LTS Podcast Ep. 5 - Overcoming Cancer - A Conversation

Posted Jul 24th 2023

Episode 5: Overcoming Cancer - A Conversation with

 Retailer Rayanna Messenger

Jonathan Jones: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. This is Jonathan Jones with DEMDACO. I'm here with my co-host, Aaron Heim. Welcome to the Lift the Spirit podcast. We're excited. Today, we have as a guest, Rayanna Messenger. Rayanna is from Baton Rouge. She's calling in. She's the owner of Messenger's Gifts, a gift shop there in Baton Rouge, and she's one of DEMDACO's retailers. And she has a special story that we're gonna talk about. We're going to find out more about her, about her store, how she got started, and what she's doing in the community.

So welcome, Rayanna.

Aaron Heim: Welcome. Welcome.

Rayanna Messenger: Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Jones: You're welcome. I've been looking forward to this. So tell us a little bit about yourself where you're from and how you decided to start a gift store. Or buy a gift store. I don't, I'm not, I don't know the full story.

Rayanna Messenger: Get into the crazy retail business.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah.

Rayanna Messenger: Well my name is Rayanna Messenger and I opened Messenger's Gifts in 2019. It is a small, [00:01:00] quaint gift shop. We offer a variety of different gifts for all. To children, women, men home decor, and just your everyday gift giving.

So I had mentioned that I had opened my store in 2019. Well, 2020 came around.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah.

Rayanna Messenger: And that's when the Covid 19 virus came out. And I had just celebrated my second year anniversary on March 1st.

Jonathan Jones: Wow.

Rayanna Messenger: And I'll never forget, it was two weeks later when the country was pretty much like, look, we recommend that you quarantine, you shut your doors.

And so I had to go to plan B, like, what am I gonna do with my business? And I'd already had a website, but the website was there for convenience.

Aaron Heim: Right.

Rayanna Messenger: If I, if I'm being completely honest. Yeah. Like my store was basically it, it was hands-on. Like I wanted to interact with my customers. Right. [00:02:00] So so yeah, we, we went through Covid 19, a couple months later I got diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 and my whole world turned upside down.

Jonathan Jones: Wow.

Aaron Heim: Wow.

Rayanna Messenger: It was like, what do I do next? Yeah. But I opened my gift store. I was having some issues having children at the time. I was trying to fill, I guess a void or figure out exactly what it is I wanted to do with my life. And so that's why I opened Messenger's Gifts. I'll never forget, I went to my mom and I was like, I wanna open a gift store.

And she was like, what?

Aaron Heim: Yeah.

Rayanna Messenger: She was like, I don't know. And so she bought me the Business Boutique. It's a book. It's a Dave Ramsey book. Christie Wright actually wrote it. And they have activities in there and questions, and it all boiled down to me owning a gift store. Yeah. Like, it, it wasn't like, Hey, what kind of store do you need to own?

One day? It just ended up being, Hey, you love to decorate. You love to move things, you love to create things you love [00:03:00] you, you're just creative. You, you should probably own a gift retail store. , and so that's how Messengers came about.

Jonathan Jones: That's amazing. I, I've got a couple questions about that.

So going back to March 1st, 2020, you were two years old, right?

Rayanna Messenger: Yes.

Jonathan Jones: You were two years old. At the time.

And did you have any staff? Any employees, or was it just you?

Rayanna Messenger: I did not. So my mom retired from dentistry and was basically just helping me out. She wasn't even on the payroll, so it was me and my mom at the time. None of us was taking a draft of money. We were just trying to see where this business would go.

And like I said, we had the website, we had the brick and mortar. And I'll never forget like two months. Okay. So I celebrated my two year anniversary two weeks later is when we had to like basically tell our customers, Hey, you can't come in. Like, I literally had to stay at the door and be like, sorry, we can't let you in.

But I directed my business to Facebook [00:04:00] Lives. I did FaceTime appointments with my customers, and then I came up with a marketing. Promotion where we, it was I would put a gift together and I would deliver it. We called it porch presents because everyone wanted a gift at their home or they needed a happy during this time.

