been looking for the right management for about six years.

He has previously been in medical sales in the southwest. Brite and his wife moved to Marshall because she was from the area.

Brite said it took close to seven weeks to adjust the store so that they were able to work within it.

"Storage was so limited that they had to store a lot of things here in the immediate facility, downstairs where they do basically all the work before it gets on the floor," he said. "That's what we needed to change."

Some proper work areas were put in and employees were evaluated during that time.

"I think now we have an excellent core team who really invests themselves in the success of this business," Brite said. "Very pleased with everyone."

Brite's background is in medical x-ray and he said he had no experience in retail. With the help of his stepson, a retail manager at a JC Penny's in Nevada, and Eleta Salmonson, the thrift store manager, Brite began to understand what it would take to run the thrift store.

"In the past I've been in management positions before, so it's just getting the right people in the right places and all of us working together to make it happen," he said.

"Charles has been phenomenal for this staff," Wallace said. "They needed some good leadership. They needed somebody to work with them."

Wallace also stated she believes the perspective people have of the thrift store has changed over the time Brite has been in charge.

"With Charles' expertise, he's been a great leader for all the staff," she said. "The customer service is at a much higher level -- where the employees are noticing that and taking ownership in what they are doing. Just by his organizational skills, his leadership skills, his personality ... has just made a huge turnaround in our company here."

Brite mentioned a new sales associate. She is in high school, Hispanic, and speaks Spanish.

"We felt it was really important to connect with that part of the community," he said. " ... She's a very pleasant individual who is very patient."

Those qualities are important to Brite. He said employees have to be light-hearted and friendly.

"The working environment has to be more like a hobby than a job," he said. "That's the way I've always looked at business. If I really have to go to work it's a job. If I come here and I enjoy myself it's really more of a hobby."

Donations brought to the shelter after hours have a way of creating a more job-like atmosphere than that of a hobby. Donations brought after hours end up being picked through and not placed back neatly, meaning it's a mess to clean up the next day.

"If you could bring it during the daytime hours it would be appreciated because at night we have no guarantee that the items you want to give to use to be used by the shelter will be there the next day," Brite said.

"That's one of the reasons why we do the pick up service," Wallace continued. "You just call us and set it out by your garage, or on your porch or around the back side of your house and we'd be more than happy to come pick it up."

Wallace said it doesn't matter the size of the donation, they are happy to come get it. Mondays and Wednesdays are scheduled pick-up and delivery days. Pick-up is always free and items bought in the store can be delivered for a small fee.

"It's mind-boggling to sit here and think about the amount of donations we receive, but the community really, really supports us," Brite said. "They really do, and we appreciate that. But sometimes it becomes a task, you know, like where do we put this stuff."

Everything that is donated to the thrift store gets used one way or another.

"We try to recycle everything," he said. Clothing products deemed unusable by the thrift store's standards go to a recycling company in Kansas City and the thrift store works with the city when broken electronics are donated as a way to salvage any usable parts.

The thrift store is very important to The Lighthouse Shelter, according to Wallace. They have cut down on fundraisers, hosting a 5K run in the spring and the Helping Handbags event in October, and the thrift store is the main source of funding.

But it isn't only important from a financial perspective. Work-to-learn programs, programs for people in need or that have gone through a disaster, and volunteer opportunities are all important as well.

Brite's key to keeping the thrift store successful is the staff.

"You find the right people, they make you look good," he said. "You have to love it too. You have to find people that really want to be here."

The thrift store is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Contact Kelsey Alumbaugh at kalumbaugh@marshallnews.com

Online: www.thelighthouseshelter.org

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