Keychains and magnets have wide customer appeal, don’t take up a lot of space and are easy to add on to other purchases.

Aug. 13, 2023

When people visiting a new destination want a souvenir but don’t desire to spend a lot of money, or they want a memento from their trip, but it has to fit in a suitcase without breaking, there’s a simple solution. Buy a keychain or magnet. While small in stature, magnet and keychain sales can add up to big profits, especially for a gift shop that caters to the tourist crowd.

At Once in a Blue Moose, Anchorage, Alaska (or any of its other seven locations), visitor can find Alaska-
related jewelry, foods and art, Native American art and handicrafts, books, stickers, calendars, greeting cards, throws, kitchen items, mugs and shot glasses. There’s also Alaska-themed T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies.
And, there’s a wide variety of magnets, too, at the fourth-generation family business — “everything from little plastic moose heads to handmade ones with wire wrapped around them,” says buyer Kendall Cates.

License-plate magnets and keychains are a customer favorite. “Whatever design rendition of the Alaska license plate we’re on, it always sells,” Cates says.

Local flare

At Urban Milwaukee, the focus is on items that name-check the city and state or reflect its history. There are T-shirts, snow globes, Christmas ornaments, books, glasses, mugs, puzzles, kitchen towels, pins and buttons.
“We carry some vintage- looking beer-history type items,” says co-owner Dave Reid. “A lot of Milwaukee and Wisconsin-related items, some locally made, sports and cheese-focused things, and fun T-shirts with Great Lakes and Milwaukee designs.”

Once in a Blue Moose’s varied merchandise displays include spinners devoted to keychains and magnets. The spinners are 5 feet tall, 18 inches wide, with four sides.

Those themes carry over to the magnets and keychains. Among Reid’s top sellers are “the Wisconsin license plate magnet. It’s very popular because it says Milwaukee right across it,” he says. “We have ones for the Bucks and the Brewers, some with baseballs on them. One magnet that says ‘Milwaukee’ on it but looks like a vintage postcard. We also carry local-artist-made wooden-style magnets in different varieties.”

Milwaukee is known as “the Beer Capital,” so of course, Reid has magnets saluting local beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“Some magnets are also bottle openers,” Reid says. “And everybody gets a kick out of ‘Drink Wisconsinably,’ a local company. We have their logo on keychains, magnets, T-shirts and glassware.”

A small token of history

The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, Atchison, Kansas, just opened in April, and the gift shop is already selling strong. “We’re a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) museum,” says Jacque Pregont, treasurer of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation that runs the museum, “so we have lots of STEM things in the gift shop, plus puzzles and games.”

But there are also plenty of non-STEM souvenirs. “We have little busts of Amelia,” Pregont says. “Sweatshirts, jackets, T-shirts — we’re doing extremely well with those. And we have scarves because Amelia was known for always wearing one.”

Trends have already appeared. The most popular keychain is “the museum logo one,” Pregont says. “It has a wood-burned design with a picture of the Amelia statue in the middle of it,” she says. “It’s so popular that I called the supplier and asked, ‘how fast can you make more?’ And there’s one that is like a little Amelia doll — we sell quite a few of those, too.”

“We’ve got a big variety of magnets. One of them has our very cool, colorful logo on it, we sell that extremely well. We have another with a copy of her first pilot’s license and some with Amelia’s face.” — Jacque Pregont, The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum

“We’ve got a big variety of magnets,” Pregont says. “One of them has our very cool, colorful logo on it, we sell that extremely well. We have another with a copy of her first pilot’s license and some with Amelia’s face.”
One of the exhibits is a Lockheed L10E plane, the last one in existence, identical to the plane she was flying when she disappeared. And yes, there’s a magnet for it.

The key to displays

You’d think no one could miss the “magnet wall” at Urban Milwaukee — a 30-square-foot metal sheet that starts a foot off the floor and soars 7 feet upward. Even so, some people do manage to overlook it.

“Funny thing is, sometimes people walk around the store and they’ll go, ‘Do you have magnets?’ And then I‘ll point to the wall and laugh,” says Reid.

As for keychains, there are 30-some styles to choose from, displayed on a slatwall system suspended from hooks.

