Amazingly Bold: Arc Thrift Stores has $2.3 Billion impact on Colorado’s economy

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How Lloyd Lewis' approach to thrift stores is getting the attention of the business community.

Terms like “billion” and “impact on economy” don’t usually apply to organizations that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  But then again there is nothing ‘usual’ about Lloyd Lewis, CEO of Arc Thrift Stores.

The banner headline in the Denver Post reads “Arc Thrift Stores’ economic impact in Colorado huge – to the tune of $2.3 billion since 2005 – a DU study shows.” For the full story, click here

Thrift stores have been part of our world for decades, but Lloyd and his team have taken it to new levels and are now getting the attention of the business community. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the numbers to see why.

Arc Thrift Stores now employs over 1,800 employees across 30 stores in Colorado.  Three hundred (300) of those employees are people with disabilities. Their current average is 20 hours per week, but they structure the job for each person based on their choices with everyone earning minimum wage or better.  The current average wage is $11 an hour

The growth of Arc Thrift Stores has allowed them to increase their support of programs for people with disabilities from $2 million per year to now over $11 million to chapters of The Arc in Colorado. 

More than anything else, Lloyd believes in running a strong retail organization with modern and attractive facilities.  What sets them apart is their initiative to hire people with disabilities in every aspect of the work.

“Our people see every day what is possible.”

“I believe that our employment program is responsible for over 50% of our success,” said Lloyd.  “Our people see every day what is possible.”

Each of their stores is generating sales of $3 million per year – more than double the industry standard – and everyone who works for them sees the mission every day in the eyes of their coworkers.  “I believe our employees with disabilities enhance the morale of everyone, and when morale goes up, productivity goes up. Productivity goes up and then revenue goes up and earnings grow.”

It was this growth that attracted the interest of the business community and the study by Denver University.  And having come from the industry of municipal investment banking, completing his MBA, and working in a number of businesses, Lloyd knows the business community well.

In 2003 he decided to get involved with an organization that would also help contribute to the future of his son who has an intellectual disability.  That began his connection with Arc Thrift Stores.

He describes Arc Thrift Stores as a true social enterprise, using a retail operation to generate a profit while hiring people with disabilities in a very public way.  That profit is plowed back into advocacy and innovation for people with disabilities across Colorado. 

And for Lloyd, hiring people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do but also a very smart business decision — a lesson that he is always sharing with other businesses. 

“For a lot of people in business, if they don’t have a personal connection it is hard for them to see how easy it could be and how beneficial it could be to hire people with disabilities,” said Lloyd.

What is next for Arc Thrift Stores? Lloyd wants to increase their economic impact to over $3.5 Billion.  Their plan is to open 2 to 3 stores per year and employ more people, including people with disabilities. When asked what their greatest challenge will be Lloyd shared, “Our biggest challenge is a management challenge — how do we maintain our culture while growing so fast? We need to be able to manage from a distance while fully implementing our culture that has made us successful.”  To do that he visits every store every quarter to talk to all employees. Growth makes maintaining culture all a bit more difficult. But I believe Lloyd and his team will make it happen. Amazingly Bold.

For more information, reach out to Lloyd at [email protected]

 Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

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