It may not appear immediately obvious how a clothing store that helps Melbourne’s homeless fits in the long-term business strategy of an ASX-listed Real Estate Investment Trust.
The GPT Group’s Melbourne Central shopping centre recently saw the opening of the HoMie pop-up store whose slogan is “the street store that gives”.
Inspired by the strong community support for a one day clothing exchange for the homeless in Melbourne’s Federation Square last year, HoMie gives an item of clothing to a homeless person for every item of the same value it sells in its store.
HoMie also provides homeless “VIP” customers referred to it by welfare agencies the option to choose five items of clothing for free. This month, HoMie hosted its first “VIP shopping day” where its homeless guests were given a free haircut, free coffee and job-skills workshop.
HoMie’s launch was helped by a team of volunteers, a crowd funding campaign that raised $14,700 from 269 supporters, stock and fittings donated from several clothing brands and retailers, and discounted rent from GPT.
The launch of the store comes amid growing concerns about the growing numbers of people sleeping rough around inner Melbourne. The City of Melbourne in its last annual Street Count found the number of homeless people in or around the CBD had increased by 40 per cent to 142 over two years. Of these, more than half were aged under 40.
It is here where HoMie’s and GPT’s interests intersect. While GPT has helped the store by providing subsidised rent, HoMie while tackling the homeless problem has also helped Melbourne Central maintain its relevance and connection to the community around it.
Amid the major changes now underway in how people shop, live and work, GPT believes it is critical that it understands its customers and create spaces that people want to visit. And help the local communities surrounding its assets.
GPT since its early days has recognised the importance of having strong engagement with the communities where it operates. GPT’s founder Dick Dusseldorp in 1973 said: “Companies must start justifying their worth to society, with greater emphasis placed on environmental and social impact rather than straight economics.”
GPT’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Fookes believes this view is becoming widely accepted across the broader business community. “Today, businesses understand that the long-term financial success of a company depends on the health and prosperity of the communities they operate in,’’ Mr Fookes said.
More companies are seeing the benefits for their own business in helping address broader social and economic issues. When they coined the concept of Creating Shared Value, the Harvard University academics Michael Porter and Mark Kramer said: “Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress.”
They argued shared value was potentially the next major transformation in business thinking, defining it “as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions of the communities in which it operates”.
“Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success,” they said.
Mr Fookes said GPT’s Melbourne Central had already produced a very successful shared value partnership with STREAT, an organisation which provides hospitality training and employment opportunities to young homeless people.
In 2010, STREAT opened a coffee cart in GPT’s Melbourne Central under an original three month trial to provide training, work experience and employment to dozens of homeless young people. GPT helped STREAT develop the cart concept and provide advice on what style of offering would succeed.
“Five years on, the cart has expanded into a cafe in the centre and contributes income to STREAT to fund its programs and rental income to GPT. Most importantly, the business has helped keep dozens of young people off the streets,’’ Mr Fookes said.