By Jen Heller Meservey

Gem and mineral gifts are some of the most unique products in caves and rock shops. Each gem or mineral has its own story, and showing that story helps it to sell. “Our top tip for selling more stone and mineral jewelry and gifts is to provide information on the gems and minerals that you are selling,” said Erin D’Aleo, social media and retail coordinator at Polar Caves Park in Rumney, N.H. “People love to know what it is that they are purchasing; some are interested in the metaphysical properties, while others are interested in where the stone comes from and how it gets that amazing shade of color. We give out informational cards for almost every mineral or gem that we carry; we have found that people enjoy taking the cards with their items.”

A rock display that include amethysts at Polar Caves Park in Rumney, N.H. Caves and rock shops offer truly unique products.

Metaphysical stones are “one of the newest trends,” according to April Islip, general manager of Howe Caverns in Howe Cave, N.Y. “We carry a display of both polished and rough metaphysical stones along with a page of information that the customer can refer to,” she said. “We enhance the metaphysical sales with Chakra stones, jewelry and pendulums, and we also carry little boxes of medication and healing stones along with informational books.”

Islip added that informing the customer helps sell more gem and mineral gifts. “If there is something special about a certain gem, let the customer know,” she suggested. “Gems are often one-of-a-kind items, so be sure to make the customer’s visit a special one by going the extra mile if they ask for assistance with their purchase.”

An interior view of the Polar Caves Park store. The staff gives out informational cards for almost every mineral or gem the store carries.

Patti Albrecht, owner of Earth’s Treasures in Bozeman, Mont., said that it’s important to educate staff about gem and mineral products. “What I feel helps us to sell more and stand out from other retail stores is always having friendly staff who are knowledgeable about what we sell,” she explained. “We all know entertaining stories about our product. For example, Larimar jewelry is a beautiful ocean blue that was named by a father for his daughter. The stone is found only in the Dominican Republic, the name is a combination of his daughter’s name (Laura) and the Spanish word for ocean (mar).”

Islip agreed that having a knowledgeable staff helps sell more gem and mineral gifts. “Make sure the employees know which rocks are which,” she advised. “We have a box with sample rocks for the new employees to study and learn about the rocks we sell. Educate the new employees so they know about all the gem products you offer, from the least expensive to the most expensive.”

Unique merchandise sells best at Squire Boone Caverns in Mauckport, Ind., according to Director Claudia Yundt. “The more unique, the better,” she said. “If you have seen that design before, don’t put it in your store. Stay as unique as possible.”

An interior view of a store at Squire Boone Caverns. The director said she makes gem and mineral products sparkle in her 1,550-square foot store by keeping them clean.

Danny Gillespie, site manager at Cave Spring Park in Van Buren, Mo., agreed that unique is best. “Visitors often comment that we have the most unusual selection of merchandise in our shop,” he said. “We buy from local craftsmen, so we offer different types of items than other cave shops, and for our standard mineral and fossil offerings, we look for less common to downright unusual pieces. Guests become burnt out very quickly going into shops like Grand Canyon, where every shop has exactly the same items as every other shop in the park, and the same items are found in every other national park gift shop in the Southwest.”

At Cave of the Winds Mountain Park in Manitou Springs, Colo., Gift Shop Buyer and Manager Michael Snell said he uses lighting to sell more gem and mineral gifts. “I have dedicated a quarter of my sales floor to my rock category,” he explained. “That quarter is well lit with 4,000 to 5,000 Kelvin LED light. The cool white color produced from the light pulls out the colors of each gem and makes them all sparkle and catch the eyes of our guests, much like when someone goes to a fine jewelry store and the sparkle from the diamonds pulls them in.”
Gillespie agreed that the right lighting can make all the difference. “LED light technology has come a long way in the last seven or eight years,” he said. “A wide variety of bulb output and size configurations make lighting from subtle to brilliant easy and affordable. We use 5,500 Kelvin bulb temperature for bright blue light that makes all the products sparkle. We have about 80 ceiling-mounted LED floods and spots in our 900-square foot shop, and I would double that if I had the ceiling space.”

Yundt said that she makes gem and mineral products sparkle in her 1,550-square foot store by keeping them clean. “Rocks in general tend to be very eye-catching, but not if they are dusty,” she said. “All specimens need to be well-lighted and clean for maximum sparkle.”

In addition to lighting and cleaning, Yundt said that it helps to give gem and mineral gift displays a homey feel. “We like to use the item in a display where it might be used at home,” she explained. “Bookends are a good example of this. We like to put books between the bookends like you would see them in your home.”

Kathy Johnson, co-owner of Black Hills Caverns in Rapid City, S.D., agreed that a homey display is the way to go. “Display the items as they are intended,” she said. “Beautiful agate bookends are displayed with a nice selection of books on rocks and fossils on tabletops so visitors can see how they look ‘in action.’ This also helps our book sales. Candle holders and salt lamps are displayed in use as well with other items that bring out the beauty and use of the rock and mineral décor.”

Paula Bennett, retail services manager at Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that she creates eye-catching displays in her 3,500-square-foot store by using a variety of items. “It’s essential to pay close attention to how you display gem and mineral jewelry and home décor,” she said. “Display larger pieces as a centerpiece or focal point to draw attention to the selection of smaller, affordable items. By also stocking displays with varied sizes and color choices, you entice attention and give customers options.”

Cave Guides and Shop Keepers Kim and Megan with the ore cart and Kim with Don, who is also a cave guide and shop keeper, with the gem mining sluice at Squire Boone Caverns in Mauckport, Ind. The location’s director said unique merchandise sells best.

Snell said that he also uses larger items as focal points in his 2,400-square-foot store. “I use higher-priced rock specimens, like amethyst cathedrals that retail for $600 to $1,200, to sell the lower-priced gems in the $3 to $6 range,” he explained. “The cathedrals act as an attention-getter and a conversation piece that stops our guests long enough to look and shop the items around them. So I might not sell the $1,200 cathedral, but I will sell two to three times its worth in items around it.”

Snell added that it’s important for displays to be accessible to customers. “Everything is at a friendly level for the children to touch and examine,” he said. “There is a negative stigma of gift stores that people believe you cannot let your children touch anything for fear that if they break it, they buy it. I want children to be able to pick up the rock or gem, create ownership with it and run up to their parents to show them what they found, because nine times out of 10, that leads to their purchasing not only the original gem their child found but four more.”

Yundt agreed that accessible displays are ideal. “Display and access is very important,” she said. “Our customers want to touch the jewelry and even try it on before they buy it. Having a mirror close to the display has been very beneficial. We have jewelry in nice boxes and hanging on a display. Both ways of displaying jewelry work well, but the customer needs to be able to touch it and pick it up.”