The GRID: Powered by Goodwill Interview with Jeff Bise and Rivera Spears

The next time that you’re feeling like you want to pop some tags, consider checking into Goodwill’s newest contribution. Aimed at techies and nostalgic gaming enthusiasts, The Grid is chock full of old-school offerings. From games to hard-to-find cords, this store combines the wide breadth and scope of Goodwill’s donations with the indie zest of a local computer shop to make one killer spot to snag gently used or downright retro gear. We caught up with Goodwill’s Regional District Manager in North Carolina, Jeff Bise, and The Grid’s Store Manager, Rivera Spears, to learn more about this one-of-a-kind gaming haven.

Mariah Beckman: Hi! Thanks for finding some time to check in with us about The Grid! So, down to brass tacks: who do we have the pleasure of speaking with today? And what do you do at The Grid?

Jess Bise: You are speaking with Jeff Bise – Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont District Manager and Rivera Spears, Store Manager, The GRID: Powered by Goodwill.

Can you tell us the story behind The Grid?

JB: For the past seven years we had been operating an electronics store called ComputerWorks. We had an opportunity to relocate the store to a better location, near University of North Carolina-Charlotte, so that we could be a convenient resource to our community and the college. We also had a desire to move into the next generation and make the store experiential for the consumer which is an unexpected experience for a Goodwill shopper.

Why, and when, did Goodwill decide to become involved?

JB: We began our research and development process about a year ago. We made a trip to CES in Las Vegas to learn what was new on the market and get ideas for designing the store and building the concept for The GRID: Powered by Goodwill. We wanted our customers to enjoy an experience while at our store. We have gaming area and a lounge area with Wi-Fi so that customers can play and experience new and retro games in the store.

The GRID: Powered by Goodwill

We understand that you sell discounted games and consoles, retro titles, and gamer swag. What are some of the coolest things you’ve seen pass through your doors? Anything big, like a pinball table?

Rivera Spears: We once received a donated M-83 – an original NES display cabinet that allows you to select among 12 different game cartridges. We sold that for $300. We received two sealed new in box TurboGrafx – a gaming console – which was first released in 1989. We sold those for $160 each.

Are there any limits or guidelines to the items that you’ll sell? For example, is anyone dedicated to appraising items? Are some things hands-off to the public?

RS: We test each of the items before making them available for customers. We have knowledgeable staff and prices are diligently researched to make sure they are competitive. Each item is researched and priced individually. To help guide you through our process, we receive a donation and make sure it’s working; we will then wipe the hard drive clean so that its data has been erased securely. We have a partnership with Microsoft so we are able to install Windows 7 Professional and Windows 8.1 Operating Systems, as well as Microsoft Office to our computers for our customers.

Goodwill offers sales and auctions online—do some items that pass through The Grid make it to Goodwill’s online venue?

JB: There is a network of 165 Goodwill chapters in the U.S. and Canada and each operates differently. Our 22 store locations in the Southern Piedmont area of North and South Carolina do not offer auctions online. We are interested in moving The GRID to online sales in the future.

Why should people care about The Grid? What makes it different from your run-of-the-mill enthusiast spot or electronics purveyor? And how does it add value to the community?

JB: The GRID offers a wide range of Internet-ready computer systems and hard-to-find individual components – all at discounted prices that reflect a 15%-65% savings from retail mark-ups. Most importantly The GRID adds value to the Charlotte-metro community because the money raised through the sale of donated goods goes to fun Goodwill’s main mission-providing job-training and career services to help people gain job skills, earn employment and advance in their careers.

How much does The Grid give back, and how closely does it follow the Goodwill model of donations and profit? For those readers who are unfamiliar with Goodwill’s policies and how Goodwill gives back, can you summarize this process?

