Navy Pier’s General Manager Seth Kagy shares how the popular tourist attraction fosters successful retail partnerships.

Aug. 13, 2023

Navy Pier’s Seth Kagy has worked at the attraction since 2017, holding the titles of senior director of guest experience, vice president of sales and guest experience and now as the general manager.

“I am truly grateful for the time I’ve spent here. Navy Pier is a Chicago landmark and our lakefront treasure,” he says. “It holds a special place in many people’s hearts and has been a pivotal part of their most cherished memories. I am most appreciative of the ability to help create experiences for our guests that showcase the city of Chicago.”

In the following Q&A, Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties talked to Kagy about the inner workings of the pier’s retail operation and its significance to the community.

Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties (SGN): What is the history and background of your souvenir, gift and novelties stores?

Seth Kagy (SK): In 2017, Navy Pier fully renovated our pavilion space into the Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion. We revitalized the area into a beautiful open environment for Chicago-based entrepreneurs to offer more boutique items and Chicago- centric products. The gift shops in the Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion sell items that would be found in neighborhood and museum gift shops.

Retail is primarily located in our Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion on the west side of the Pier near the main entrance. Store sizes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. We also have kiosks that are 64 square feet.

SGN: Describe the overall operation and how retail fits into the puzzle.

SK: The People’s Pier is all about giving our guests a wide selection of experiences on land and water. In total, we have 77 partner tenants on site.

The 77 partner tenants at Navy Pier include 12 retail stores and 25 kiosks.
Photos: Navy Pier

This includes cruises, boats, dine-in restaurants, fast food shops, dessert stores, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum and more. Out of the 77 partner tenants, there are 12 retail stores and 25 kiosks that sell souvenir, gift and novelty items. Most of the retailers are separate stand-alone entities that have their own operating procedures.

Our partners offer everything from Chicago-logo clothing, toys, souvenirs and collectibles. All our partners offer Chicago-centric creations from local artisans and companies that offer the highest quality products at excellent values.

There are a few stores that have the same owners. The benefit of being at a destination location in a major city is that we drive about 8.5 million visitors per year to help support our business partners.

SGN: How many employees work in the stores on Navy Pier, and how does that change depending on the season?

SK: All our partners hire their team members individually. The businesses have a range of needs all based on their offerings and business plans. With the inclusion of all 77 partner tenants and Navy Pier Inc., this location could have about 2,500 employees during the peak of the season.

The Pier’s peak season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Our hours of operation for the peak season is minimally 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Many partners choose to stay open later in the summer to serve our guests.

SGN: What is your core customer demographic?

SK: Navy Pier attracts guests from all over the globe. Navy Pier is The People’s Pier, Chicago’s lakefront treasure, welcoming all and offering dynamic and electric experiences through partnerships and programs that inspire discovery and wonder. With the vast array of offerings we have many repeat visitors come to experience Navy Pier.

“You want to make sure your guests feel welcome The moment they walk through the door and have so much fun that they come back.” — Seth Kagy, Navy Pier

Our attendance numbers show that we have about 50% locals and 50% tourists that come to the Pier. Many of our repeat customers live in nearby neighborhoods. It is important for us to continue to foster the relationship between our guests and create memorable moments for them to cherish.

SGN: What souvenirs tend to sell the best across the partner stores?

SK: Top selling items are T-shirts and Chicago- based items that help guests memorialize their visit. We have learned that most guests are looking for items at $50 or less. Guests are most interested in purchasing items that are unique to the Chicago area and can help to celebrate their visit and experience while at the Pier.

SGN: What is your retail business philosophy?

SK: Navy Pier Inc. is focused on providing local Chicago business owners with a platform to share their goods and services to the public. Our goal is to open the door for many small local businesses to sell their items in this Chicago staple.

SGN: What advice do you have for destination-based retailers on how to be successful?

SK: The single best piece of advice I can offer is “create an inviting environment and offer unique items to engage guests during their visit.” You want to make sure your guests feel welcome the moment they walk through the door and have so much fun that they come back.

SGN: Is there anything else you would like to mention with regard to the pier and its retail partners?

SK: Navy Pier has an amazing group of partners that are dedicated to ensuring we offer our guests
a high-quality experience while visiting our location. I am proud to be a part of such an amazing team!