The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum’s gift shop sells a keychain with the museum logo that is a top seller.

At the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum gift shop, the magnets and keychains share a four-sided spinner. “Our gift shop area is really small, only 250 square feet,” says Pregont. “If I had it to do over again we’d have more room, because we’re selling so much for the amount of square footage that we have that it’s hard to keep things stocked which is a wonderful problem to have!”

At Once in a Blue Moon, “We have spinners in every location devoted to keychains and magnets,” Cates says.
The spinners are 5 feet tall and 18 inches wide, square with four sides. Two of the sides will have keychains and the other two, magnets.

“In some of the stores, they’re in multiple spots around the floor; in others, they’re a little bit more towards the register,” she says. “We try to make it so they’re easily accessible and don’t just stick them in a back corner somewhere.”

A magnetizing sell

Magnets and keychains have wide appeal from young to old and every age in between.
Pregont says of the market for her keychain and magnet merchandise, “so far I don’t have a specific group, it’s a very diverse demographic.”

Magnets and keychains have natural kid appeal. “When we first opened school was in session,” Pregont says. “The kids buy keychains and magnets because mom sends them out with a $5 bill, and they can afford a $4 magnet. But we’ve also had a lot of older people, seniors buying them as well.”

“Funny thing is, sometimes people walk around the store and they’ll go, ‘Do you have magnets?’ And then I‘ll point to the wall and laugh.”
— Dave Reid, Urban Milwaukee

At Urban Milwaukee, tourists make up 95% of the traffic, according to Reid. “We get a lot more travelers than people think; I’ve met people from around the world.”

“These things are definitely tourist items,” Cates says. “They’re really great keepsakes from Alaska, and they’re popular items with the visitors we get in the summer.”

Priced to sell

The Ameilia Earhart Hangar Museum has magnets ranging from $2.50 to $8 and keychains from $3 to $11. “The $11 keychain is the little Amelia Earhart doll,” says Pregont.

At Urban Milwaukee, most keychains can be had for $3 up to $12. “We have a $10 one that’s a spinning Pabst can,” says Reid. “It’s that much because it’s a small maker that puts those out, and we have one $25 leather keychain with what Milwaukeeans refer to as ‘The People’s Flag.’ It’s more elaborate than a simple keychain.”
Reid says Urban Milwaukee magnet offerings are as low as $3. “Most are around $5,” he says. “The most expensive are these actual MLB baseballs that are $22.”

At Once in a Blue Moose, “Our range for both magnets and keychains is $4 to $15 depending on the style,” Cates says. The lesser expensive varieties are typically mass produced, where higher-ticketed items are handcrafted using higher-cost materials “like the magnet we have that’s a wooden cutout of a map that’s really intricate and quite large.”

“Once you’ve got a $25 T-shirt and a $17 book in your hand, adding a $6 magnet doesn’t matter at all.” — Jacque Pregont, The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum

Add-on capabilities are another perk of magnet and keychains, according to Pregont. “Once you’ve got a $25 T-shirt and a $17 book in your hand, adding a $6 magnet doesn’t matter at all,” she says.

They work that way for Reid, too. “That’s pretty common because of the way the store is configured, people generally find the magnets right away. People will be done shopping and they’ll add on some stickers and magnets.”

Easy, breezy sourcing

These items aren’t hard to find and come in a variety of options. “I have multiple sources for buying,” Pregont says. “I find a lot on Faire and Etsy. I also go to the big souvenir gift shows in Gatlinburg and Sevierville every year.” She imports some items China as well.

Pregont says some bigger wholesalers have started putting things up on Faire. “What I love is that when you buy something through them on a credit card it doesn’t get charged for 60 days. I’ve reordered some things way before the first invoice came in. And if you buy multiples of an item they’ll give them to you at a wholesale price.”

Reid also uses Faire, and also and works with some local vendors who handmake pieces. “That $25 leather keychain, that’s a local maker,” he says. “And then we have a number of wooden magnets and bottle-opener magnets from a couple different local artists. We also buy directly from WinCraft and a few other places that have the more sports-related keychains and magnets.”

It’s often the little things in life that make a huge difference. Magnets and keychains, though small, can really help swell your bottom line. Why not give them a try in your store?