This is not your mother's Deseret Industries.
The new LDS Church-sponsored thrift store in Provo resembles any number of well-known department or variety store chains. Its mixture of new and second-hand merchandise is easy to locate with overhead signs reading "Electronics" or "Furniture.""We tried to create a store that has a very friendly atmosphere," said John Felt, general manager.
And it's not only shoppers to whom Deseret Industries wants to appeal. It's also working hard to present a new image to donors, the people who fill store shelves with low-cost items for sale. Dropping off unwanted household items was never easier.
"This is the new Deseret Industries," Felt says.
Although some of its stores have an updated look, Deseret Industries' little-known mission is the same: to provide work and job training for people who have barriers to employment whether it be physical or mental or cultural. Providing inexpensive merchandise to the public is a byproduct of its aim to put people to work.
"People don't know that is our mission, and that's what we're all about," said Sid Thomas, rehabilitation manager.
The Provo store employs more than 750 people through-out the year and as many as 310 at one time. A large share are short-term workers who learn job skills that will land them work outside Deseret Industries.
"Everything we do in our building has a training purpose to it," Felt said.
At least 10 languages, mostly Spanish, are spoken in the Provo store. Employees may take English-as-a-Second-Language courses during work as well as math, reading and computer classes. Deseret Industries also has a partnership with Utah Valley State College and the Mountainland Applied Technology Center.
LDS Employment Services, which has an office on site, provides job placement and tracking programs for Deseret Industries employees. The retention rate for people who find jobs outside the store is about 90 percent, Thomas said.
All workers, whether members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not, must be referred by LDS bishops. Deseret Industries also operates in conjunction with the LDS Church's welfare program.
"Everybody deserved dignity and having a job," Felt said. "There is nothing more that promotes self-esteem than getting a paycheck."
The 100,000-square-foot building at 1375 N. State opened its doors in June and will host an official grand opening and dedication in October. In addition to the retail floor, it houses a large intake and warehouse area, executive offices and a cafeteria. It's one of 48 stores in seven Western states. New stores also opened in Layton and Tooele.
Deseret Industries, which celebrates 60 years in business this month, has long been known as a place where discarded clothing or appliances or toys find new life, although not everything that comes in is repaired. Some items are sold as is while others wind up in the landfill.
"We are one of the best recyclers in the country. I guess you could call us the original recycler. What you can't use that is still of value, we can find a home for it," Felt said.
The bustling Provo store, which is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, has a large, covered drive-through donation drop-off area. Workers cheerfully help donors unload their boxes and bags and begin sorting them before wheeling anything inside.
An army of workers in the warehouse polish each pair of shoes and ensure every television set works before it makes its way to the store. Every piece of clothing is run through a cleansing steam tunnel. Clothes that aren't sold are eventually shipped overseas to needy countries.
Deseret Industries did not do a good job of promoting itself in the past, Felt said. It is marketing and merchandising like never before and has partnerships with popular department stores to obtain unsold or returned goods for sale. Sears, for example, provides a one-year warranty on appliances sold in the store.