Disappointed by a lack of souvenir shopping options after a visit to Georgia’s protected areas, Eva Maria Melchers—member of CNF’s advisory board—started working on a business plan. Two years on, the Caucasus Nature Jewels (CNJ) shop in Tbilisi is a thriving business, providing valuable and ongoing support for the work of CNF.
“It was spring 2012” Eva Maria recalls when we catch up in Tbilisi ahead of last month’s event marking five years of work in Georgia. “I used to be a member of the Board of Trustees of WWF Germany and learnt from my friend … about CNF, which has been co- founded by WWF, and its first or second trip to Georgia´s Protected Areas. I was just curious and decided to join. What a trip!”
That first visit to Georgia left a deep impression on Eva Maria: “The beauty and extreme variety of different landscapes from very rich diversified forests, to lakes and semi-dessert areas full of extraordinary historical sights … was just breathtaking.”
Eva Maria was enchanted by the natural beauty on display in Georgia’s protected areas. But with her keen sense for marketing—honed during a successful career in Germany—Eva Maria felt that an opportunity was being missed.
“I was just astonished! In almost every corner of the world you get beaten down by too many souvenir shops at all important sights. But here in Georgia, nothing! No souvenirs … no merchandise … insufficient brochures with information about the parks … nothing that shows that these beautiful Georgian parks are supported by an environmental trust fund.”
“I immediately thought by myself, that this should be changed … By providing handicrafts and souvenir items from the region you can create some income for the local people, you satisfy the tourists and give them some items to remember the beauty of the parks … You can get an educational impact through brochures, pictures and books … You know, I am a “Marketing person” I know about the importance of marketing and branding!”
Eva Maria wasted no time in exploring possible ways to increase CNF’s visibility through a marketing plan. Back in Tbilisi she went in search of traditional Georgian handicrafts, and began work on a business plan in consultation with CNF’s Executive Director, David Morrison, and another business-minded Advisory Board member, Maya Meredova.
The result was Caucasus Nature Jewels Ltd., the main branch of which was established in the historical Karvasla trade centre in the heart of Tbilisi’s Old Town. The Old City location has great footfall for foreign tourists, and another branch was established in the Radisson hotel.
The store mostly trades in unique pieces of jewelry or clothing created by artisans using traditional techniques. Some items are copies of ancient pieces of jewelry on display in the Georgian National Museum. A percentage of the profit from each sale in Caucasus Nature Jewels goes directly to CNF.
Both branches have CNF collection boxes and brochures, but the key communication work is done by the shop staff themselves, who explain to customers how every purchase contributes to preserving biodiversity in Georgia.
“We have a label on each item with CNF’s logo, website and some brief information” explains store manager Nino Tsalkalamanidze. “I show to it each customer during the sale, explain that CNF is our partner and that each purchase goes to supporting their work.”
The Caucasus Nature Jewel’s store has been a successful experiment linking Eva Maria’s twin passions for marketing and nature and it is now a thriving business with big ambitions. The ultimate goal is to work with the Agency of Protected Areas to bring the retail experience directly to visitors in the protected areas themselves—working with local suppliers to enhance the tangible benefit of eco-tourism to local economies.
“We want to concentrate more on natural items from the parks themselves. I think about beautiful seeds from plants … hand-crafted items from wood or roots, foodstuffs as dried berries, mushrooms, homemade honey, jelly, marmalade, liqueur and many others” Eva Maria says. “There are endless possibilities, as long as they are sustainable.”
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