So I was like, well, I don't have to interact with anybody. I can just be a delivery guy. Note to self, I never ever, ever wanna do this ever again in my life.

Jonathan Jones: That's where my questions are leading. Cause I remember when we were here, you know, at DEMDACO, at the corporate office and at our distribution center and things came to a standstill here and so, We're wondering how, what are our retailers gonna do?

How are they gonna figure this out? Because the retailers are downstream from us and we needed to see what they were gonna do. So you started delivering were you doing [00:05:00] anything much with social media then? I know you do a lot with Facebook and Facebook Live, and is that how you were communicating with your customers?

Rayanna Messenger: Yeah, so I had to, I had to direct my business into a whole different new business plan because nobody could come into my brick and mortar store. So I did a, I was really heavy on social media, Facebook Lives Instagram.

We were a gift shop and people still wanted to celebrate one another.

Jonathan Jones: Right. So, right.

Rayanna Messenger: It was more of a blessing and disguise for my business. It really took my business to the next level. And then when we, we implemented the, the Porch Present campaign, that was just like I. Insane. I remember at one point I was like, I don't know if I can do all these deliveries.

Jonathan Jones: Right, right.

Well, in, in episode three, which as of today and today is May 17th. Is that right? May 17th.

Aaron Heim: It's, it's May. It's, it's May. It's May.

Jonathan Jones: Episode three has not aired yet, but in episode three we talk about gifts that help [00:06:00] shape our mission, and we talk about during covid and quarantine, we began to realize, That people were wanting to connect and they began to find our products.

And so to hear you say that, that's what was happening in your store where people were wanting to give gifts, they were wanting to connect, just shows that people are looking for ways to find meaning in their lives and ways to find meaning and create meaning with those that they love.

Rayanna Messenger: I think people were also trying to find ways to communicate because the communication barrier literally shut down once you couldn't go to work anymore.

Jonathan Jones: Right.

Rayanna Messenger: Or you couldn't go out to dinner to a restaurant for a birthday.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah.

Rayanna Messenger: And so it was a way that my customers could connect with one another, but obviously not be in touch.

Aaron Heim: How long did the Porch Presents process go on?

How long did you do deliveries for? Was it all throughout Covid? Is, are you still doing that? Are you hiring delivery companies or? [00:07:00] Take, take us through the, when you started.

Rayanna Messenger: No, but that's a great idea. I should have hired a company. So like, like I had stated earlier, unfortunately a couple months after all of this went down with Covid 19. I had gotten diagnosed with breast cancer and so it obviously had shut down at that point, but, so I had a good two and a half month run with the Porch Present Campaign.

Jonathan Jones: So tell us a little bit about your store.

Rayanna Messenger: So my store is 750 square feet.

Jonathan Jones: Wow.

Rayanna Messenger: You wouldn't believe it by looking at our website for number one, but it's got pretty much anything you can imagine in it from jewelry to a men's section, to a children's section to candles to. Any type of gift that you can think of. Fun earrings. We've got a little bit of apparel in there as well.

So it's a gift store for all. We cover pretty much everyone in my gift store, but we're small and quaint and we love it that way because we get to really [00:08:00] connect with our customers that come in that's on a daily basis.

Jonathan Jones: That's great.

Aaron Heim: What what part of Baton Rouge are you guys in?

Rayanna Messenger: We're on the outskirts of Baton Rouge.

So if you're familiar with the Baton Rouge area, we are around the George O'Neill, Millerville exits off the interstate and we're on a street called Jones Creek.

Jonathan Jones: Great. So Aaron's from Wisconsin. I think what you should have said is what part of Baton Rouge are y'all in? Not you guys. I got the, you know what?

Rayanna Messenger: Oh yeah. You gotta throw the y'all in there.

Aaron Heim: And I'll throw a I haven't lived in Wisconsin for a long time, but I'll throw a Oh yeah. Eh?, I'll throw some Wisconsin accent into it too. For sure. We can, we can riff off each other a little bit here. So yeah,

Rayanna Messenger: it's bad. I'll like text the email and it's like, y'all, and I'm like, wait, is that grammatically correct?

Yeah. Oh, screw it. That's, that's how I talk.

