Merchandise focuses on toys, comfort and child safety

January 4, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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It is no ordinary hospital gift shop that opens to the public Jan. 11 in the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

The Sallie Bender Guild Gift Shop is named for the group of volunteers who already operate the existing gift shop in Butterworth Hospital. As planning began in 2006 for the new state-of-the-art children’s hospital, the Guild volunteered to raise $1 million for the project, and it reached that goal a couple of months ago — all from revenues generated by the Butterworth gift shop, according to Guild president Randy Kimball.

“We now have 96 members,” said Kimball. “We’ve grown quite a bit in the last six months because people are so enthusiastic because of the new gift shop.”

It took the Guild more than two years to decide what types of products would be offered, and what the shop’s fixtures and display layout would look like, according to Kimball. A Minnesota consulting firm worked with the Guild on the plans for the shop, which has 1,600 square feet of retail space and will carry an inventory valued at up to $200,000. She said the consulting firm actually procured the initial stock for the store.

“Now it’s in our hands. It’s up to us to keep it going,” said Kimball.

The Family Centered Care Advisory Council within Spectrum Health also worked with the Bender Guild on selection of the merchandise, Kimball said. 

From now on, the gift shop manager, Lynn Hammer, will work with a team of Guild volunteers to evaluate merchandise options and do the purchasing.

Bender Guild volunteers contribute more than a thousand hours of work each month in the shop, tagging items, re-stocking shelves and changing the displays. Aside from the manager, the only paid employees are the cashiers.

“It’s such a labor of love,” said Kimball. “Everything we make goes back to the hospital, in both shops” run by the Bender Guild.

The Sallie Bender Guild Gift Shop is different from typical gift shops.

“It’s not just a toy shop. It’s toys and a lot of comfort things for people that are in the hospital — things to help children get through their stay and have a feeling of comfort and hope,” said Kimball.

In addition to toys and games, there will be some merchandise that one would not normally find in a gift shop but that will help parents and grandparents keep young family members safe. That includes safety devices for child-proofing cabinet doors and electrical outlets, and children’s helmets for all sports in which a head injury is possible, even sledding.

The gift shop was open for community open houses already held at the new hospital, and Kimball said the public reaction to the merchandise was very encouraging.

Yet another aspect of the new gift shop doesn’t fit the mold for hospital gift shops: Kimball said the Guild hopes it will become a shoppers’ destination in and of itself.

“We’re trying to be very competitive (in pricing), especially in the area of safety” products, said Kimball. “We are definitely not going to make a lot of money on our safety items. We just want them to be available in the hospital where people can get to them easily. So that’s an area where we probably aren’t planning on making a profit.”

Regarding the toys and gifts for kids, Kimball said, “We have very good price points on many items in the store, and then we do have some higher priced things that maybe are a little more geared to the unique shopper.”

Those “unique shoppers” might be individuals who would come to the hospital just to visit the gift shop.

“We’re hoping to be a destination children’s gift store, as well as serve our patients in the hospital,” she said.

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