museums&MORE Fall 2011
Raise Awareness, Raise Funds

When making a purchase makes a difference

Many guests that visit zoos, aquariums and museums do so because they have an interest in their surroundings and the story behind what they’re seeing. Parents often hope that the experience will be educational on some level, and the retail store is a great place to educate visitors about the mission behind the destination – and how they can help.

Profits for Programs
In her 18 years as director of retail operations for the Vancouver Aquarium gift shop, Leslie Smith has picked up a trick or two on how to run a successful store. One thing she learned early on is that consumers respond to products that give to a cause, giving retailers the unique opportunity to not only market a product, but to market a mission.

“Our guests respond to the call to support our programs,” Smith said. “As a self-sustaining, non-profit organization, we fundraise to support all our programs. When looking for new products, I try to source items that are sustainable and that reflect some of the aquarium’s conservation programs. The retail store is part of the aquarium, which means 100 percent of our revenue goes towards our conservation, education and research programs at the Aquarium.”

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Centre rescues abandoned mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. In support of the Centre, visitors are asked if they would like to donate $2 to support the work of the Centre. Every dollar goes towards the rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of more than 100 stranded marine mammals each year.

“We have a ‘Save Our Seals’ program where harbour seal rescue and rehab is done, so we brought in a plush seal and had it tagged with the ‘Save Our Seals’ program,” Smith said. “Visitors receive a ‘Save Our Seals’ sticker as part of their donation and we’ve developed a hang-tag and poster for our plush harbour seal product. When people buy it, they learn about the program and they know they’re supporting a worthy cause.”

They also have a killer whale adoption program and plush that follows the same structure, including displays explaining that the program raises funds to support research to help protect wild killer whales. Guests can adopt a killer whale by purchasing a Killer Whale Adoption package at the retail store, protecting the whale population and their habitat.

“We find that our guests enjoy supporting a cause and like to feel good about their purchases,” Smith said. “All of our staff is knowledgeable about the conservation, education and research programs at the Aquarium and we use signage to highlight the products. It’s one more opportunity to connect our guests with our mission, which is to connect people to the natural world.”

Smith said retailers can do as much as possible by purchasing, displaying and messaging about their mission-related work.

“In the end, it is the consumer who drives the business,” Smith said. “The consumer needs to make informed choices and it’s our responsibility to ensure they know where their money goes and how they are contributing to a great cause.”

A Little “Oomf”
Zoos, aquariums, museums and national parks offer valuable educational experiences, and the hope is that children learn to appreciate animals and take away a desire to preserve habitats and engage in activities that will benefit the planet. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge, a little “oomf”- or better yet, an Oomfy.

Inspired by oomfies – orphaned wild animals – Oomfy is a company dedicated to financing the rescue, rehabilitation and eventual release of orphaned animals from the sale of stuffed animals and other products that represent the animals and their stories.

“The name comes from the sound a baby animal makes when hungry,” said Troy Klith co-founder of Oomfy. “They’ll often nudge the hand of their caretaker and call oomf, oomf, oomf.”

Klith was approached by Leonhardt de Waal after de Wall returned home from a two-week visit to a game reserve in his native South Africa. While there he met several caretakers of orphaned and abandoned animals such as rhinos, zebras and jackals and saw firsthand the work and effort given to the animals. Many caretakers were donating a significant amount of their own money to provide supplies for the orphans.

“I had worked with de Wall previously and he knew of my experience in the baby gift market,” Klith said. “We discussed the idea of creating products that represented orphaned animals, products that would have an educational value for young children and also provide a means to support animals and the efforts of their caretakers.”

And with that little nudge, Oomfy was launched in 2009.

To launch the company, Oomfy fully financed all 20 orphaned animals represented in the collection – including a White Rhinoceros – through various game reserves and animal rescue organizations such as the Bambelela Monkey Sanctuary in the Limpopo Region of South Africa.

Their first products were plush dolls (stuffed with organic cotton) with companion books that represented and told the true stories of orphaned wild animals such as Vervet monkeys, black-backed jackals and African warthogs.

“At a minimum, Oomfy now donates 10 percent of pre-tax profits or 5 percent of sales to support orphaned, abandoned or endangered animals,” Klith said. “In addition, Oomfy donates at least 10 percent of the products it makes to children in need. In 2010, Oomfy donated $25,000 worth of books to be used for literacy improvement projects to the Education Department of the Western Cape, a region of South Africa with more than 50 percent of the children living in poverty.”

To follow up the initial line, Oomfy released a new baby line of dolls/books. The 10-inch plush dolls are stuffed with recycled polyester made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and are baby safe with no button eyes, plastic pellets or beads. Each doll is accompanied by a picture book of orphaned and endangered animals intended for infants and young children.

Going forward, Oomfy will release various products that represent orphaned animals, such as a series of games for young children where the players work in cooperation to rescue, rehabilitate and eventually release an orphaned animal back into the wild; a 100 percent organic cotton line of dolls with companion board books and a line of plush bean bags for children that will come with a larger book that has stories of several animals.

“As Oomfy grows, we will expand both our retailing and philanthropic efforts,” Klith said. “Zoos, aquariums and national parks with gift shops will not only have the opportunity to be retailers of Oomfy products, but may also be beneficiaries of the donation side of our business.”

For example, Hoedspruidt Endangered Species Center (HESC) in South Africa is receiving money from every sale of the Zeta the Zebra and Heidi the Sheep products; both were animals under HESC care. In addition, HESC is receiving free product from Oomfy that HESC will auction off as part of their fund raising efforts.

“Oomfy also guarantees all of our sales,” Klith added, “so retail partners have the freedom to try the products and know that they can simply return unsold merchandise to Oomfy if it doesn’t move as quickly as they’d hoped.”

But more than anything, they hope these organic plush and companion books can continue to inspire compassion and awareness – and add a little “oomf” to all charitable efforts.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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