JB: Goodwill’s mission is changing lives through the power of work. Proceeds from the sale of donated goods at The GRID and our retail stores fund job training and employment services for individuals facing barriers to employment such as lack of skills, experience or education. When you make a purchase at Goodwill, 90 cents of every dollar goes directly to funding our mission.

Do you repair machines there? What is that process like? Pretty involved, or easier than working on today’s machines? Do you spend a lot of time online ordering parts?

RS: The main repairs we do on gaming consoles are on the original Nintendo and mostly it’s replacing the 72 pin connector (between the game cartridge and the motherboard of the machine). We do easy repairs in house and most things we order are hinges and computer screens for laptops.

The GRID: Powered by Goodwill

Education is an important tenet of Goodwill’s mission? How will that factor in to The Grid’s goals?

JB: When developing the concept for The GRID education was top of mind. We picked our location close to University of North Carolina-Charlotte to offer an affordable electronics option for college students. We also selected store offerings to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education programs. For example, we are one of the very few stores in the Charlotte area that carry the Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized single board computer designed to promote the teaching and mastery of basic computer science, especially among children. We have designed the space in the store with the goal to partner with STEM professors and educators to host ongoing learning sessions for students and families at our store.

What does this—this whole notion of a concept store—portend for Goodwill? What other concept stores are you looking into developing…or is that top secret? Do you presently have other concept stores in the works or in operation? If so, what and where might those be?

JB: We are very happy with the success of The GRID and we would like to open other stores like in the Charlotte-metro area. We have been receiving requests for The GRID in other cities throughout the U.S. and we hope to work with other Goodwills to develop and open GRID stores.

I have to ask this, because I can’t quit humming the tune: how great has that Macklemore song been for business, really? And how many times have you heard people who have darkened your doorway have come in singing that song? Do you ever want to throttle that Macklemore fella?

RS: Ha, we agree Macklemore’s song is rather catchy however we have no proof that his song has had any impact on our business.

This is nothing to brag about, but I’m kind of a Goodwill freak. My best friend and I used to go to Goodwill for fun every Thursday for Dollar Day. We were really into your sale calendar. Is there anything shocking that you can tell us about Goodwill? Something on the horizon that is going to really get me jazzed about Goodwill all over again?

JB: Goodwill has been an important pillar of each community for the past 100 years. I foresee Goodwill continuing to do a “little good” for many more decades to come with innovative stores like The GRID!

Is there a way for people to contribute to or virtually visit The Grid, for those who want to learn more but aren’t located in North Carolina?

JB: We are in the process of launching a new web site On the site we will display a virtual tour for gamers and tech enthusiasts who wish to experience and tour The GRID from their computer. We will also be selling items from the site. We anticipate this web site to be launched by December 2014 so stay tuned!

I always like to end on a fun note, and this is no exception. My question for you is: what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen someone donate (or try to donate)? Has anyone ever come to a Goodwill, to the best of your knowledge, and been able to prove that everything in that store was, say, their living room furnishings. Shock us, I beg of you.

RS: Within the NES catalogue, we have seen a Legend of Zelda test cartridge in yellow. To demonstrate the uniqueness of this, we have seen this game sell online for over $1,000. In the Super Nintendo catalogue, we received a few copies of Earth Bound. We have also received some Pokémon editions of the Nintendo 64.

It’s been great chatting with you about The Grid! Thank you again for your time!

Goodwill was founded in 1902 by a Bostonian Reverend, Edgar J. Helms. Over a hundred years later, the organization is still spreading that good will and doctrine of its founding father. Changing with the times, Goodwill has stores online (which, if you haven’t checked out yet, you can do here), an upscale boutique Goodwill (Blue), a designer, cutting edge Goodwill (Gina+Will), and now a tech-savvy and nerd-friendly Goodwill (The Grid). If you’re looking for cooler stuff that supports a better cause anywhere else–in the immortal words of Macklemore–you hella won’t.

Mariah Beckman

Mariah lives in Seattle, and is really 3 midgets inside a lady suit.

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