Great-Selling Garments T-shirt – Trends at Zoos and Aquariums

By Carimé Lane

A T-shirt is a crowd favorite for guests looking to bring their experience at zoos and aquariums home with them. Here, we talk to four store managers about their top-selling T-shirts, how they sell more of them, and the selection they offer.
Sam Robinson, retail operations manager at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden said the top selling shirts in their 3,800-square-foot shop are from their Palmetto Collection. “They are not only name-dropped but have our South Carolina beloved Palmetto on it,” said Robinson. This soft shirt comes in two colors.

Apparel and gifts on display at the Seattle Aquarium. The store always has multiple T-shirt designs that celebrate its popular animal residents.

To sell more T-shirts, Robinson suggested keeping them in a prime spot in your store. “Feature them on a stand and have them on a bust so guests can see the shirt on,” Robinson said. Robinson also suggested rotating the T-shirts on a regular basis. “Guests want to see new things and if you have a lot of returning guests, just rotate things around to give the appearance of new product if you don’t have any new shirts,” Robinson said.
At Riverbanks Zoo where annual sales are 3.1 million, they have over 30 shirts for sale. They consistently order new shirts and have a new collection arriving in March.
Over at Alaska Zoo, some of the most popular T-shirt designs include a “Get Outside” message, a close-up of a snow leopard face, and polar bears.

Retail Operations Manager Sam Robinson is the Columbia, S.C. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden store manager. Top-selling, soft garments that come in two colors, the store’s Palmetto Collection shirts are name-dropped and have the state’s beloved Palmetto on them, Robinson said.

Guests feel inspired to purchase items because they feel an emotional connection to the animals they saw just prior to entering the shop. Another way to get guests feeling good about making a T-shirt purchase is using signage informing guests that a portion of the proceeds from the shop directly support the Alaska Zoo and its many conservation programs.
They also find featuring a lead shirt either hung or on a feature table worn by a mannequin helps boost sales. In addition, having each T-shirt design hung clearly on a T-shirt wall allows for easy size selection once a customer sees a design they like.
For the upcoming spring and summer season, they have 21 designs of adult T-shirts planned, including carryover and new styles.
“Our seasonal limited-edition Seattle Aquarium Sea Otter collection is very popular right now,” said Jasmine Ramirez, store director at the Seattle Aquarium Gift Shop.  The collection features various original illustrated designs.  According to Ramirez, one of their most popular designs is a “lighthearted message” featuring an “adorable” illustrated otter that says “I Hide Snacks in my Armpits. Yum.” with Seattle Aquarium branding.  This style is made from 60% recycled cotton/40% recycled polyester.

A wall display of T-shirts at the Seattle Aquarium. The store director advised making T-shirts easy to see and keeping displays tidy to sell more shirts.

They also offer the Respect the Locals collection in both hoody and T-shirt style featuring a seal, octopus, and orca with the Seattle Aquarium branding.  The materials they use for this collection are made from recycled PET water bottles and include up to 6.5 recycled plastic bottles per piece, Ramirez said.
Ramirez suggested making T-shirts easy to see. “A display that features a single design helps the product and message stand out, explained Ramirez. “A T-shirt wall is another great way to accomplish this, as it shows all of the design options that are available and keeps the display looking tidy throughout the day.”
Seattle Aquarium Store always has multiple T-shirt designs available to purchase.  They currently offer over 20 different designs that celebrate popular animal residents of Seattle Aquarium, such as orcas, puffins, otters, sharks, octopi, jellies and so on, Ramirez said.  These designs come in various color, size, and style options.  “We refresh the assortment in the Spring, and plan to introduce even more variety to continue celebrating Seattle Aquarium special moments,” Ramirez said.

Of the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, from left to right, are November Campbell, floor supervisor, and Assistant Operation Managers Emily Collin and Kristi Vincini. The store consistently orders new shirts and was expecting a delivery of a new collection in March, according to the store manager.

Chris Florio Bice, gift shop manager and buyer at Big Bear Alpine Zoo said the zoo is now located in a new facility, which has been open for a little over a year. They have a bit more room in this gift shop, but it’s still not huge, commented Bice.
Bice said their zoo is an intimate facility focusing on rehabilitation of native Alpine species. Because of this, the focus is on picking just a style or two to display, which works for them. “I make sure the choices clearly display the zoo name and purpose, which is “Saving Wildlife since 1959,” Bice said.
When it comes to selling more T-shirts, “display is key,” said Bice. “I have done my best to create an experience in our store, complete with interesting décor, rustic style, animal sounds and pleasant smells,” said Bice. “This encourages lingering, which creates better sales.”

A T-shirt display at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo in Big Bear Lake, Calif. The store sells T-shirt styles for adults, children and toddlers.

In addition, your T-shirt display should be kept neat, which makes them look appealing, Bice said.
They keep samples for size available near the register. “It is more work on the front end to wrap each T-shirt or sweatshirt individually, but much less work during the day to keep the display organized and clean,” Bice said.
At the moment, they have one style of T-shirt available for adults in two colors, one for kids and one for toddlers. “I do plan to add another adult style and one more for kids, as the pandemic wanes (fingers crossed).”

Otter-themed merchandise at the Seattle Aquarium. This seasonal limited-edition line features various original designs.

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