T-shirt and sweatshirt sales are along for an exciting ride at amusement park gift shops.

June 22, 2023
Waldameer Park and Water World listens to its customers, carrying apparel that is colorful, comfortable and warm.

After a long day of thrilling rides and sampling delicious foods, theme park guests typically stop in one of the park’s gift shops to find the perfect souvenir from their visit. Apparel — primarily T-shirts and sweatshirts — are among the consistent bestsellers when it comes to souvenirs.

Both apparel items show strong sales at Waldameer Park and Water World in Erie, Pennsylvania, according to Retail Manager Nancy Gorman. “T-shirts and sweatshirts are two of our most popular items,” she says. “People are looking for a souvenir to take home from the park, and well, it gets cold here. I didn’t used to buy so many sweatshirts, but they are selling very well for us.”

Gorman says they have some standouts in the category: “Hoodies are probably the single biggest seller in sweatshirts, although the basic crew style has really made a comeback over the last three years or so. In T-shirts, tie dye does not die! It’s still really popular. We have some trendy things which are popular for the juniors, especially the cropped sweatshirts.”

Vibrant sales

George Frantzis, human resources manager at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, has noticed a definite preference in guests’ buying choices — “bright and colorful” are two must-haves. “Most of our T-shirt designs are pretty vibrant,” he says. “We don’t offer much in a solid color shirt. I see many guests walking around the park in the brighter colors. Our sweatshirts are still our biggest seller, however.”

Apparel has not always been the biggest selling category at Santa’s Village Amusement and Water Park in Dundee, Illinois, according to Chief Operating Officer Samantha Annis.

Santa’s Village continues to grow its apparel offerings each year as sales in the category continue to increase.

“It’s roughly 15% of our merchandise sold each season, but it does seem to be growing,” she says. “We’re about 10 years into the business. Apparel wasn’t our focus in the beginning — our focus was more on toys than apparel. But as time has gone on, we’ve graduated into apparel.”

The Santa’s Village’s inventory has grown as Annis and her team have learned more about trends and customer preferences, and to reflect customers’ changing tastes. The store initially stocked basic, logo apparel, but has now graduated to fun, kid-oriented items, Annis says. And tie-dye continues to be a strong seller among Santa’s Village guests. “It is definitely our number one seller in T-shirts,” Annis says. “We actually made a large investment in quite a few tie-dyed items. As far as designs, screen-printed seems to be what works best for us. We tend to stick with a distressed-type logo — a distressed print on tie-dye.”

Annis and her team have started making some bolder choices in apparel. “We started with a very basic design, and we’ve graduated into more select styles. As a summer-driven facility, everyone loves the bright colors in the summer. We’re bringing in the very bold and vibrant colors — that’s what people like in the summer.”

Guests tend to find more hoodie sweatshirts for sale at Santa’s Village. A few years ago, the store brought in crew shirts a few years ago, and according to Annis, they didn’t do well, but that is changing. “Last year, we brought in the crewneck because that’s where the trend is starting to move.”

She contends, “For us, the sweatshirt sales are very much hit or miss, and very much driven by the weather for both adults and kids. If we have a damp spring or fall, we sell a lot of sweatshirts.”

Knowing customers

Gorman says Waldameer’s guests are savvy shoppers. “Our guests are very knowledgeable. They know what they want. Touch is very important. They like the soft-feel T-shirt — 100% cotton is not the biggest seller anymore.”

Muted, earthy tones of the Comfort Colors brand are in high demand. “Guests are looking for comfort. It’s got to be comfortable, and guests are willing to pay for it.”

“Apparel wasn’t our focus in the beginning — our focus was more on toys than apparel. But as time has gone on, we’ve graduated into apparel.” — Samantha Annis, Santa’s Village Amusement and Water Park

The retailers interviewed say they are seeing a boost in apparel sales since the pandemic. “We were shut down completely in 2020,” Annis says. “If you compare our sales from 2019 to 2021, there was a big jump, and a slightly larger jump in 2022.”

Frantzis says, “Sales are good. We’ve seen a big recovery from the pandemic and following economic situation.”

One of the best ways to boost sales in the apparel category is to have styles that appeal to all ages. Gorman does this by offering one-of-a-kind looks for both age groups.

“I have tie-dye in adult, I have tie-dye in children’s. We have an iconic coaster at our park, and we’ll put the iconic things on both children’s and adults’ apparel. If I notice kids were asking about a certain design in a past season, I’ll get it in both kid’s and adult’s sizes. We have ‘Lifeguard’ in kids — I never thought guests would want a ‘Lifeguard’ design for children, but they do.”

Christmas-themed items, including apparel, from shirts to pajamas, are an important part of Santa’s Village gift shop.

In keeping with the overall theme of the park, Annis says she and her team tried something different last season. “Family photos at Christmas are important, so last season we tried the matching family PJs. We were very excited to bring them in, which we did at the end of the season.” She added, “Another thing we did this past year — one of the shirts was a full-dye sublimation. It was very waterpark, with a design of Santa scuba diving We did that across the kids and adults. Some of the kids encouraged their parents to match them.”

At Quassy, Frantzis says they have a basic selling philosophy: “Make sure prices are approachable and that the stocking [of items] makes sense. People should see things clearly to make a buying decision, and make sure all sizes are available,” he explains.