At Lower Merion's border with Narberth, where Montgomery and Haverford Avenues intersect and drivers for years could fill their gas tanks at an Exxon station, a family business helping to fill another need is doing so with a novel look and approach.
GreenDrop L.L.C.'s business is collecting used clothing and household goods, but you won't find hulking metal bins anywhere in its ever-expanding footprint.
Most of its 20 collection points - now in seven states along the East Coast and the District of Columbia - are in former gas stations, sites tailored for easy entry and exit in high-traffic areas.
At each, a uniformed attendant is on duty to unload donations, provide receipts for tax-deduction purposes, and record the charity each giver wants to benefit. Currently, the choices are three: Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, National Federation of the Blind, and, on a local level, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Philadelphia.
"I really wanted to make a top-shelf option for the people in communities," said Chris Stinnett, 41, founder and CEO of the Bensalem-based company. "We try and take really ugly eyesores and turn [them] into something that looks clean and neat."
In a sense, he's carrying on a business started in Chicago by his grandfather in 1959, when William Stinnett entered into a contract with Purple Heart as a paid solicitor to raise funds for the charity through collections of donated items. The business was known as Donor Services.
William Stinnett's son Ray would join the company in 1972, moving it to the Philadelphia area. He never pushed son Chris to follow him. Raised in Bozeman, Mont., Chris had studied business and equine science in college. For a while, he was a competitive horse jumper.
By 2001, however, he could no longer resist the pull. "Those family doors open up, and it's very hard to say no," said the now-resident of New Hope.
What he found was a business he thought could do better.
"We were very unsophisticated in how we marketed and solicited for merchandise, 100 percent cold-calling people's homes," he said.
Mailers - first in print, then electronic outreach - replaced that. Then came Chris Stinnett's idea for GreenDrop, the name a nod to the heavy emphasis the company puts on recycling items it collects.
"As we got better at it and better at it, other charities asked if we could do it for them," he said.
GreenDrop launched three years ago. From its collection sites and home pickups, the company - with 500 employees, 150 trucks, seven trucking depots, and three call centers - processes 100 tons of donations a week, said Tony Peressini, of Doylestown, chief administrative officer.
That has meant close to $5 million in the last two years to the Purple Heart and Federation of the Blind, according to GreenDrop, which would not disclose its annual revenue and profits.
GreenDrop pays the charities a fixed amount that is agreed upon on an annual basis. The company then attempts to sell those items on the recycle market or at 10 2nd Avenue Value and Village Thrift stores Stinnett owns throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
"GreenDrop's growing number of locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region has allowed us to increase contributions every year that we have worked with them," said Stephen L. Ruckman, CEO of the Purple Heart, calling the company "an important partner in our mission."Valuing collections properly - in other words, not paying the charities more than the goods are worth - is challenging in a fluctuating market. It's also necessary to thrive, Stinnett said: "It's a for-profit business model."
In a "very competitive" industry, Peressini said, "everywhere there can be a bin, there is a bin."
My colleague Tricia L. Nadolny wrote last month about the abundance of such bins in Philadelphia, where many have turned into trash receptacles.
At the Philadelphia Society of St. Vincent de Paul, council president Dominick Bucciarelli is grateful to be free of bins since turning over collection duties to GreenDrop six months ago.
"People have been living in our bins, resting up in our bins," Bucciarelli said.
And that was the least of the problems. The Catholic charity was in financial peril after the March 2012 arrest of then-executive director Carey Roberts on charges of embezzling funds.
In early 2013, its seven thrift shops in the region were shut down and 100 employees let go, Bucciarelli said. A year later, charity officials reached out to GreenDrop.
"This company could do what we were trying to do and weren't very good at," he said.
So far, that has meant nearly $20,000 to the charity.
"Our goal is to try to keep doing it better than anyone else," Stinnett said.