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A Retail Store for a Cause Spreads ‘Inspirational Joy’

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

For a nonprofit organization, ensuring a consistent stream of income is essential. That was the inspiration behind When Pigs Fly, an upscale resale and retail shop in Norwalk, OH, operated by the Piggyback Foundation. The foundation was launched to help families in the community — about 30 families per month — cope with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The store provides funds that make that mission easier to accomplish. In fact, partly thanks to the store, the foundation was able to give out more than $100,000 in 2013; almost half of that amount came from When Pigs Fly.

In May 2014, When Pigs Fly was selected as the grand prize winner of Staples’ Make Your Idea Happen contest. Piggyback Foundation director Lisa Hiler used some of the contest winnings to buy a new computer and scanner. She then used some of the funds to buy an iPad for a boy living with cancer. “We told his mom we were coming, and we had it all wrapped. He said, ‘Is that for me? I think I know what it is,’” she recalls. “Oh, my gosh; it was so cute. He got to Skype that night with his Little League team. It was awesome.”

Here, Lisa talks a bit about her organization and shares her insights on building a for-benefit enterprise.  

Your organization is called the Piggyback Foundation and your shop is called When Pigs Fly. Where did those names come from?

The Piggyback Foundation is about carrying families through times of need, and every child loves a piggyback ride. We’re doing big little things to create joy for children. As one mother said, “You’ve given my children wings.” Her son was diagnosed with cancer and had to have two bone marrow transplants. Piggyback provided the funds for her children to stay in their extracurricular activities.

As for the store...have you ever heard the expression, “That will happen when pigs fly”? Well, our little pigs are flying because Piggyback has given them wings.

What prompted you to get into retail?

When we started the shop, which we did five years into running the foundation, we were getting more and more families applying for help, and we needed to create a more consistent source of income. The shop has been very successful. The community has really gotten behind it and helped out in so many ways. A Girl Scout troop was working on a Silver Award project, and they said, “We want to help.” And so they joined in. Then a painting company asked if they could help, and they came and painted the whole shop. Two brothers built our checkout counter. So it’s been a real community effort.

How do you spread the word about When Pigs Fly?

We have done very little paid advertising, because we like to keep our expenses to a minimum. Instead, we rely on word of mouth, and Facebook has been our best marketing resource for that. It’s easy to keep current, and a large number of people check it weekly. We tell customers about our foundation, our mission and what their purchase means to our Piggyback Foundation families. We also work with our Chamber of Commerce and our Main Street district to encourage people to shop. And we do public-speaking engagements, in which we share our mission in a more personal way.

Other than sales, how do you define success?

Our inspiration is our Piggyback families. And our focus is to create joy for children when they’re faced with a devastating, life-threatening illness, or someone in their family is. So I believe we’re successful because we’ve had a positive impact on families in need and on our community. But also, we’ve been successful because we were not afraid to fail, we were not afraid to ask questions when we didn't understand, and we were not afraid to seek out advice from people wiser, more talented and more experienced than ourselves. We surround ourselves with talented people who have an excellent work ethic.

What is your secret for making more happen?

That inspirational joy. When Pigs Fly is about creating joy for Piggyback Foundation families, volunteers and customers. The more we share our joy of helping, the more people want to be a part of it. It makes them feel good and it makes our shop more successful.

Running the store takes tenacity and a passion that’s greater than our doubts. It’s a cause that drives us to keep going when we feel tired, burned out or overwhelmed. We constantly remind ourselves not to let the “what ifs” creep into our thoughts, and that there are families and people out there who need us to be successful, to help bring hope and a little joy into their lives.

Is there a quote you live by?

This is a quote that means a lot to me: "Life is good, no matter what!" Holly Ann Sneider said that. She was a Piggyback Foundation recipient who lost her battle with cancer in 2011. Holly lived graciously by this motto, through every step of her journey with cancer. We share this quote on our wall behind the checkout counter at When Pigs Fly as an inspiration to all, and to remind us that we are all on this journey of life together, and it is good no matter what we face!

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