Jonathan Jones: So what is it about a gift store? That connects with you or you think connect with people because you, I'm assuming you have regulars, but I'm also assuming you have people who see the [00:09:00] store and out of curiosity come in. What do you think it is about gift stores that draw people?

Rayanna Messenger: I think the number one thing about our gift store that sets us apart from others is the hospitality. The second you walk through the door, you're gonna get a welcome. I've trained all of my staff, which I now have 11 employees.

Jonathan Jones: 11?

Rayanna Messenger: I know.

Jonathan Jones: Wow.

Aaron Heim: They all work at the same time in 750, 50 square feet. So

Rayanna Messenger: in 750 square feet.

We also have a warehouse too, and I house about, I think two, two to three employees there a day.

Aaron Heim: Wow.

Rayanna Messenger: But it's definitely the hospitality. I train all of my employees to as soon as that door dings. Hi. Welcome in. Can we help you or, hi, welcome in just a simple hello. We are aware that you're, you've walked into the store and you're in our space now.

I think it goes a really, really long way.

Jonathan Jones: That's, that's great. As we kind of go in further into these questions, I, I know that you have a deep commitment [00:10:00] to your community and that's where I want to head. So tell us a little bit about your commitment to the community. You I'm assuming you feel a responsibility to the community, and what does that look like and how did that get started?

Rayanna Messenger: Yeah. So let's see. Let's go back to the timeline. Got diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. I'll never forget that day I left the doctor's office. I went to my gift store and I just looked at my mom and she was like, what? And I was like, I have breast cancer. And she was like, what? Like, it doesn't run in our family or anything.

It was just out of the blue. And I remember looking down and when I looked down, I had just gotten a shipment of bears and I was like, I, I need that. So I grabbed the bear and I'm just hugging the bears. I'm talking to my mom and like now we're both in tears trying to console each other. And I said, you know what?

I think he's gonna be my chemo buddy, because at the [00:11:00] time, oh wow, nobody could go with you to your appointments. I knew that I had these four hour chemotherapy visits ahead of me, and it was a scary time. It was a very unknown time for me, and I just, I, I needed something to comfort me. So I had this bear, I actually named him Scooter.

Funny story, you know, when you have to get up and go to the restroom and all this stuff during chemo, you've got. A whole IV pole with you. Oh. And you're literally scooting to the bathroom. And so we all laughed. Me and the ladies that usually have chemotherapy together, we were trying to name the bear for like three weeks.

And finally one of 'em was like, you need to name him Scooter. So I named him Scooter. But just having that bear was so comforting and knowing that like some, something was with me and wasn't gonna let me down it was gonna sit there and fight with me. And so about, I guess it was about my fourth or fifth chemo treatment, I was like, you know what?

There have been so many people in the community, [00:12:00] whether it be my friends, my families, nurses, doctors, strangers. Yeah. That have been so heartwarming to me and supportive, and I didn't ask for it. And I'll never forget one of my friends who went through this journey, she told me, she said, embrace, The get, like the, the kindness, right.

Just embrace it. If someone wants to give you $20, let them give you $20, because that's their way of showing that they care and that's, that's their way of giving. Yeah. So just let them give. And so finally my independent self was like, well, I'm just gonna let people give if they wanna give. Yeah. You know, And so as I was looking at this bear during one of my chemotherapy treatments, I was like, what can I do to give back?

As I was thinking about how I wanted to give back in the community, I realized that there was a need for this right in our backyard. Like Baton Rouge is [00:13:00] big, but it's so small and, you know, as a brand new business owner usually in business you wanna pick a foundation or someone to support and, you know, give back and.

I was just, I was going back and forth, back and forth, and obviously I would be a huge breast cancer awareness supporter and you know, advocate. But I, I wanted to give back in the community. And so as I was looking at this bear, I was just like, you know, I could give back to Woman's, everyone loves a bear.

I'm 30 years old and I have a bear at chemotherapy with me.

Jonathan Jones: So , is Woman's the hospital there?

