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ave and cavern gift shops are well known for selling beautiful selections of rocks and minerals for collectors and those looking to add a natural touch to their home décor. Their customers are so diverse that most gift shop owners agree that the key to stocking rocks and minerals is variety.

Keystone, S.D.’s, Rushmore Cave Retail and Office Manager April Hagen, pictured in the gift shop. Souvenir samples and specimens range in price from $1 to $200 at the store.

“We want to have something in our store for each customer,” said Tom Hagen, the owner and operator of Rushmore Cave in Keystone, S.D. “On one end we have a wide range of $1 samples primarily for kids, and on the other we offer some really nice specimens up to about the $200 range for the more serious collector.”

Don Henk, director of retail at Natural Bridge Caverns of Virginia in Natural Bridge, Va., advised, “Don’t underestimate what the consumer will purchase. Some of the pieces we brought in were designed to be large display pieces; the type you bring in just to get the guest’s attention. However, in many cases, those pieces were the first ones sold from the display.”

At Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark in Blue Mounds, Wis., General Manager Joseph Klimczak also likes to keep many larger rocks and minerals stocked in his 1,600-square-foot gift shop. “The big stuff sells the small stuff,” he said. “We stock numerous museum quality specimens that retail for thousands of dollars. …Those pieces grab the attention, and then the next size down—or several pricepoints down–look great too, and at an affordable price.”

Delicate-looking gifts of like colors make a vibrant display at the Mercer Caverns gift shop.

Even with the wide variety of customers shopping for rocks and minerals, children still make up the largest demographic for cave and cavern gift shops. At Rushmore Cave’s 3,240-square-foot gift shop, Hagen attracts young customers by providing affordable and recognizable items like “Fool’s Gold” and shark’s teeth. “We learned early on that kids have less interest in authentic minerals and they instead want color,” he said. “For this reason we offer many dyed mineral samples.”

Bob Hounshell, manager of Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville, Tenn., keeps kid-friendly items in his gift shop’s “Rock Barrel.” “Kids can touch and feel the rocks,” he said. “The different shapes and bright colors attract them. They are able to ’dig’ in the barrel to find the rocks they desire.” At Black Hills Caverns in Rapid City, S.D., Kathy Johnson, owner, also likes to let young customers dig for rocks and minerals through her gift shop’s “Crystal Mine.” “We serve the family vacationers with kids of all ages,” she said. “People love rocks, and we have a selection that offers something for the little ones.”

Samantha, 16, Alexis, 8, and Sydney, 5, daughters of Don Henk, director of retail at Natural Bridge Caverns of Virginia in Natural Bridge, Va., photographed with a display. Henk said quality lighting is key to generating interest in rocks and minerals and helps guests see that “each specimen is as unique as a snowflake.”

School trips are popular at Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark. So Klimczak likes to always have a wide selection of items under $5 each stocked in his gift shop. “We try to stock items that are unique and educational,” he said. “With schoolchildren around, breakage is sadly unavoidable. So the crystal clusters are a great item, as they are already broken apart, and if one breaks, you now have two to sell at half the retail each!”

When displaying rocks and minerals, it’s best to keep them at a relatively low height so that they can be easily seen by children. “Our rocks and minerals are displayed from about 2 ½ feet to about 6 feet,” said Steve Rawlings, Caving Team Leader at Mercer Caverns in Murphys, Calif. Martie Maierhauser, director of Colossal Cave Mountain Park in Vail, Ariz., agreed. “We have low shelves with baskets of rocks and minerals that are the right height for children,” she said.

Lost River Cave & Valley Gift Shop Manager Sylvia Risher said the best way to display rocks and minerals is by color at the Bowling Green, Ky., attraction. “Having several pieces of one color together really attracts attention,” she said. “I have a display of bookshelves where each shelf has different colors. …People just love it because it’s making a statement when they’re all together like that.”

Sylvia Risher, gift shop manager at Lost River Cave & Valley in Bowling Green, Ky., pictured with the Rock World display. Risher said that the best way to display rocks and minerals is by color. “Having several pieces of one color together really attracts attention,” she said.

At Natural Bridge Caverns of Virginia, Henk said lighting is the key to rock and mineral displays. “A well-lit display allows the guest to truly see the beauty in the product,” he said. “Many minerals have details and intricacies that will not be noticed if not for good lighting. …Each specimen is as unique as a snowflake, and quality lighting allows the guest to see that.”

Rawlings agreed that the right lighting is essential. “We arrange the items so that they are attractive from a wide variety of angles, so that the light shows them off in the most flattering manner.” Henk also focuses on providing his customers with information about each item. “We have information cards for most of our minerals that we display alongside the product,” he said. “Guests like to know the names of the minerals as well as some of their key characteristics.”

Another great way to attract young shoppers is through hands-on displays. “Two of our biggest draws for selling rocks are a geode cracker and a gemstone sluice,” said Maierhauser. “The guest chooses a geode and one of the guides breaks it for them. They love seeing what is inside, and of course, the whole activity attracts other guests who want to do the same thing.” Klimczak also provides hands-on displays at the Cave of the Mounds gift shop. “The best souvenirs are the ones that allow the customer to interact with the purchase right away,” he said. “We sell bags of gem mining rough material so the visitor can discover their very own treasure at our old-fashioned mining sluice. Visitors can also unearth rocks and fossils in our fossil dig sandbox, press their own pennies and break open geodes.”

Amber Couch, a tour guide at Colossal Cave Mountain Park, admires a calcite. Low shelves with baskets of rocks and minerals attract the interest of young shoppers at the gift store.

Cave and cavern gift shop owners agreed that rocks and minerals attract customers of various ages and backgrounds, from the serious collector to the child on a school field trip. Rawlings finds the widest variety of items at rock and mineral shows. “We go to Tucson Rock and Mineral Show each February, where we are able to view thousands of different kinds of rocks and minerals in one place,” he said.

It helps to have some rock and mineral collectors on staff. Risher has a resident naturalist at Lost River Cave & Valley’s gift shop, and Klimzak’s gift shop staff at Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark is made up of mostly serious rock and fossil collectors. “I joke that if a staff member likes something too much, it will probably be a dud,” he said. “We sell to some serious collectors, but more to families that are traveling and just starting their rock collections.”
Bernard Ingram, general manager of Mercer Caverns in Murphys, Calif., looks at an amethyst display with calcite crystals. When displaying rocks and minerals, the cavern agrees with the philosophy employed at Colossal Cave Mountain Park, which is to keep the items low for easy viewing by young people.

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