On an average day, more people pop into a hospital gift store than you might think. Sure, there’s the new father who snatches up a bouquet of flowers en route to the maternity ward. Or the caring friend who selects a thoughtful card and stuffed animal to brighten an ailing acquaintance’s stay. But there’s also the outpatient between appointments with time on his hands or the time-strapped nurse coming off a 12-hour shift who needs to replace a fraying uniform. People need toothbrushes, something to read, something to amuse, something to beautify what can often be a fraught situation. An attractive piece of jewelry could be the very item this unique confluence of time and place puts shoppers in the mood to buy.

Jill Ayres, manager, Mercyhealth Association of Volunteers. The organization runs the gift shop.

“We do a lot of buying with our staff in mind. We have 1200 employees who are pretty much a captive audience here,” said Erma Ryan, retail services manager at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital Gift Shop in Fairfax, Va. A solid selection of jewelry is always on display in the approximately 1000-square-foot retail space. Ryan attributes steady sales to the sheer variety available. “We also make sure it’s easy to access. Easy to see, easy to touch. It’s not hidden in a locked case.” Small spinners (typically vendor-provided) are placed on top of the cash wrap to encourage hospital staff members to browse while on break. And since Inova Fair Oaks Hospital performs numerous outpatient procedures, many patients waiting to be seen stop in before or after their appointments as well.
If there’s one thing that outsells jewelry at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital Gift Shop, it’s clothing. Ryan thinks customers appreciate the one-size-fits-all nature of apparel she typically stocks. “We carry things that are not necessarily size 6 or 8. Instead we have items that are geared to easily fit more people. Palazzo pants, for instance, are very big for us. And they’re pretty much sized small to large with elastic waist bands,” she said.

Jewelry is a hot item at Piedmont Hospital Gift Shop in Atlanta, Ga. The front cash wrap is its stage. “When it’s filled up and fresh with new pieces, they sell within minutes,” said Gift Shop Coordinator Gail Goldberg. There’s also a big farm table at the entrance of the 1,000-square-foot establishment that serves as a focal point for other merchandise. “We’ll arrange displays on the table depending on the holiday or season. Items placed there always seem to sell. Being a hospital gift shop, it’s essential we have a little bit of everything. Apparel, jewelry, flowers, sundries, baby items, pocketbooks plush, you name it – we don’t have a big enough space for everything we have to carry!”

A jewelry display at a Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center Gift Shop. Track lighting helps increase jewelry sales for the shop.

At only 375-square-feet, space is at a premium within the Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center Gift Shop in Janesville, Wis. “To make our space feel bigger, we invested in track lighting and that especially helps our jewelry sales. The lights help to make our shiny or jeweled items sparkle and really catch a customer’s eye,” said Jill Ayres who is the manager of the Mercyhealth Association of Volunteers, the organization that runs the Gift Shop. “We also pair our jewelry with clothing. By accessorizing our clothing displays, we feature a whole look rather than a piece.” This turns out to be a wise strategy as women’s wear and accessories are the shop’s best-selling items by far. Shoppers also find the usual fresh flowers, plush animals, baby gift items, books and magazines, but cleverly, this hospital gift shop even stocks items for crockpot meals and quick cooking options to appeal to a nursing staff that often works long hours. “We strive to provide each customer who comes in with an individual purchasing experience, even if it is as simple as a friendly greeting,” said Ayres.

Jackie Lee, volunteer coordinator, Mercyhealth, Janesville, Wis.
Space is at a premium for the gift store.

Jewelry remains a popular purchase at Moore Regional Hospital Gift Shop in Pinehurst, N.C. Manager and Buyer Cathy Mims chalks up ongoing success to her habit of keeping displays simple. “I don’t do a lot of fancy merchandising. I’ll put earrings with necklaces that go together, or bracelets with necklaces, but that’s the extent of it. I keep my price point low so it’s affordable. And I only deal with companies that guarantee their jewelry. If it breaks, my customer gets the satisfaction of being able to bring it back to me and I’m satisfied with being able to return it.”

Mims does a lot of consignment with local companies and it surprises her more gift shops don’t realize they have that capability. The flowers she carries, uniforms, even pottery items are all on consignment from local companies. “It’s a no-brainer. They get exposure and I get anywhere from 20 to 40 percent for doing very little. But you’ve got to get out there and talk to people. Bringing in uniforms several years ago has been wonderful because nurses don’t have time to shop,” she said. Meanwhile, ninety-eight percent of her plush comes from one company because they offer free freight. “Retailers frequently forget to factor freight into the cost of their merchandise. Little things like that make a big difference,” Mims concluded.