Rayanna Messenger: It's Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge. Okay. Louisiana. And then I expanded it to Our Lady of, the Lake Children's Hospital as well. So we now donate to two different hospitals in Wow. Yeah. Our community and, you know, My customers, they want to give, but they wanna see [00:14:00] where their money goes.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan Jones: That makes perfect sense. And

Rayanna Messenger: like a lot of people don't give because they just think it's going to a charity and they have no idea where their money's going. And it's unfortunate that they think that way. But with our Giving Bear donation, you're giving a bear, you're, you're joining me along the way.

You're seeing the bears get delivered to these hospitals, to these medical staff, to the NICU unit, like you're seeing it so and

Jonathan Jones: so, can you explain some of the details of what you've done with the Giving Bear? And so I, I've been able to participate in with this, but just kind of walk people through what happens when someone comes into your store.

Aaron Heim: Yeah. And I haven't heard this before, so pretend I'm, I just walked into your store and Yeah. And you're telling me what, what you do with the Giving Bears.

Rayanna Messenger: Two years ago we started the Giving Bear campaign. Actually, I was in Atlanta at the DEMDACO [00:15:00] showroom, and I did a Facebook Live from there. It was just one of those things.

I was like, let's see where it goes. You know? I showcased the bear, I talked about the bear, and I told my customers and followers exactly where the bears were gonna be donated, which is Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And so the bear is $35.

You purchase the bear. We kind of have like an internal goal of how many bears we want to sell to be able to donate, but however many we do it for. I think, let's see, July, August. It ends September 1st. Okay. So we do it for two months. We do the Giving Bear campaign. You can purchase it on our website or in store.

And for every bear, if we, so for instance, if I have a goal for the store for 50 Bears to sell that year, if we reach, reach that goal, then. I personally Rayanna Messenger [00:16:00] personally donates 50 more bears. Right? And then on top of that DEMDACO matches that it's it's so, it has just been an amazing experience.

And look, my customers love a good competition. They also love a great give back. And this Teddy, this Giving Bear campaign has just been amazing. And they love seeing like the bears being delivered. That's like a huge part of it.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah, I, I know when you first did this, and I have the privilege of being involved in these emails and, and. So two years ago it was just email and I'm like, what now? What is this retailer doing? And, and no, it

Rayanna Messenger: Who is this?

Jonathan Jones: Well, well, what was great about it is it was such a unique thing that you did, and, and DEMDACO has a commitment to the community and through financial donations, but because we have amazing product, we've talked about this, I think in every podcast episode.

Right. We're able to donate product and this was such a novel, unique [00:17:00] idea.

. And, and I got to meet you this past January at the Dallas Market. Yes. And Demi, one of our owners was there, and Amy Abbott, who's your territory manager, and Amy's great, and we got to get a picture, but just to meet you in person and put a face with this amazing thing that you're doing in the community.

And, you know, Demi looked at both of us and was like, well, how many are we gonna do this year? And so

Rayanna Messenger: I love it.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah. We're, we're on it.

So you kind of talked about how you got connected to the hospital. What responsibility do you believe businesses have to the communities they serve?

Rayanna Messenger: I mean, I think it's a business owner's choice if they want to give or, I don't know. I've just seen it personally where, you know, people have given to me and the impact that it's made on me and so it's made me want to give and be a better person and be a better business. Yeah. Person in the community and, you know, there's no, no other better community to give back than Baton Rouge.

Jonathan Jones: It obviously is a [00:18:00] choice for business owners and, and it can be a tricky thing because you have businesses that have ulterior motives and they're involved in the community to see what they'll get.

And I think people can see through that. Most of the time,

Rayanna Messenger: This is a, what you see is what you get. Like you're donating this teddy bear and you're gonna watch it get delivered, you know, and you're gonna know where your money, where your $35 teddy bear went, right?

Jonathan Jones: Yeah. And, and, and I think you in a genuine way, probably see people that feel a connection to your business.

Beyond that, it's just a place to go buy amazing gifts because they do see your commitment to the community, right? And so and so, that's why I think businesses that understand that human connection at that level, it doesn't guarantee that their business is gonna increase, but I think it does build their name and their brand and the community in a healthy way.

Rayanna Messenger: [00:19:00] Absolutely. Yeah.


