What's Brewing image with Bob and Dave from Sustainable Safari

What’s Brewing? With “Safari Bob” Pilz and Dave Harvey from Sustainable Safari

Bob Pilz has a pas­sion so deep for exot­ic ani­mals that he had to share it with oth­ers. Thus, Sus­tain­able Safari was cre­at­ed in 2019 as an inter­ac­tive ani­mal expe­ri­ence in Maple­wood Mall, fea­tur­ing more than 25 unique species such as emus, lemurs, armadil­los, greater gri­son and red kan­ga­roos. Safari Bob, along with his wife, Mishelle, have a mis­sion to help oth­ers to learn about the ani­mals and their nat­ur­al habi­tats so peo­ple will be com­pelled to make more sus­tain­able choic­es to ensure a healthy plan­et where all crea­tures can thrive.

But they couldn’t do it alone. They brought in Dave Har­vey as a part­ner, who brought with him busi­ness expe­ri­ence from many years in the bank­ing indus­try. Togeth­er, the Pilzes and Dave have cul­ti­vat­ed a team to bring the Sus­tain­able Safari vision to life.

After kick­ing off a part­ner­ship in ear­ly 2022, we caught up with Safari Bob and Dave to talk about what they’ve learned through start­ing the busi­ness and advice for oth­ers who are build­ing busi­ness­es based on values.

For those not famil­iar with Sus­tain­able Safari, describe what it is and what you do. 

Dave: Sus­tain­able Safari is an immer­sive, inter­ac­tive and edu­ca­tion­al ani­mal expe­ri­ence. When you’re here, you can pet, feed and, in some cas­es, hold the ani­mals. You’re ful­ly immersed.

Safari Bob: And that’s just part of Sus­tain­able Safari. We want peo­ple to learn more about these ani­mals and to be aware of how their choic­es as a con­sumer affect these ani­mals’ habi­tats. We’re edu­cat­ing our guests on sus­tain­able prac­tices and how to care for the envi­ron­ment. We hope their inter­ac­tion with the ani­mals will help make a con­nec­tion and a greater impact for change.

The ani­mals are all real­ly cute! What sets your busi­ness apart from zoos or oth­er ani­mal exhibits, and how do you com­mu­ni­cate that impor­tant mes­sage to consumers?

Dave: Our points of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion are the abil­i­ty to inter­act with the ani­mals, and our edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tives. There are very few places where you can hold an alli­ga­tor and then turn around and feed capy­baras and sit right next to the ani­mals. In addi­tion, our safari guides pro­vide edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for guests about not only the ani­mals, but also about sus­tain­abil­i­ty. We’re adding more sus­tain­abil­i­ty pro­gram­ming in the com­ing months to con­tin­ue liv­ing out our mis­sion. The goal of these is to help vis­i­tors see that what they do local­ly to help the envi­ron­ment has a rip­ple effect that impacts the nat­ur­al habi­tats of the ani­mals they learn about here at Sus­tain­able Safari.

Safari Bob: The ani­mal inter­ac­tion makes us unique, but we also have a nat­ur­al pas­sion for offer­ing those inter­ac­tions with the intent that it turns into a pur­pose – inspir­ing peo­ple to make sus­tain­able choic­es for the bet­ter­ment of all crea­tures. I hope the expe­ri­ences peo­ple have here impact them to change for good.

How do you make sure your busi­ness stays true to its values?

Dave: We have reg­u­lar board meet­ings, with our mis­sion at the cen­ter. That’s our true North Star, and we make sure every deci­sion is con­gru­ent with the vision and mis­sion. We bring in out­side per­spec­tives to keep us all aligned. One exam­ple of how we live our val­ue of sus­tain­abil­i­ty is that 95% of prod­ucts we use here are recy­clable or biodegrad­able. Card­board for bed­ding is an envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly way to keep the ani­mals dry and com­fort­able, our feed­ing cups are corn­starch, mak­ing them biodegrad­able and the sou­venir stuffed ani­mals sold are made from recy­cled plastic.

Safari Bob: We devel­oped our mis­sion based on our per­son­al val­ues and how we live our lives. We want to be true to our­selves and bring that out in our busi­ness. It’s who we are.

You both have vast­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Why do you think it’s impor­tant to have peo­ple of dif­fer­ing expe­ri­ences part­ner togeth­er for businesses? 

Safari Bob: I knew my faults from the begin­ning. In order to pull off what we were try­ing to do, it wasn’t going to hap­pen with me at the helm. I’m not a detail-ori­ent­ed or busi­ness-focused per­son. I am the guy swing­ing the ham­mer, being cre­ative and think­ing out­side the box. I need­ed some­one to tell me how to run it. That’s what Dave brings to the table.

Dave: I think our part­ner­ship works because we both have the pas­sion. Bob’s got an amaz­ing cre­ative mind. On my side of the busi­ness, I love spread­sheets, num­bers and geek­ing out on that stuff. I like to see from a math­e­mat­i­cal per­spec­tive how every­thing ties togeth­er. In a busi­ness such as this where its attrac­tion-based and there needs to be so much cre­ativ­i­ty, I think it would be a rare indi­vid­ual that would have the skillset to have both sides of it, and do both sides well. We col­lab­o­rate and also respect each other’s exper­tise, know­ing when to let the oth­er run with an idea. When you have the right part­ner, you can use your strengths to help the busi­ness grow and thrive.

We know you have spent a lot of time and ener­gy think­ing about who you are and what you want to do as a busi­ness over the past two years. What did that process look like for you, and what are tips you can share for peo­ple who are in a sim­i­lar posi­tion of launch­ing a business? 

Dave: Give your­self flex­i­bil­i­ty with your plan. What we have here is not what we had orig­i­nal­ly dreamed up. If our orig­i­nal plan would have panned out, we would have missed out on the biggest piece that makes Sus­tain­able Safari what it is – the immer­sive inter­ac­tion with the ani­mals. And it’s turned out fan­tas­tic. A lot of the wor­ries we had – or thought we were going to have – nev­er end­ed up being a wor­ry. And some­times those things that make you lose sleep at night can actu­al­ly end up being an asset. Look at every oppor­tu­ni­ty, and be open to lots of ideas.

Safari Bob: Of course, it took a lot of work to get to this point – start­ing a busi­ness isn’t easy or for the faint of heart. You have to want to work and live the pas­sion. As we found ear­ly on, things won’t always work out. So, keep going. When you fail, get up and go again. And, it might just end up even bet­ter than you’d imagined.

What’s brew­ing for you and Sus­tain­able Safari?

Safari Bob: I want to make a pos­i­tive change in the world. We are doing that here local­ly but are con­stant­ly think­ing of how we can do that on a big­ger scale.

Dave: We are mak­ing major ren­o­va­tions and will have new ani­mals com­ing soon, includ­ing two sloths. We also have a new­ly designed bird exhib­it. In the next cou­ple months, we will be incor­po­rat­ing new tech­nol­o­gy into our busi­ness to help us con­tin­ue grow­ing and shar­ing our mes­sage of sustainability.

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