On entering One World Goods, a first-time visitor may find it little different from any other gift shop in the area, with an array of small crafts and jewelry and specialty foods filling its aisles. It is the mission of the Pittsford Plaza store that sets it apart.

A non-profit organization that sells crafts made by global artisans in impoverished areas, its goal is to enhance conditions for these artisans by paying a fair price for their goods while increasing awareness of global poverty. The setup makes One World Goods unique among local non-profits—an organization reliant almost entirely on the sale of fair-trade goods, with little other fundraising.

The concept started with a small group of women who in 1987 came together and decided to sell fair-trade merchandise that they stored in a home and drove to churches and schools. In 1991 they established a permanent storefront in Fairport, and in 1994 the organization received 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a charity.

One World Goods soon outgrew its initial location, and in 1997 it relocated to Pittsford Plaza, where in the first year sales jumped 95 percent.

While One World Goods is the only organization of its kind in Rochester—a relatively large non-profit storefront dedicated to fair-trade goods—nationwide the concept is replicated in stores like Ten Thousand Villages, an organization that operates 390 retail locations. When One World Goods started as an organization, it used Ten Thousand Villages as one of its major suppliers for fair-trade goods; today, it has expanded to include smaller vendors and even local groups like the Mary Cariola Children’s Center.

Sales have been strong at One World Goods since it opened, but after a string of years of revenue growth, the store encountered some difficult times in 2008 amid the economic downturn. Revenue has inched up recently, and the organization hopes that improves more as it increases marketing and advertising efforts, says Raquel Marchenese, the store’s manager.

“We advertise a lot and do a lot of promotions, but ultimately it’s the consumers who will decide what the market is going to be like for us,” she says.

The organization’s financial statements reflect the drop. In a Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service, it reported $634,282 in revenue for fiscal 2010, down from $707,802 the previous year. Despite this decrease, revenue from sales stayed largely the same, dropping less than 5 percent, with the rest of the deficit coming from lower contributions and grants.

The board of directors now is drafting a five-year strategic plan. While details are still coming together, Chairwoman Mimi Merrick says the future should be positive for One World Goods. Sales are still high despite the recent decline, and there is no compelling need for the organization to find new sources of revenue, she notes.

With goods not offered elsewhere and prices that compare favorably to those of other gift shops, One World Goods keeps a competitive advantage even through difficult economic times, Merrick says. The jewelry sold there is “exceedingly popular,” and with competitive prices it always remains a top-selling item, she says.

“I’ve noticed that people tend to go to the jewelry counters first and then to the rest of the store,” Merrick says. “But there are other popular items too, like scarves and musical instruments, especially things that appeal to children.”

Merrick, who has spent time in Africa and seen the conditions most artisans and impoverished workers operate under, said the quality of products One World Goods receives is better than what is available at most markets in these countries. The fair- trade organizations that One World Goods contracts with give training to these artisans, helping them improve the quality of their products and market them better at home.

While the organization’s mission is to enhance the social and economic conditions of low-income artisans, the store also raises money for other specific causes. Every year it runs two or three such donation drives, like one sale that gave a portion of its profits to victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Despite running a large operation, One World Goods is able to keep overhead low because of its large staff of volunteers. Marchenese is one of only four paid staff members. A base of 90 volunteers makes up the remainder of the workforce, and the waiting list for volunteers includes even more than that.

The most impressive aspect of the staff is not its size but how cohesively it works to keep the store running, Merrick says.

“I’ve been watching this organization operate for the three years I’ve been a part of it, and this is the best-run organization I’ve ever seen,” she says. “Trying to coordinate among the 90 volunteers is no easy job, and all of the volunteers are so good at showing up for their shifts and doing extra work. I think all the people here really buy into the mission.”

The store’s success is one reason for the great interest among volunteers, Merrick adds. Many of them come to One World Goods first as customers but become so attached to the products and to the organization’s mission that they want to come back to help, she says. One World Goods tries to foster these kinds of connections through displays in the store that tell who created each product and the country of origin.

Customers themselves are a mixed bunch, Marchenese says. Some shop because they support the organization’s mission and want to help contribute what they can to artisans from impoverished areas. Others just like the jewelry and soups, she says.

“There are people who say, ‘I’d rather shop here before I shop anywhere’ else, because they know they’re helping someone, but there are quite a few people who see that compared to other retail gift shops our prices are more reasonable and we have things you can’t find anywhere else,” Marchenese says.

4/1/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.

From Rochester Business Journal