Aaron Heim: And I think you hit on something there with the, they, they know where their money's going and they, they actually get to see it because I think that is a, you're, you're, you're almost taking the work out of it for 'em a little bit. Mm-hmm. Like there's a, I don't wanna say convenience is the wrong word, but it's a.

I know this is going to make a difference in somebody's lives, and all I have to do is make a transaction here. And, oh my gosh, I want to do this every year now. It, it kind of builds a little bit of goodwill in their heart, I guess, if you will, for that, that's a really nice twist is the wrong word, but a nice way to approach it that I thought was really special.

I hadn't, I haven't heard that a whole lot about, you know, we're, we're going to take these to a place, you know, A place that's probably impacted your life and do you want to be a part of that? So it's a pretty beautiful thing.

Jonathan Jones: I, I'm sure the children's hospital similar here in Kansas City we have Children's Mercy Hospital, right?

And I've done this in meetings here at DEMDACO and other places. Ask for a show of [00:20:00]hands who all has had a child at Children's Mercy , or you have a close relationship with a child who's been to Children's Mercy and almost every hand goes up. Right. And, and so it's just, and, and I imagine in, in the Woman's Hospital now, is it specifically for women?

Rayanna Messenger: So at Woman's Hospital, the Bears are actually delivered to the NICU unit. Okay. And in December of last year they had a, around 98 NICU babies. Wow. In the month of December alone. Wow. So I, I was just, I was baffled by that number. I, I couldn't believe that we have this many tiny Yeah. And I hate to say sick babies, but they are in the nicu, you know?

Yeah. It was very eye-opening. Yeah. And Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital, they actually used the bears for transport animals. Mm-hmm. So any child that is being transported by a helicopter or ambulance gets a [00:21:00] giving bear. And they, whether they're, you know, newborn or 10 years old or Yeah, however old, I think it goes up to 18, I'm not sure.

But they're, they're using it for their transport gift giving.

Jonathan Jones: That's so great.

Rayanna Messenger: So every child that gets transported, Gets a giving bear so that way they can, you know, feel the comfort and joy through the message that the bear brings.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah, it's, it's always great for us cuz so much thought goes into product design and we talk about our meaningful moments that we want to be there in those moments of comfort, love, and joy.

And it's always amazing and just gratifying to hear stories where that's happening in, in incredible ways. Are there. Any stories and, and, and, and, and I get, you know, there are privacy issues, but there, are there any particular stories that you might be able to tell of how your store has touched those kids and, and families, the community?

Rayanna Messenger: Absolutely.[00:22:00] So this past year is when I really saw it. A Woman's Hospital did an article on the Giving Bears for What is, what is it called? Giving Day? I think it's like the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, yeah. Mm-hmm. Yes. And so they hosted me as the Delivery Day for Giving Day, and they did an article on me.

About the giving bears and they posted pictures Oh wow. Of Santa. Yeah. Delivering these bears to these NICU babies. And it was, I like just bursted into tears cuz I was like, oh my gosh. And then I started reading the comments. Oh. And I was like, oh, I didn't prepare myself for this. Some of the comments the families were like, You know, we have three kids and this is our fourth child.

And it was really such an honor and gave so much comfort when we received the bear because we were able to send the bear home with our older kids. So great to let them know, look, [00:23:00]everything's gonna be okay. Baby's gonna be coming home soon, but in the meantime, protect his bear. You know?

Jonathan Jones: Oh, that's so great.

Rayanna Messenger: It was just really, really heartwarming to see some of the stories and. Some of 'em were like, you know, thank you messengers gifts. Mm-hmm. For, you know, giving us something that we can hold onto during this difficult time. We, we don't know how to repay your, you know, givingness Yeah. And your kindness.

Yeah. And it, it was really, really cool to read and see.

Jonathan Jones: That's so great. DEMDACO's mission is to lift the spirit, and, and we want to do that in all areas and it's just great. When we're able to witness our retail partners, help us fulfill our mission. Right. You know, so, so not only the joy that you feel hearing those stories of those older siblings going home with a bear, knowing this new baby is coming home pretty soon, but for us, It's like, oh man, that, that bear's doing exactly what we hoped it would.

