Brad Steffani is the new president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Mississippi. A native of Great Falls, Mt., he began work in December 2002 at Goodwill Industries in Portland, Ore. after deciding he wanted to make a career change.
“Prior to that, I worked for a chain of convenience stores,” he said. “I was good at my job but didn’t enjoy it. I left a regional manager position to take a job as an assistant store manager. It was the best move I ever made. Every day for nearly 19 years, I wake up embracing the fact that I get to go to work and I get to help people today.”
Steffani, who earned a bachelor’s in business management from the University of Phoenix, spent 11 years with Goodwill in Portland, which at the time was the largest Goodwill organization in the world. In 2014, he was invited to lead the retail team and drive the growth of Goodwill Industries – Suncoast in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“When I joined it, it was a $35 million organization annually and last year it was a $60 million annually,” he said. “We grew the retail organization by leaps and bounds.”
Steffani attended Goodwill industries Senior Leadership Program, a six-month leadership program, in 2015 and Goodwill’s Executive Development Program, an 18-month long program, in 2018.
What does Goodwill Industries do?
“Our mission is that we assist people with disabilities and other barriers to obtain employment. What that means is vocational services are at the heart of everything we do. We were founded in 1902 in Boston. What makes Goodwill unique compared to other not-for-profits is there are about 155 Goodwill entities that operate autonomously in North American and other parts of the world. That allows us to tailor our services to the communities in which we operate.
“Goodwill’s focus has always been that of a hand up and not a handout. If we can help somebody get on their right road and value lifelong learning and gain skills they need for next level, whatever, that is, we’re fulfilling our mission.”
How does Goodwill help people obtain employment?
“Goodwill of Mississippi was founded in 1957 as a part of rehabilitation services through the state of Mississippi. That’s our genesis. We have a contract with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.”
What training does Goodwill provide?
“We have digital skills training that we offer. A lot is funded through a governor’s discretionary grant. The training includes a virtual reality tool where our workforce team goes into local correctional facilities and helps people before they get out obtain the skills to do well in job interviews.
“We were one of 10 locations in the U.S. chosen to participate in virtual reality interviewing. We’re very proud. We do it with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Rankin County jail trustee program. We’ve also done it at reentry halfway houses where people are getting ready to reenter the workforce.
“In July or early August, when Goodwill International had a delegate assembly in Milwaukee, Minnesota that was also broadcast virtually, Vicki Burton, vice president of workforce development at Goodwill of Mississippi, presented a talk about the reentry program.
“Another program we have is our customer service employment service. The result is a nationally recognized credential in customer service through the National Retail Federation. We offer that to anybody who wants to participate. It provides customer service skills that can be used in any occupation, not just retail. We would love to offer it to businesses to help train their employees.
“Another program is virtual reality career exploration, a new program that is going to be available to the masses and is set to launch Nov. 1. It’s where someone puts on a virtual reality headset and goes through different jobs. For example, if you think you want to be an oil change technician, you can learn about that. What we want to do is set someone up to succeed. We believe by getting someone in the correct training program, we set them up to succeed.”
What is the goal of the employment focus of Goodwill?
“Goodwill’s focus is on helping people gain skills and knowledge that they need to succeed in the workplace. The workplace has changed a lot since 1902 when Goodwill was founded, and our methods have changed. We want to teach relevant jobs skills.”
What makes Goodwill’s retail program successful?
“We do a lot internally with our retail program. The bulk of the Mississippi Rehabilitation Services clients learn and work within our store and retail system.
“Our retail system is different from mainstream retail. A regular retailer orders goods, the goods come in boxes and then they sell them. We are the manufacturing plan. We sort through, cull, and pick out the best of best of the donations we receive, which is a manufacturing process, and put those on the floor.
“We never know what we’ll get in next at a store. I like to say instead having 100,000 of the same items, we have 100,00 individual or unique items.
“We have an obligation to turn the donations we receive into work and revenue to support our mission. We want to have the best offerings and be a value retailer for the public. Sometimes we get items of extreme value or extreme uniqueness and, for those items we utilize shopgoodwill.com, which is used by over 120 Goodwill organizations to list their items. It is second only to eBay in regard to used items on the internet. We pay a small fee to support maintenance of the site.
“Some Goodwill stores put just about anything on shopgoodwill.com. We try to focus on the more unique such as jewelry because we get a much better return. Musical instruments are huge on shopgoodwill.com. So is art.
“There was a story about six weeks ago about shopgoodwill.com and a sealed second print Zelda game that was brought into a Goodwill in Bridgeport, Connecticut and sold for $411,000.”
How many stores does Goodwill of Mississippi operate?
“We cover 59 of 82 counties in Mississippi. We don’t cover the Memphis area and the southern part of the state. We have six retail stores and one outlet store.”
Where is the outlet that Goodwill of Mississippi has?
“It is located at 864 Centre St. in Ridgeland. Most everything in the store is sold by the pound. Many people who shop the outlet as part of how they make a living. They’re either filling their own brick and mortar stores or selling online or perhaps shipping to countries outside of the United States.”
What happens to clothing that is donated but doesn’t sell at a retail store or the outlet?
“We also sell into the salvage market. We have a vertical bailer that compresses clothing that didn’t sell at a retail store or an outlet into 800-pound compartmentalized bails. We have salvage buyers from all parts of world who will buy bales and often the bails end up in third world country parts of the world.”
What do you do with items you can’t sell?
“We ask people to think before you donate. Paints, chemicals, old water heaters, things that don’t work and have value to them, add costs to our system. Some things such as appliances that don’t work, old air conditioners and anything with Freon we have to pay to dispose of.”
“If something is not wet or soiled, there’s value. Even if something is torn and stained, there’s value. Shoes have great value and so does clothing.”
How many donations does Goodwill of Mississippi receive each year?
“We get over 29 million items annually donated to us. Not all is retail worthy. Only a portion of that ends up on the retail floor. Some goes straight to salvage. Goodwill is doing our best to keep stuff out of landfills.
“I’ve got a great team here. Our six stores generate about $6 million in revenue annually to fund our programs. My goal is to help us maximize the territory and grow that to whatever levels we can.”
How will you grow Goodwill of Mississippi’s retail side?
“It’s about getting to know your team and adding components that complement each other. The key is to engrain a culture of excellence. There is no difference between Macy’s, Walmart, Dillard’s and Target customers and Goodwill customers. It’s the same people. People like to be delighted by their shopping experiences. They should be in clean, well lit, organized and friendly stores.
“Hire smart people so they can tell you what to do. Put stuff in a store where people can find it at a good value and be friendly. That’s the rocket science to this business.”
How do I find out more about Goodwill of Mississippi?
“Go to goodwillms.org. You will find our annual report and can learn more about what we do. We have a phenomenal volunteer group, GIVS (Goodwill Industries Volunteer Services) that is separate from Goodwill Industries of Mississippi but supportive.”
What do you like about your work?
“I’ve been with Goodwill organizations since 2002 and there isn’t anything else I wish to do as my life’s work. I get to be involved and a part of impacting people’s lives and helping them improve their situation.
“Just last Friday I was at a store talking to an assistant manager and the store had just hit record sales. The assistant manager said hitting the record wasn’t the highlight of his day but instead it was helping a woman with three kids whose home had burned with clothing for the children was.”