Door: Inge Abraham, Accenture Nederland

“Since 2012, Accenture has partnered with se.lab, which focuses on developing, validating and spreading knowledge about social and sustainable entrepreneurship. The goal: to increase social impact by maximizing circular store profits to expand the number of people with disabilities being employed.

The past years, we’ve seen an upsurge of circular stores in the Netherlands. The image of a somewhat dusty shop, mostly visited by the elderly with smaller budgets has been replaced by a welcoming shop, that everyone loves visiting. That’s why Accenture has partnered with Social Enterprise Lab (se.lab) since 2012. ‘Being able to have a lasting social impact simply by being sustainable is fantastic.’

‘When I started working at the Boemerang circular store in Amstelveen eight years ago, the shop actually was the dusty place people often perceive them to be,’ says Jacqueline van IJken. ‘We realized we needed to pull up our socks if we wanted to make this a profitable venture. Coming from the healthcare industry, my experience with circular stores was virtually non-existent. We consulted an external professional for advice, which was a first good step. However, we were able to take the business to the next level after we got in touch with se.lab and Accenture.’

‘From e-learning programs to masterclasses, all initiatives offered by se.lab and Accenture contributed to the development of skills and insights and, thus, results in our circular stores,’ Jacqueline explains. ‘Often, you’ll find that employees attend courses and workshops, but don’t really know what the take-home lessons are. However, that’s not the case here as the practical implementation and its outcomes are incredibly tangible – simply displaying clothes in a different corner of the shop; reducing the number of books on sale or putting up seasonal promotions can strongly influence sales figures. Both society and the climate have changed: sustainability has become top of mind and circular stores are booming. Accenture has definitely contributed to the success by offering tools and training that proved to be very practical and valuable. It’s a unique collaboration between the prestigious Zuidas and somewhat less distinguished circular stores – who would have thought? In other words: the partnership truly has an impact.’

‘Not Just a Shop Where You Buy Cheap Second-Hand Stuff’

‘Wanting to make an impact has always been my primary driving force,’ says Kristel Logghe, social entrepreneur at SE Lab. ‘We want everybody to realize the story behind today’s circular stores: a circular store isn’t just a shop where you can buy cheap second-hand goods; it’s a cool place where people can buy items that are just as good as new, while having a positive impact on the environment and people. Besides employing thousands of people who are “occupationally challenged”, it also plays a crucial role in reducing CO2 emissions. Raising awareness is on top of the list. The more people and companies know the ideology behind circular stores and the enormous social and sustainable impact they drive, the more its scope and potential will expand.’

The More Profit, the More People Can Be Employed

‘Definitely benefitting from the partnership are people who are occupationally challenged. Only very few people know that an impressive 80 percent of people working in circular stores are, in fact, people with a disability or disadvantaged in some way when it comes to finding work. Last year, circular stores nationwide employed around 15,000 employees, of which approximately 13,000 were occupationally challenged. It’s a simple equation: the more profit circular stores make, the more people can be employed. So it all boils down to a few simple questions: “How can circular stores generate more profit? How can this be achieved, both at the strategic level of all shops combined and on a shop-by-shop level? What practical advice and training can you provide to advance the ongoing professionalization of the industry even further?”’

Accenture Strategy Consultant David Kamphuis has been involved in the partnership since 2013. ‘Accenture has a lot of experience in the retail industry, which is very relevant for circular stores. Also, Accenture loves tangible results: by setting benchmarks and regular assessments, the impact of actions is measurable. Especially in the circular store industry, where there is so much to be gained. We take on partnerships with initiatives that can truly make a measurable difference in the world. That measurability of a project is valuable for many reasons, but mostly because facts and figures can tell us exactly how we can up our game and become even more successful.’

Growth All Around (to 100 Percent or Even More)

While the partnership was initially established in 2012, it really took off in 2013, and from then onwards it grew exponentially. Since 2013, numerous professional events, social gatherings, presentations and training sessions have been organized. So far, around 70 circular stores have participated in the practical retail management course.  Participating shops have recorded an average of 2-5 percent increase in profit, and for some particular compartments, like clothes, profits have even risen over 100 percent. This is particularly interesting considering that some chains consist of just one circular store, while others comprise thirty or more.’