Rayanna Messenger: Exactly what [00:24:00] we wanted it to do.

Yeah. Comfort and spread kindness for sure.

Aaron Heim: Yeah. But even the story about they're on the helicopter being transported, things like that, that you can't, you know, when you're coming up with product ideas, you're like, we need a bear that will go on helicopters with patient.

You know, there's things that come out of it Yeah. That you just don't ever see coming that are very, very special. And just kind of hit you right in the heart. So

that's, that's

Rayanna Messenger: it was really cool. So Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital that uses the Bears for transportation purposes. We actually got to tour the facility because the hospital's not that, that old, it's.

I'd be lying if I said it was five, but it's really not that. Yeah, it was just built. And so Amy and I, we got to tour the hospital and they brought us back to the transport room and everything where they keep all their gear and they have like the suits and everything and the helmets and everything.

And inside of one of the incubators was a giving bear. And I was just like, wow. Oh my [00:25:00]God. We took pictures of it. It was. Yes. It was crazy. Yes, it was so awesome. Yeah. But just, just having. I don't know. It, it's kind of like, and the two, my two employees that came with me alongside Amy, who's my territory rep for DEMDACO.

Mm-hmm. They both have had, you know, kids or grandkids that have been at Our Lady of the Lake Children's. Right. So it was very, like, they, they hugged me and cried and I was just like, oh my gosh. Like, yeah, this, this turned out to be like exactly what I wanted it to be, not about me. Yeah. But about, you know, giving to others and.

Them having that moment with, you know, some of the personnel at the hospital was just very touching to them.

Jonathan Jones: That's so great. That's so great.

Rayanna Messenger: So the bear brought us all together.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah, no, that's, that's, that's awesome to hear.

So let, let's go to that last question, which is about the plans for this year's Giving Bear Drive and, and then we'll kind of wind up, cuz usually when, [00:26:00] when we do there, it's kinda like when we stop talking about the questions, usually we get some good conversation out of it. So, yeah. So Rayanna, what are the plans for this year's Giving Bear Drive? When is it gonna kick off? How are you gonna do it?

And what are your hopes? Do you have a, a number in your head of what you want to raise in your store?

Rayanna Messenger: Sort of, kind of. Okay. This year's plan for the Giving Bear campaign. Like I stated earlier, I'm not sure if I'm gonna be in Atlanta this year, so we may have to bump it up, but I can always pre-record it and then just, you know, we can kick it off in July like we normally do.

But it normally is kicked off in July. That's when we start the campaign and we run it for a couple of months. You can purchase the bear through our website. Or in store. They're $35. Our goal last year was a hundred bears. And we obviously surpassed that

Jonathan Jones: by a [00:27:00] lot. What, what, what is your website?

And this may or may not make the podcast, but it's possible that someone from another part of the country or world could buy a bear. So what?

Rayanna Messenger: And so our website is is where you can find the giving bear, and it won't launch until, like I said, July.

But we may surprise everyone and give. Everyone a couple of extra weeks if we kick it off in June at Dallas Market.

Jonathan Jones: That's great. So here, so this will be the third year. Here's a question. Are your employees now trying to get in to be one of the ones to go to the hospital to deliver the bears?

Rayanna Messenger: Oh yeah.

They all wanna go. They all wanna go. And you know, the great thing is, is we have two delivery hospitals so I can kind of if it works out with their schedule, I can, you know, make it to where we, we all share and like, you can go to this hospital, you can come to this delivery job. So, but yeah, they, they have all been such a huge part of the Giving Bear campaign and it, it brings me such joy to see that my employees are just [00:28:00] as excited about it as I am.

Jonathan Jones: That's so great. I mean, no one. Well, maybe not. No one. The vast majority of people are not at a hospital because they want to be

Rayanna Messenger: Exactly.

Jonathan Jones: Especially children. And so I think,

Rayanna Messenger: well, we have, I mean, this year, So for the past couple years, I've told both hospitals and they can quote me on this. I've told both of the hospitals, I said, one day you mark my word, I'm coming in here with a U-Haul and I'm gonna raise that door and there's just gonna be bears falling out.

