Missionary…it’s a bit of an old fashioned word, one that is rarely used nowadays, although use of the word mission is somewhat ubiquitous in the world today. People, it seems, like to be on a mission, to live mission-driven lives, or at least purpose-filled ones, I know I do. So, what do you do when you find yourself (rather unexpectedly) without a mission in sight?
I have experienced periods of uncertainty before, no doubt I will again. This was not, however, one of those times. This was simply about me marking time. I had a period of time to fill, a season if you will, and I wanted to fill it doing something useful. To be sure, it felt a lot like ‘winging it’, (not sure if you are allowed to wing it as a missionary, everyone expects missionaries to be sharp, focused, purposed). Sometimes, however, being a missionary is simply about doing what your hand finds to do. I started looking for something to do…and surprise, surprise, it didn’t take me long to find something. One of the things I’ve discovered about God throughout the years, is that, if we truly want to ‘get stuck in’, God in His infinite love and wisdom, will find something for us to get stuck into. Enter the Nytjamarkaður (a second-hand market).
The Nytjamarkaður is a charity operated out of the Pentecostal Church in Selfoss (to which Chris and I proudly belong). Profits from the market support ABC children’s work in Burkina Faso, a registered charity that has supported hundreds of children to attend school and a range of projects supporting low-income families in Selfoss. The Nytjamarkaður needed some help, I won’t go into too many details just yet, let’s just say, the business had moved into the badlands, you know, that place where dragons be. I was told the market was disorganised and chaotic. This piqued my interest. That it would probably be too much for one person to take on. Now, I was more interested.There was talk about simply closing the whole thing down. Now I was really getting excited. That there wasn’t much money around, so I couldn’t expect to get paid very much. That was all I needed to hear…I signed up.
Prior to taking over the management of the Market in January 2013 I talked to Pastor Aron Hinriksson about the history and purpose of the market. I was deeply touched by the passion that Pastor Aron showed for the projects supported by the market and understood immediately the impact the market had on the lives of children in Burkina Faso and low income families in Selfoss. The market was not, however, achieving its full potential and there were a number of serious problems that needed to be addressed. I, by some happy coincidence, have had a lot of experience in helping organisations to change and curiously, was at a place in my life when I could work for a very small salary. Inspired, therefore, by the mission of the market, I decided to offer my skills, knowledge and expertise in change management to boost the image and income of the market. I believed this could be achieved by improving the systems and processes currently in place, and by providing the Market’s customers with a service that was so good they would ‘gossip’ about the market to their friends and neighbours.
The first step in the process of change was to introduce a quality control system. This involved closing the market down for almost three weeks in January in order to check every item currently in stock and throwing out all items that were damaged or not fit for purpose.This process of clearing out happened alongside a massive clean-up programme which went on for several weeks after the shop re-opened on the 19th January. By the end of February, every room in the Market was cleared of rubbish, thoroughly cleaned and where needed, facilities were improved. It was, for example, now possible to offer customers a pleasant changing room and separate customer toilet, something that had not been possible for some time and staff regained their coffee room which was now free from rubbish and excess stock. Stock that had been put into boxes three years earlier was sorted and either put out for sale or sent to the Red Cross for processing.
Once the Market was clean and organised, work started on the development of a book/coffee corner. This involved taking down a dividing wall and dismantling the shelving that was currently there and throwing out countless black bin bags of rubbish. The new book/coffee corner was formally opened on the 23rd March with an afternoon of coffee, cakes and face painting. All the shelving for the new book/coffee corner was purchased at Byko a local hardware and building company. Byko gave the market a generous 50% discount on all building materials for the project. Thank you Byko 😉
The children’s department was also completely refurbished, mostly with shelving from the old book corner and elsewhere in the market and organised into various age ranges. The shelving in the show room at the back of the shop was re-organised and several new clothes rails were erected. The main show room at the front of the shop was re-designed to include more shelving space and to ensure customers had clear and easy access to every item that was for sale.
For me, an important part of the change-over process would involve the market selling a range of new items. Selling new items impacts upon the market in a number of ways. Firstly, new items look nice. They are bright, shinny and attractive to look at and importantly they lift the overall standard of both the shop and the existing merchandise. They also attract a much higher price than used goods. After much discussion, the first range of new goods to be sold in the market was hand-crafted jewellery by local designer Rhiannon Mary Brown.
