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A Message from the President

Promoting the Wonders Down Under

The National Caves Association is a trade association of premier show caves. The purpose of the NCA is to promote the show cave industry, to promote awareness with respect to public conservation and preservation of caves, and to promote the safe and enjoyable operation of show caves. The NCA offers many benefits to the membership, including an insurance program, air quality program, advertising through our website and brochure and the highlight, our annual convention. The event is held for four or five days at a different location each year.

Greg Beckler

The sharing of information is central to the success of our association, and it is with great pleasure that the NCA has formed a relationship with Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties (SGN) to bring you informative feature articles that include interviews with our diverse group of members, the owners and souvenir store managers on the front lines of the show cave industry. For years, our members have utilized ideas from SGN stories, and now we can share what gifts and souvenirs sell and how we sell them for the benefit of the publication’s readership. I hope you enjoy the features, and take home ideas that will increase sales for you.

Greg Beckler
National Caves Association

By Kathleen Knaub-Hardy
here’s fun and adventure underground at the many caves and caverns located throughout the United States. These one-of-a-kind, naturally formed attractions offer a way to highlight the region’s geographic history that is both fun and educational.

In many cases, visitors can even take part in actual mining experiences and take home what they find. Or, for those less adventuresome, there are always the gift shops stocked with beautiful crystals or unique mineral specimens.

Geological-themed items comprise 60 percent to 70 percent of all retail sales at Bristol Caverns in Bristol, Tenn., with the most popular among those being geodes. These hollow, spherical objects, unattractive on the outside but colorful and sparkling on the inside, attract guests looking for something to take home and display on their shelves. Co-owner Gary Barnett said his amethyst geodes grab attention on their own within his 1,600-square-foot retail space when displayed in a way that highlights the colored crystals found inside, elevated properly on stands at eye level. However, it’s the mystery of the solid, golf ball-sized geode that increases sales.

“We sell a lot of the smaller crack-your-own geodes,” he said. “People like to do the work themselves, like geologists, and make the discovery of something special inside the rock. Most often they find something – about 85 percent of them will have crystals inside.”

The smaller geodes also fit into a customer-friendly price range of not more than $10. However, Barnett does have some visitors who are more interested in the larger, $100 amethyst and citrine geodes.

Other high-end items that have been successful sellers at Bristol Caverns are pieces carved from onyx that are imported from Mexico or Pakistan. Chessboards in particular are quite attractive, Barnett said, as they are created in multiple shades of pink and brown, with black being the most expensive version.

Geologic bling doesn’t necessarily come with a high price tag. At Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown, Texas, General Manager Taunya Vessels said that anything that is either naturally “sparkly” or polished to a brilliant shine sells best, doing much of its own advertising.

“Things that sparkle sell the best,” she said.

High on that list of glamorous items are “church” or “cathedral” geodes, as opposed to the more simple agate geodes, which are grander in size and feature crystals. Vessels said that shelves in her approximately 1,500-square-foot shop include Moroccan geodes with crystals “as white as snow,” along with the more easily recognized amethyst varieties. Adding to the glittery geodes are mineral specimens such as the light blue celestite, the yellow-gold citrine and a variety of quartz crystals. All these types of rocks and minerals lend themselves to a particularly attention-grabbing display method.

“When you have good lighting and a nice place to display these items sales go well,” she said. “Anything with crystals or that is polished sells well when displayed correctly. Bling is big.”

Keeping with that theme, but at a lower price point, Vessels said colorized crystals are popular with children. They come in at $20 or less, while the geodes and other minerals are priced more for a collector’s market. In all, gift shop sales reach about $500,000 annually, she said.

Less glamorous, yet still good sellers, are fossils that are found in a nearby rock quarry, the Inner Space general manager said. In particular, something called “rattlesnake rock” is popular. This is actually shells fossilized into rock in a pattern that resembles rattlesnake skin, she said.

Local interest is also a product draw at Mystic Caverns in Harrison, Ark. Assistant Gift Shop Manager Maryann Pannell said that visitors to her approximately 500-square-foot retail space are drawn to some sparkling specimens found in the area.

“We sell a lot of Arkansas quartz crystals that come from mining operations in Hot Springs,” she said. “Things found in the cave are protected, so visitors like to know that they can still take a piece of the local area home with them.”

A wide variety of mineral specimens line the walls, drawing collectors, as well as tourists, to the store. Some of those items are native to Arkansas and appear as a “display only” and are not for sale. However, they do draw interest to other minerals that are for sale.

Pannell said that displays are changed regularly as a way of rotating merchandise and keeping inventory “eye-catching.”

“We have a seasonal display strategy,” she said. “During the summer months, when we have more families with youngsters visiting, we place the brightest, eye-catching items at eye level where children can see them. In the fall, when we have older visitors, we rotate items to higher levels, where adults can see them.”

Prices also take into consideration the differing range of guests, she said. Items that cost $5 or less are attractive to families while older shoppers will often select higher-priced pieces, either for themselves or to give as gifts.

While traditional gemstones and glitzy crystals are the stars at many gift shops, a unique application of a particular mineral leads sales at Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark in Volcano, Calif. As Office Manager Carolee White explained it, their top seller also serves as its own display.

“Some of our most popular items are the magnetic hematite pieces,” White said. “Everyone wants to play with them.

“These magnets are also their own selling point,” she added, “When we’re making signs for the store we laminate them and then use the magnetic hematite to hold the signs in place. It’s a fun way to create signage and show off the merchandise.”

Display strategies also come into play with more traditional items in White’s shop, with small rocks – polished and rough – presented in manufacturer’s containers and gem bottles situated on small step ladders.

Whether visitors to caves and caverns take full advantage of the attraction or simply wander the grounds, there’s always something to take home as a reminder of that particular underground wonder. It’s just a matter of finding the treasures.

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