Aloha Aina, Malama Aina
Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua. What is that, you ask?
The Hawaiian name means nose like a pig” and it’s actually a Reef Trigger fish, the state fish of Hawaii. It’s also a great selling point for the Natural Selection gift shop in the Waikiki Aquarium.
“We love to teach our customers how to pronounce, ‘Humu Humu,'” said Indahwati Soediamto, gift shop manager. “When they can do it, (who-moo-who-moo-new-koo-new-koo-ah-poo-ah-ah) they usually want some sort of Humu Humu merchandise to take with them. In fact, some of the best selling items in the store are the Humu Humu Nuku Nuku Apua merchandise — magnets, key chains, T-shirts, pins and postcards.”
Because most of the tourists know about the Humu, and a majority of the stores in Hawaii have Humu merchandise, in The Natural Selection you’ll find Humu product with their own design, logo or name drop to make it unique. What you won’t find is real shell, real coral or fresh shark teeth, as they don’t sell them there.
“Our shop is a nonprofit organization, under the Friends of The Waikiki Aquarium, so all the merchandise that we sell has to support their mission statement,” Soediamto said. “And the mission of the Waikiki Aquarium is to inspire and promote understanding, appreciation and conservation of Pacific marine life. Because of that, we don’t sell the real shells or fresh teeth, and all our profits are given over to the cause.”
Around 320,000 visitors frequent the shop a year to find a large selection of ocean-themed merchandise reflecting the aquarium experience. Founded in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is the third oldest aquarium in the United States and is located next to a living reef on the Waikiki Shoreline. It has more than 3,000 organisms on exhibit representing more than 500 species of aquatic animals and plants, exhibits, programs and research focus on the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific.
At only 400-square feet, The Natural Selection isn’t quite as large. However, what the store lacks in size it makes up for in substance.
“Our shop carries a large selection of merchandise related to Pacific and Hawaiian marine life — everything from toys to apparel for babies, children and adults,” Soediamto said. “Since space is limited, we carry fast-moving merchandise and discontinue product that isn’t selling well. If we have two vendors who carry similar types of merchandise, we rotate which one we use.”
Because of the store’s mission, it’s important that The Natural Selection focus only on the marine life native to the area. You won’t find walrus merchandise because they don’t have walrus in Hawaiian water or in the aquarium exhibit. However, the store carries clown fish and leafy sea dragon/weedy sea dragon merchandise because they are in the exhibit, even though they’re not in Hawaiian water.
“We always try to get some distinctive merchandise guests cannot find in every corner of Waikiki or Honolulu, such as local made merchandise for tourists who are looking for something unique from Hawaii,” Soediamto said. “In order to get a unique product, I make a special order to my vendor — I give them my idea or design and then they make the finished artwork, get my approval and the item is made.”
An example is the unique Christmas ornaments designed specifically for the store. Also popular are Koa bookmarks — as Koa wood is endemic — locally made designer jewelry and pictures matted by local artists They carry a collection of products from Patrick Ching, known as “Hawaii’s Nature Artist,” and a variety of handcrafted, handmade island-inspired designs from
artist Leighton Lam.
To enrich the educational experience, the store offers a wide variety of books and educational toys for both young and old. For educational purposes, books are free of tax.
“We carry toys that contain facts and educational information right on the tag, such as ‘Hawaii Go Fish,'” Soediamto said. “Along with playing the card game, they learn about the fish and the Hawaiian name of each fish at the same time, as all the facts and information about the fish are on the card.”
The book selections are checked and approved by their Education Department before they can be sold to customers, ensuring all facts, information and spelling are correct. The collection focuses on Pacific and Hawaiian marine life such as “Hawaii Invertebrates,” “Hawaii Shore Fishes,” “Shark & Rays of Hawaii,” “Corals of Hawaii” and “Hawaiian Tide Pools.”
Aquarium members receive a 20 percent discount on all merchandise except the books and sale items, and people from the mainland or other islands are welcome to sign up as a member.
“The aquarium also runs a ‘Small Fry Program’for keiki (children) 1 to 3 years old,” Soediamto added. “They have a certain topic for every session and we try to provide coordinating merchandise or items that are related to the topics. For example, when the topic is the hermit crab, we bring hermit crab toys, books and stuffed animals for them to purchase after class.”
Riding the Retail Wave
Soediamto said that most of the vendors now offer more natural or eco-friendly merchandise made from Bamboo material and organic/recycled material and fabrics. The store carries organic and recycled fabric T-shirts, coasters made from recycled cork, tote bags and other products. European tourists seem to love the organic T-shirts, while American tourists love the recycled products.
However, with tourism in Hawaii down 20 percent this past year, most customers are looking for something small but still nice with an affordable price point.
“My advice is to offer more merchandise that is simple or small, but still unique so they have a memory about your place, with an affordable price,” Soediamto said. “We have a variety of items with the aquarium logo/name drop such as ornaments, coffee mugs, key chains, pins, magnets, hats, bag, T-shirts, etc. Beside the Humu items, fish and sea star glass magnets are very popular among our customers because the price for each
magnet is only $1.”
Regardless if they are spending $1 or $100, the staff at The Natural Selection strives to make sure the customer has a positive experience at the shop, meaning they always demonstrate a “yes” attitude and go the extra mile to make shoppers happy.
The shop has two full-time employees and 17 volunteers. Soediamto usually has two regular volunteers every day — the first shift volunteer works from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. and the second shift from 1p.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s very challenging for me since most of my staff are volunteers and all of them are ladies around 60 to 80 years old,” Soediamto said. “To add to that, some volunteers come only in wintertime or stay in Hawaii for a couple months before they go back to the mainland.
“However, I just work closely with them and educate them when they are in their shifts,” she continued. “It’s important to treat them with respect and appreciate all they do.”
And the customers that visit The Natural Selection shop appreciate the dedication to not only quality and a variety of merchandise, but also the fact that they are simultaneously supporting a great
cause. Soediamto hopes if they take anything away from the experience, it’s to “love the land, protect the land.”
“Aloha Aina, Malama Aina” “