Getting Sales of Name-Dropped Items Soaring at Zoos and Aquariums

By Karen Appold

When looking to increase sales of name-dropped merchandise, providing good customer service is a key component. Oly Watt, gift shop manager, Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, Mont., said staff are knowledgable about items offered at the 6,000-square-foot gift shop. In addition, employees wear apparel such as name-dropped hats and T-shirts. “We are walking mannequins,” she said. “It helps people to notice our clothing. Staff are happy to help guests find the right size or color. We also mention that gift shop proceeds benefit the animals.”

At the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, Mont., Cara Vogel has been seasonal summer retail staff for two years. The staff is knowledgable about items offered at the 6,000-square-foot gift shop.

Dee Mangulins, executive director, Butterfly Wonderland, Scottsdale, Ariz., said sales staff need to know as much as they can about the butterflies—which come from rainforests all over the world. “Many guests photograph the beauty of the butterflies and have their favorites,” she saod.

Samantha Halligan, assistant director of guest services, Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minn., also stated that it’s important for staff to have product knowledge. “Customers respond well to staff who are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate about our products,” she said.

Customer feedback is important. Halligan encourages employees to engage with customers and learn what they can do to improve their shopping experience and what products they’re looking for that the store doesn’t have.

At the 1,200-square-foot gift shop at Reptile Rescue Orange County, in Newport Beach, Calif., Sam Makki, executive director, said staff members dress casually to blend in. “We don’t want to portray a sales type of atmosphere; instead we try to strike up conversations with guests to find out what really sparks their interest and then surprise them with the perfect item we think they’ll like,” he said.

Gina Julio, one of the lead team Guest Services representatives for the Lake Superior Zoo. Customers respond to staff members who are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate about the store’s products, the assistant director of guest services said.

Price it Right
Paying attention to pricing is also critical to boosting sales. Watt is careful not to price name-dropped items too high, as people are only willing to spend a certain amount on a souvenir. “Don’t be afraid to order in a big quantity,” she said. “This will help to keep your costs down.” The store garners around $700,000 a year, most of which is made in the busy summer season.
For Halligan, name-dropped items priced under $15 typically sell well. This includes carabiners, mugs, T-shirts, pencils, magnets and plush.

Name-dropped drinking glasses for sale at the Lake Superior Zoo. The store also offers name-dropped water bottles, sippy cups, camper mugs and more.

Mangulins analyzes the most common sweet spot based on average sales per category, and prices name-dropped items accordingly.

Buy What Will Sell
While people of all ages visit Butterfly Wonderland, the most common demographic is women aged 30 to 50, Mangulins said. They are drawn to apparel with a conservation message that supports the butterflies. Older adults go for magnets and mugs. In addition, parents like to purchse a T-shirt or hat for their child.

Lake Superior Zoo also has a wide demographic, so the gift shop carries a large variety of name-dropped souvenirs. Drinkware including water bottles, shot glasses, sippy cups and camper mugs is a great example of offering something for everyone.

Focus on Displays
Halligan said name-dropped items are located front and center at the 900-square-foot gift shop. “They’re the first items that guests see when they walk through the doors, and the last ones they see as they decide what to purchase,” she said. The name-drop display is full of variety, from shot glasses to name-dropped gem stones in a bottle. “Having a variety not only makes the display stand out, but the wide price range offers something for everyone.”

Stones to take home in name-dropped pouches are available at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, Minn. Customer feedback is important for the store.

Pairing name-dropped items with other like-minded souvenirs can help bring everything together in one convenient location, Halligan said. In addition, stocking lower price point name-dropped items such as magnets, keychains or candy at the front counter can help drive last-minute sales.

Mangulins, who prefers to group similar-themed items together on a center table, says a display should tell a story. “This can result in sales of multiple items,” she said. The gift shop boasts 3,000 square feet.

Makki said signage is also key. “When we placed a colorful sign over a plush snake display that reads, “Plush Snakes!” it increased sales by at least 35 percent,” he said. “This strategy has proven itself time and time again.”

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