How this little nonprofit did it
Feature article written by Bev Barta, LMC gift store volunteer & education docent
Loggerhead Marinelife Center is a nonprofit sea turtle hospital and ocean conservation hub in Juno Beach, Florida. The Center began as The Children’s Museum of Juno Beach in 1983. In 1990 it had evolved into the Marinelife Center of Juno Beach. In those early years, a small gift store existed. It held a glass counter for display and a closet that stored other items for sale.
A cash box was utilized for sales by the dedicated multi-tasked volunteers who also led tours and patiently answered questions about sea turtles. In 2007 the organization had grown and was renamed to Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), which features a cutting-edge sea turtle hospital and viewable recovery tanks, multiple educational exhibits and aquariums, a research laboratory, educational programs and a 1300-square foot retail area inside the center.
Today’s director of retail operations is Kate Fratalia, yet she too has changed with the times by helping spearhead the financial success of Loggerhead Marinelife Center to help support the Center’s mission. How does she and the team do it?
Starting in 2014, the gift store staff set a target to reach one million dollars by the end of the December each year, and the LMC gift store staff was delighted to reach that goal four months early in 2017.
The top reasons for the success seem to be as follows:
- Visitor increases. Over half of LMC guests are from outside Palm Beach county. The tourism agency Discover the Palm Beaches reports a record breaking number of visitors to the county, 4.2 million this past January through June 2017. The location of LMC is also easily very accessible (US 1 across the street from the Atlantic Ocean) and shares space with a county park with sufficient parking.
- Emotional Branding. Guests at LMC are quite touched by the sea turtle patients they see and usually want a souvenir to share or remind them of their positive experience. Due to this positive experience and the fact that LMC is a free-admission facility, people are more likely to enjoy shopping in the gift store. Profits go back directly into the facility, funding 40 percent of the operating expenses.
- Free Admission. The LMC business model incorporates free admission, though a $5 donation is encouraged. Upon leaving, guests may realize their visit was very affordable and want to buy items from the store.
- Local Products. Local artists with coastal-inspired products are represented – and so are higher end products. The concept of being a local gift store with unique regional items is actively cultivated in the business plan. Selling products from local artists and other local vendors is a priority for Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
- Customer service. Special orders, sizes and online (e-store) services are welcomed and handled with care, such as people interested in buying items for baby showers, bridal showers, birthdays and so much more.
- Diversity. LMC’s gift store offers something for everyone – babies, children, teens, and adults can and do find books, stationary, tattoo stickers, car decals, t–shirts, home goods, jewelry, art, beachwear and more.
Fratalia has a criminal justice degree, easily understands profit and loss statements, balance sheets and purchasing contracts. But she also has a secret weapon – her intuition. She comes from a long line of businessmen and women, and grew up helping her father, who owned a retail sporting goods store in New York.
“Growing up, my siblings and I learned the industry and how to succeed in it,” said Fratalia. “I have intuition of what will sell, because I’ve been involved in it. I know what guests want and I stay with the retail trends and the times. That’s really important.”
Kate, an LMC employee since 2000, knows what sells and what won’t sell. Unusual for a wildlife rehabilitation center, the LMC business model has a high level of “intentionality” in its mission-centric plan, which allows for Fratalia to attend three or four wholesale shows a year. In particular, the Zoo and Aquarium Buyers Group has proven most beneficial to rehabilitation centers like LMC.
Under LMC leadership, Kate bases many business decisions on gathered metrics, including the number of visitors that are counted by a foot tracker for retail analytics. Last year over 300,000 people walked into LMC and spent an average of $28 dollars in the gift store. It is predicted that the next three to five years will have a continued annual growth of 13 percent.
Wildlife and environmental centers with gift stores, volunteers and passion could do well to learn a few new ideas from Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s three decades of service.
“To successfully run a nonprofit, you have to run it like a business – because it is,” says Fratalia.