September 24, 2020

Chasing Deals And Changing Lives With Jason Hoffer

13 Questions [Sponsored Content]
July 27, 2020

Jason Hoffer is CEO of B2 Outlets, stores with a mission like no other: they sell new merchandise at lower prices, and then also give back about half of their profits to nonprofits or families in need. And now they’re in northern Michigan, including a new Traverse City store at Cherryland Center. Jason shared some amazing stories of impacting lives.

1. First of all, congrats and welcome to Traverse City!
Thank you very much. It’s a region we’ve opened stores in the past year or two, and Traverse is one of the cities we’ve wanted to get to. I’ve spent some time there connecting to leaders and nonprofits in the community, and there’s definitely an awareness there of ‘are you a native or just someone coming to make money and leave.’ And our honest attempt is to give Traverse City nice, new products that are less expensive, and to give back and make a real difference in the community. This is Traverse City’s store, truly.

2. I was surprised to learn you’re already in Gaylord, Cadillac, Ludington, and Big Rapids.
Right. We have 22 stores now, including two in Detroit, Lansing, Chicago, Kalamazoo, and seven in West Michigan. It’s funny, people haven’t heard of us or think we’re a thrift store, but then when we open in a town, we create such a following. People really feel invested in a store that has a mission to give half its profits back to the community.

3. Yes, it’s an incredible mission. I’ll get to that in a moment. It’s interesting that as retail really suffers, you’re growing?
It’s really gratifying to have opened 22 stores while seeing some retailers dying or going bankrupt. We have probably one or two more openings and then we’ll be heading south and west for growth.

4. Tell the company’s incredible origin story.
It started with [father] Duane and [son] Matt in Hudsonville. Their mother, Karen, was a nurse, and received a cancer diagnosis. Things went downhill pretty fast, and Duane called Matt at his college in Florida and said, ‘hey, mom’s not going to make it much longer.’ So Matt graduated and moved back. They started out wanting to payoff college loans, so Duane and Matt started finding random trailer loads of overstock retail goods and selling them. Then Karen passed away, and they took some of her life insurance money and decided the best way to steward her life and passion was to give back to nonprofits as her legacy. So they started auctions of goods, and right away Hudsonville was attracted to it, so five years ago they opened their first brick and mortar store in an abandoned lumber barn — and that’s still there today. And we’ve given back more than $1 million as of the end of 2019.

5. So impressive. What drew you to the business?
I came on about a year ago. Honestly everyone here could make so much more money elsewhere, but there are some impressive folks who left corporate jobs to join and learn about a third way of doing business, a responsible way. And we really don’t own this whole thing; we’re simply trying to steward it as best we can.

6. So let’s get into the stores, because they’re amazing. I didn’t realize I’d see Patagonia or Chips Ahoy or Tide or Starbucks in your stores!
[Laughs]. Right! And everything is new, not used. We might not have the exact coat in your size or that brand or flavor you’re looking for yet, but we will have it eventually.

7. And the coffee we buy is $9 everywhere else. I saw it in your store for $4.99!
Yes. And could we sell it for $7.99 and make an extra buck or two? Probably. But we want to give great deals, move merchandise, bring in the new, and give back to people who need it.

8. Ok, but a Tommy Bahama dress $149 in other stores for $15! How common is that?
It’s very common. There’s this very trendy women’s swimsuit brand Cupshe. Trust me, they sell for a lot more in other places. We got a lot of them, so we sell them now for a great deal.

9. And how do you get all this merchandise at such great prices?
There’s a whole off-price industry, a kind of world of its own. Typically we’ll get merchandise from big box retailers, their overstock or out of season items. They need to make space for newer goods, so we get truckloads of their merchandise. Or maybe The Gap orders 1,000 pairs of jeans from overseas and then suddenly decides they only need 500. That’s where we step in. Sometimes we have to remove the brand’s tag or label as part of the contract.

10. Seems like you’d be competing with much bigger players for the best stuff
You’d think. But what’s been so incredible is that we now have such a good reputation, that some of our partners will say, ‘we’d rather sell this to you because we trust you, and we’ll give you an even better deal because of your mission.’ So that helps our supply chain, it lowers our prices for the customer, and lets us give back more money!

11. After visiting the store the first time, it made me think there’s probably a best day or time to get the best deals. Share some secrets!
It’s true, and our store leaders are always happy to tell. So [manager] Dorothy in Traverse City, for instance, will know she’s getting three pallets of general merchandise, or mens clothing, but she won’t know exactly what. But yes, for every store there is a set delivery schedule, and if people ask in the stores, they’ll tell you! We also sometimes broadcast our newest merchandise on Facebook Live, and we see people race in afterward to grab some of it.

12. OK, let’s get to the best part: You’re giving away money with every single sale?
Yes, we are. We give roughly half of our profits to local and global non-profits. Being an outlet store is good for the customer, but this aspect of our mission sets us apart. It remains the guiding principle for why we do what we do.

13. You must have some amazing stories about changing peoples’ lives.
We do. Our store managers know this is their store and their community. We tell them ‘you do what you need to do. If something matters, let’s give back to them,’ and they’re able to respond and make a difference. One family in Coldwater recently lost everything in a fire and we were able to really help them. Recently in Grand Rapids a single mother lost her house, so we were able to get her in a house for several months. In Gaylord there’s a mom who fosters several kids. We said, ‘hey, come on in. We’ll close the store and give you a shopping spree.’ So many stories like that in every community.

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