‘I was given the chance to work in a circular store for a few days,’ David smiles. ‘Besides the fact that I had a great time – deep down, we all love “playing shop” – it also revealed the complex challenges circular stores face. While “normal” shops just order what they think will satisfy their customers, and increase orders if it sells well, circular stores have to make do with what’s offered to them. And then, of course, have to turn a profit as well. Moreover, working with people with disabilities requires quite a different skill set. All in all, circular stores must always keep a close eye on their social goals as well as ensure they’re financially viable, too. Within the given framework, that’s often not the easiest job.’

Retail Management Course and a Personal Buddy

So, what exactly do Accenture and SE Lab contribute to the cause? ‘A variety of things,’ Kristel explains. ‘One of the first initiatives we launched was the so-called Retail Management Course for shop managers. Over a 22-week period, managers attend various masterclasses on how to optimize for instance presentation, pricing, and styling in the shop, followed by concrete suggestions for improvement. Accenture is well-positioned to lead these courses as they have plenty of relevant expertise in the retail sector, and a fact-driven approach of measuring and comparing key KPIs. Moreover, every manager is assigned a “buddy”, someone who has earned their stripes in the retail industry, to offer them personal advice and assistance.’

Programma Opstuwen Kringloopbedrijven – resultaten en nieuwe ronde from se.lab on Vimeo.

Jacqueline participated in the Retail Management Course in 2016. ‘The masterclasses proved to be especially valuable and being coached by a personal buddy was definitely the “cherry on top”. My buddy – a former CEO with a huge track record in some of the biggest Dutch retailers – taught me to look at the stores with a critical eye. “Why do you choose to display this the way you do? Have you ever thought about doing it differently? What do your sales figures tell you?” Our meetings were very inspiring and, to say the least, fruitful: just the sales figure of our clothing increased by one-third, for instance. Last year, we increased our profit significantly, allowing us to employ seven extra employees.’

Kristel: ‘Perhaps the most valuable element of the masterclasses is the mutual exchange of information and experiences. Since they’re always held at one of the participating stores, managers get a chance to take a page out of someone else’s playbook – which they otherwise rarely have the time for. Simply seeing what other stores do – and don’t – can be a fountain of inspiration. To date, we have completed six of these retail management courses – training eight managers each time. The result? Almost 50 fully trained managers that have access to a wealth of practical advice, experience, and good practices. It’s a bottom-up approach to ensure the circular industry utilizes all its potential.’

From Bicycle Workshops to Textile Studios and Hospitality Training

‘Good practices aren’t called good practices for no reason. For all of the circular stores, we’ve inventoried around 60 of good practices, including hospitality elements, like coffee shops and cafes, cycle workshops, textile studios that offer upcycled furniture and webshop launches. During so-called “Good Practices Mornings”, we gather as many people from circular stores as possible and make an inventory of what is needed: what type of training is needed and which buddy will be assigned to whom? We plan to implement five to ten new good practices at different shops before September 2018, and double that number in the following year,’ Kristel explains.

David: ‘Pinpointing the industry’s main obstacles and opportunities was the core goal of a strategic study we presented in 2014. Based on research from four different chains of circular stores, this “Kringloop 2020” strategy report offered insights on the main challenges of the initiative followed by numerous suggestions for improvement. More than anything, the report confirmed that for circular stores to stay afloat, drastic changes were needed by all – 70 different companies together. The report, co-created with key circular stores, has set a new course for the circular stores, contributing to the popularity today. Not long after that, an industry-wide quality label was institutionalized, raising the bar in professionalizing the stores. The Dutch organization BKN (Branchevereniging Kringloopbedrijven Nederland) in combination with all connected circular stores in the Netherlands, put a strong focus on further professionalizing shops, internal and external processes and branding. A new sub-brand will be launching this year: “100% Kringloop” for all stores,’ David concludes.

The Best Job – and Shop – in the World

‘This is, without a doubt, the best job I ever had,’ Jacqueline says with a smile. ‘I feel very close to occupationally challenged people, while at the same time, there’s a commercial challenge awaiting me every day. Opening our third store in Amstelveen is on the cards. Currently, we have nearly ninety people working in our two stores, and I love the combination of having a commercial goal in mind, while also being socially aware. Having a lasting impact simply by being sustainable is fantastic. These two should always go hand in hand – period.’