And they're like, we're ready for you. We're ready for you. But I tell them that every year, and look, this is only, this will be our third year doing the Giving Bear campaign, so I'm not trying to get too crazy. But it's gonna happen one day. Yeah. That's a huge goal of mine.

Jonathan Jones: That's great.

Aaron Heim: We need to, we need to create a Giving Bear U-Haul truck.

Jonathan Jones: Oh yeah. There we go.

Aaron Heim: A giving bear on the side.

Rayanna Messenger: That would be amazing.

Aaron Heim: And if you hit a certain number, Jonathan, and I'll make a road trip down. Yeah. Yes, yes.

Rayanna Messenger: I'd love this. Oh my [00:29:00] gosh, I'd love this so much. We are gonna be working on some marketing stuff too, so to make it easy to be able to order a bear for donation, we're gonna be doing a QR code to where you can just scan with your phone.

Brings you directly to our website, you can order the bear and it says like in the description, you won't receive the bear, but the bear is a donation and to follow us along in the month of December for the delivery drops.

Jonathan Jones: That's that's great.

Aaron Heim: , I think you almost answered it, about what number you have in mind for this year. So I'd love for you to talk about.

What's your, what's your, if you're willing to share it, what your goal number is? I, I think I heard you say it. I think I heard you say it.

Rayanna Messenger: I, I haven't even thought about this yet. Okay. But last year, our goal, so my first year it was 50 bears. I was like, just 50 bears, you know, because I didn't know what I was getting into.

And then my second year I was like, all right, we're gonna up into a hundred, I think this year we can shoot for the stars and say, let's, let's do 250. Okay. I mean, why not?

Aaron Heim: Okay. I heard 500. What did you hear?

Rayanna Messenger: Were really gonna be pushing it out. So the first year I did it, I [00:30:00] was still going through treatments and stuff, so I wasn't as, yeah, active or full of energy.

And then the second year I was trying to pick up the pieces from being out for so long and then this year we're ready to rock and roll.

Jonathan Jones: That's great. So I'm gonna ask this before this, whether or not you want to include this, are you comfortable. Answering any questions about going through your own treatment and the need for comfort and connection yourself?

Oh yeah.

Rayanna Messenger: Okay. I'm an open book when my whole entire customers know everything.

Jonathan Jones: Okay. . So, so going back to your own journey with your cancer, can you talk a little bit about your own need to connect or have people just show kindness to you or, or comfort and what was that like for you?

Rayanna Messenger: Absolutely. So I remember when I first got diagnosed again, I'd only been in business for two years. I was still trying to make connections with my customers. I was still trying to build those [00:31:00] relationships. And I'll never forget, like there was a handful, probably like a whole list of names of customers and their cell phone numbers and.

It was my mom was collecting them and they wanted to come and help at the shop for free. Did not want us to pay them. They were like, we will come help you. You've gotta stay here. We love her. Like, you know, you can't let your little shop go. Like, we will do anything in our power to make sure that you get through this and not have to have all of the stress while you're trying to go through treatments.

So that was one thing. That was really eye-opening. And then another was, I mean, I had all of my treatment done at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, and they were just amazing. Yeah, everything was there. I didn't have to go anywhere else. My cardiologist was there, my plastic surgeon was there, my breast oncologist was there.

My oncologist, like I didn't have to go anywhere. And so, [00:32:00] for them to have that in the local community was really eye-opening for me because as a patient, it took the stress of having to be transported here and there and all over the place. I was just going to one place. Yeah. And so for them to be able to offer that in our community, I really wanted to bring awareness to that.

And that's one of the reasons why I do give to Womans because they do have what's called the Woman's Foundation. Mm-hmm. And I'm very heavily involved with the Bust Breast Cancer Foundation. It's a nonprofit. And so we do some events at the store for that, but also you know, the checks for the giving Bears goes through the foundation Yeah.

For Woman's, but it's specifically for the NICU unit. Wow.

