Northeast Ohio’s Just-A-Buck Stores Help Adults with Developmental Disabilities Get Active in the Workforce 

Job training

There are three Just-A-Buck stores in Northeast Ohio -- in South Euclid, Parma and Rocky River. The stores work in tandem with the county's Board of Developmental Disabilities to provide retail job training for local adults linked up with government services. Scene stopped by the South Euclid store to talk with area manager Kim Pritchard about how the dollar store chain helps place employees in dozens of retail positions throughout greater Cleveland. One of the store's employees, Ryan, joined us later to talk about his experiences on the job.

So this seems like a pretty active store.

It's very busy. It's growing every year since we've been here. Sales have increased, customer count has increased. It's definitely getting to be our busiest store. Parma is our oldest store -- it opened in 2009 -- but now South Euclid is becoming very competitive.

Could you elaborate on the partnership with the county and how this all came to be?

It started out with strategic planning in 2006. Basically SAW Inc. is the one who owns and operates the Just-A-Buck stores. They are the employer of all our employees with disabilities. The partnership is the business arm; the county's not going to own and operate a business. But they provide us with all of our employees. Everyone who works at Just-A-Buck receives some sort of services from Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Somebody who may have a disability can't necessarily walk into our store, fill out an application and receive a job here. It goes through a referral process through CCBDD.

Those specific sorts of services and needs run the gamut, then?

Right now we're running a summer program, which are students who are still attached to the schools. For some of them, this is their first work experience. It's giving them an opportunity to test the waters as they get ready to jump into adulthood once they're done with school. Others have worked maybe in cleaning or manufacturing for years, and they just want something different. Then there are some people who come here who just really want to get into retail but haven't had the opportunity to get hired because they have no experience.

How did you guys land on this sort of store for this sort of program?

Back in 2006, a lot of manufacturing had left Cleveland. The unemployment rate was really high, and it was even higher among adults with disabilities. So SAW started strategic planning to figure out what we could do ourselves to provide employment to our individuals, the folks we serve. They came up with running a store. A retail broker connected them with Just-A-Buck. They liked the fact that there was always something to do, whether you have customers or not. The more customers the better, but you always have cleaning, you always have straightening, filling in. Trucks are coming. They thought of the food industry, but there's a lot of different things you have to worry about as far as safety. So they decided on Just-A-Buck.

Is this a unique training program?

Since we opened in 2009, we've had agencies across the U.S. come visit us -- from California, Tennessee, Michigan, New York. Since then they've opened six stores -- Just-A-Buck corporate -- with agencies throughout the U.S., like ours that serve adults with disabilities. It's pretty amazing to see what we've done for adults across the U.S. That's the rewarding part. I couldn't do it; it's because of our team that comes to work every day and works hard. They have a goal -- something in mind they want to accomplish -- and we're just here to help them along the way.

You have challenges, like every store and every business has. We're a nonprofit, so our goal necessarily is not to make a profit -- even though we would like to break even. Our highest expense is our payroll, but that's because of our mission. Our missions is to train adults. If you walk into our store, we may have 15 employees working in a day. In another store, they may only have two employees: one on the register and one on the trucks.

[Ryan, an employee working the floor while Scene was at the store, joins us to talk about his job.] How long have you been working here, Ryan?

I've been working here for six months. I do stock and inventory, cash register, interact with the customers.

What are your favorite things about working here?

Stock and inventory. I love taking things down and putting things back up -- and taking things from the back and putting those up. It's really fun to me. We do a lot of work in the back -- like when we get shipments and orders, we basically check those in and work with each other to get that done.

How are your co-workers?

My co-workers are awesome; I communicate with everybody. We joke around a lot with each other. They're all really cool. It's a really great store. I suggest it to a lot of people. If they want to learn how to do certain things, come here and they'll really, really help you. They've been helping me. I want to do this and then eventually do something else -- get to a bigger store and then get my apartment and get a stable house and all that other stuff.

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