Rhiannon generously donated her current collection of necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Rhiannon’s jewellery has proved to be so popular with local people that she recently had to organise a jewellery-making evening to replenish the market’s dwindling supplies. Rhiannon´s jewellery can be purchased online here. Alongside offering new or unused items for sale, I also felt it was important to acquire new display stands to display items such as CDs and DVDs. A local company – A4 – was contacted with a view to purchasing two display stands. These are very expensive to purchase in Iceland but I felt they would be worth the outlay. A4 responded by generously donating two display stands to the market, absolutely free of charge. Outstanding A4! I also wanted to start selling a range of all-occasion cards. I contacted ABC Skólinn (a charitable organisation providing training on issues related to world poverty) and asked them if they could help us out with some hand-crafted cards. They responded by giving the market over 500 cards to sell. Amazing!
An important element of helping the market achieve its monetary goals during the summer months is to ensure the market is well stocked with items popular with tourists. Selfoss receives thousands of tourists every summer and they are all keen to purchase ‘a little bit of Iceland’ as they pass through. The lopapeysa (a hand knitted Icelandic wool sweater) is popular with Icelanders and tourists alike, as is local clay pottery, however both are painfully expensive when purchased new. We already had a small range of hand-crafted pottery but unfortunately we had very few lopapeysas for sale. I decided to place an advert in the local paper, and on the market’s new Facebook page, asking people to donate their old lopapeysa. We have had an encouraging response and our little collection is being added to daily.
At the rear of the Nytjamarkaður there is a 20 ft container which opens up into the shop. It was supposed to be used for storage. Unfortunately, the container was so full of rubbish it was dangerous to get in and out of. In reality, the container was just one massive rubbish bin with double doors. Over a period of months, the container was partially cleared and cleaned so that we could begin to actually use it to store ‘out of season’ merchandise. This was (and is) an ongoing challenge, as the market receives stock every week with new items arriving on a daily basis.
A recruitment programme for volunteer workers began just before Easter. The market has been successful in attracting a number of skilled and knowledgeable workers, although due to the amount of work still to do, the recruitment process will continue for the foreseeable future.
Countless other improvements are made, often on a daily basis, to ensure the Market not only looks good, but also that it offers customers a shopping experience to remember, i.e. free home-baked cakes and coffee and other goodies every week, face painting for children occasionally, a free toy or book for every young child that visits with their parents, deep discounts for regular customers and a variety of daily special offers.
Our most recent acquisitions were a lovely advertising sign for the pavement and the purchase of a new glass display cabinet to display our growing collection of rare books.
It would not have been possible for any of this to happen if it were not for the good people of Selfoss who continue to donate their ‘pre-loved’ goods and who shop at the market on a regular basis. Nor could it have happened without the staff who work/volunteer at the market, week in and week out and also those who contribute, by for example, building a much needed kitchen area, baking cakes, repairing broken goods, laying carpets, taking excess stock to the Red Cross every day, driving to the skip with broken stock and other rubbish, building shelving, painting and many other unseen jobs. I would like to say a huge thank you to each and every person who has been involved with the development of the market. You have directly contributed to it’s success.
My original goal for the market was to increase the income of the Market from its (then) current level of approximately 400,000 ISK per month. I believed that during the winter months, the market could achieve an income of approximately 750,000-800,000 ISK per month and that this could reach as much as 1,000,000 ISK during July and August each year. I believed that as the new processes and strategies were implemented, the Market would see a slow and steady increase in revenue. I believed this would take one to two years to achieved. This was not in fact what happened. What did happen was that by the end of February 2013, just six weeks after it was formally re-opened, the income of the shop had almost doubled to 715,000 ISK. This increase in income has been sustained month on month. In June, however, the income of the market looks set to almost triple. In real terms, this means that the income of the market has grown from approximately 400,000 ISK per month to over 1,000,000 ISK. in less than six months – a full year earlier than expected. Some of that extra income has had to be invested back into the market, for example, to buy new equipment and building materials in order to make the changes in the first place. In the longer term, however, the increase in income will be used to fund more charitable projects in Selfoss and abroad. In other words, the more we get, the more we plan to give away.
You might well be wondering why I’m telling you all this… The reason I felt it necessary to talk you through the changes in the market is because I feel I have achieved everything I set out to achieve, except for one final thing. The final part of the change process is the recruitment of a new manager to take the market into the future. I believe it is the job of a new manager to build upon the current strong foundation and to take the market forward.
After many discussions and much prayer, Rhiannon Mary Brown was appointed as the new manager of the market. Rhiannon will begin work on the 1st July 2013. Although I will no longer be working at the market on a day-today basis, I will retain oversight for the development of the market and will work closely with Rhiannon to ensure she has the support she needs to take the market forward. It is an exciting time for all of us who are involved with the market. Keep both us and the work of the market in your thoughts and prayers. The best is yet to come.