Jonathan Jones: Well, I can, I can tell that you are a very empathetic person and I'm sure that comes out now that you are through that area and or period in your life. And looking back, knowing that there are families, [00:33:00] children who are going through incredibly difficult times and you wanting absolutely to try and make those times a little bit better has to be a great motivation,

Rayanna Messenger: right?

I mean, just having a little furry friend next to you brought comfort and joy during one of the most, I can't even say awful times, cuz I feel like it was a blessing in disguise for me, my cancer, but it, it really helped get me through that loneliness that cancer brings.

Jonathan Jones: Yeah. Well you've got an amazing story and we, we, we love being able to be a part of it.

Rayanna Messenger: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Jones: Oh, you're welcome. And letting me, allowing me to share to everyone.

Aaron Heim: We appreciate you sharing it. It's it's, I'm fairly new to the company. I haven't even been here a year yet. I started in July and one of the reasons I came here is I knew of the company and their mission and just for me to get to host this with him and hear stories like this are, it just reinforces every, [00:34:00] every cell of my being why I knew this was the right place for me to be.

So, I really appreciate you being here with us today too, so thank you.

Rayanna Messenger: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, I kicked off the first Giving Bear at in Atlanta at the DEMDACO showroom and. I believe I met the artist who created the Giving Bear.

Jonathan Jones: Peter Friedmann. Peter's, our VP of Product Development.

Rayanna Messenger: Peter, that's it.

Jonathan Jones: And Creative Services,

Rayanna Messenger: I knew he said his name. I would know. , so I met him and then they Amy went back there and brought Demi out and I had never met her before. Right. And I told her my story that I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I wanted to do this.

I wanted to give back to my community. And I felt like this product was the product that was going to be the eye-opener for, you know, our, the community. To be able to say that's a really great product to like, To give, especially to the, you know, children's hospital, right. And Woman's Hospital. And I'll never forget, she like held my hand and she was like, [00:35:00] you've been through so much.

She was like, at such a young age. And she was like, I'm so thrilled that you're doing this Yeah. For your community. And she goes, you know what? Whatever your customers match, I wanna match it too. Yeah. And we all lost it. Everyone's standing right there. Lost it. It was crazy. I don't, I don't even know how I got through the Facebook live.

I really don't. Yeah. But it was just, I mean, just to see the impact that such an incredible, you know, I'm not even gonna say how our small company, y'all a big company, but what a big company does for someone that's so small was so heartwarming.

Jonathan Jones: Well, we're, again, we're grateful to be able to do that. So real quick, I'm gonna do a wrap up comment here in a, a second here, but I, I'll, I'll tell you the story on what prompted the Giving Bear.

So, Peter has a friend that he's had for many, many years, I think he lives in Houston, had a seven year old girl that got cancer. Mm. And Peter said, what do you say to a seven year old girl who has cancer? Right? [00:36:00] What, what, what do you give a seven year old girl that has cancer? And so that's, that's really what started DEMDACO on the journey to develop the

I love it.

What became the giving Bear.

Rayanna Messenger: I love it. Cuz what do you tell a 30 year old too? You know, like, I'll take that bear. Yeah. It's gonna comfort me.

Jonathan Jones: You know, it's interesting some of the stories we get bears have gone with kids to college. We are working with an organization right now that's giving, Giving Bears to veterans who have developed Alzheimer's, and there's, wow, there's something about interacting with a stuffed animal, plush like that, that brings a calm to those to those people. So it's been, it's been an amazing thing.

Well, Ray, thank you so much for joining us on the Lift the Spirit podcast.

It's great to see you [00:37:00] again, looking forward to see you in seeing you in Dallas this June, and we appreciate all that you're doing. So thank you for joining us and we hope you have a great rest of the week.

Rayanna Messenger: Thank you so much. It was so nice to meet both of you, you again. And I look forward to seeing Demi and all of the DEMDACO smiles when I'm back there in Dallas in June. It's been a pleasure talking to y'all today.

Aaron Heim: Well, you're very welcome.

Jonathan Jones: So thank you for joining Aaron and me today on the Lift the Spirit Podcast. We're also grateful for our special guest Rayanna Messenger from Messengers Gifts in Baton Rouge for joining us.

And we look forward to having you join us for next month's episode.