By Karen Appold

After visitors explore the 65 acres of gardens at Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore, Ala., they are drawn to gift items with floral and garden themes. Loretta Potapenko, buyer, said books on gardening and history as well as books for children are wildly popular. “It they’re displayed properly, you can catch people in the moment,” she said. “Categorizing books that relate together, such as birding, gardening, and floral arranging works well.”

Shown at left is Meg Mosely, a 42-year employee of the Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop, with Becky Johnson, who has worked in the Theodore, Ala., store for four years. Gifts with floral and garden themes sell well at the store.

Dish towels with garden themes and humorous sayings related to gardening are also all the rage at the 1,500-square-foot shop. Potapenko attributed their popularity to being practical and available in different price points. “If you only stock inexpensive merchandise, guests who have money to spend won’t buy anything.”
Beth Lavenz, buyer at Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens in Waterloo, Iowa, said wine is its biggest seller because most people don’t associate Iowa with wine so it’s an adventure, especially for wine connoisseurs. The second biggest seller is honey from its hives. “Honey has been in the spotlight in the sustainability community,” she said. “When you buy honey locally, it reduces the amount of travel from the hive to your table. You can get different flavors of honey depending on the kinds of plants the producer has near their hives. Add in the health benefits that come with eating honey, and you have the perfect item for the environmentally conscious/health-oriented person.”

Personal care and candle products at Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. Offering merchandise at different price points ensures there is something for every guest to buy, according to an official with the store.

Two T-shirts in particular also fly off the shelves. One says “Bee happy” and another says “Hanging with my gnomies.” “Both pay homage to special things at our location; our on-site bee hives and our gnome scavenger hunt,” Lavenz said. “They are also funny and positive.”
For Mike Hippler, buyer at Ashton Gardens in Lehi, Utah, Pali Hawaii sandals are hot. “These casual beach sandals are a functional, high-quality item that are a must-have for our high-mountain desert climate,” he said. “Guests say they’re comfortable and easy to wear.”

Color coordinated books and gifts at the Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. Books on gardening and history and children’s volumes are popular at the store.

Hippler also said that table-top and wall hanging signs from companies like Primitives by Kathy, Ganz, and Gift Craft, are highly sought after. Signs with whimsical, practical, or meaningful quotes or sayings as well as signs depicting different gardening themes from dirt to flowers to bees/honey are the top choices in this category. “Guests love to buy something that’s personal to them,” she said. “We have a wide variety of signs with different themes.”
Rounding out Hippler’s top three best-sellers are high-quality Angela Johnson statues and crystal gem ornaments that depict images of statues in Ashton Gardens. “Guests make a personal connection to the statues,” he said. “Having these items specific to our location gives guests something personal to take home to remember the connections they made.”
For Siobahn Gilmore, store director at Naples Botanical Garden in Florida, trinket dishes made of clay and glass in the USA are top sellers. “They are affordable and we sell them in six different colors,” she said. They cost $12.99 each. Assorted semi-precious birthstone stud earrings by Raw Beauty also fly off the shelves. They sell for $35. The shop is 7,500 square feet.

Blue and white china on display at the Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. Patti Davidson is the store’s manager.

Tips to Entice Sales
In order to promote sales, Hippler advised selecting items that are unique to a venue. For instance, Ashton Gardens has an annual tulip festival in the spring featuring more than 250,000 tulips across its 50 acres of gardens. The event brings thousands of guests from Utah and worldwide. For the event, the 2,500-square-foot shop orders tulip-themed items from Holland.

Home décor merchandise at Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. Dish towels with garden themes and humorous sayings are highly popular for the store.

Virginia Holcomb, assistant buyer at Ashton Gardens, recommended engaging with visitors to find items that will work for them. “When you take time for guests and build a relationship of trust, it opens doors to make suggestions and ultimately fulfills their needs,” she said. “Often a guest won’t know what they want, and your suggestions can help. In turn, you create repeat business as well as gain new business because guests will talk about their positive experiences with others.”
When she’s looking to boost sales at her 500-square-foot shop, Lavenz finds a reason to make guests feel good about the products they’re buying. “We note items that are local, that support a charity, or promote sustainability efforts,” she said. “Then, their purchase means more than just being another sale in your shop.”

This gift display at Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop offers options for special gifts for men.

Creating Attractive Displays
In order to get shoppers to notice a display, Holcomb uses items and tools that create height and depth. Acrylic risers, easels, props, as well as product can be used to add to a displays’ theme and overall dimension.
She also advised merchandising to the flow of traffic in your shop. “If your store is an exit to your venue, consider facing displays to the main pathways angled toward guests,” Holcomb said. “This may give extra attention to your display instead of allowing guests to pass by without giving it any notice.”
Lavenz said placement is important. “If customers can’t see what you’re selling, then what’s the point,” she said. “We avoid over-crowded displays and group items to create a theme. This year we had a cabinet that featured all of our food items mixed with items like themed dish towels and kitchen décor.”

Gifts on display at the Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. Loretta Potapenko, a Museum Consultant, has worked at the attraction for 15 years and selects and purchases all of the store’s products as well as displaying, reordering, and arranging all the holiday displays.

Areas of Special Interest
In addition to creating attractive displays in order to boost sales, it’s important to know your hot spots. Lavenz said children’s items are popular in part because they are kept on lower shelves and are placed in high-traffic areas. “We recently added a bargain bin for sale items and found success with both children and adults in this area,” she said. “Part of the appeal with the bargain bin is finding that ‘hidden treasure’ and feeling good about getting a deal on it.”
Holcomb has found that areas along the main path capture the most attention. “When you have compelling feature displays in the main areas it creates curiosity for the rest of the shop,” she said. For example, a well-placed jewelry display can bring attention to surrounding items and pull guests further into the shop. Staggering displays enables them to be well seen from multiple angles.

A display including home décor items at the Bellingrath Gardens & Home Gift Shop. The site offers 65 acres of gardens.



Are Statuary Sales Still Standing Tall?

Statuary sales can be hit or miss, depending upon whom you ask. For Loretta Potapenko, buyer at Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore, Ala., statuary are strong sellers until early spring. Then sales start to slow most likely because guests have what they need by then. Planters and vases from Napa are most popular.
For a brief time, Beth Lavenz, buyer at Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens in Waterloo, Iowa, said the shop constantly ran out of a line of gnome statues when they were a new item. However, interest dwindled as the season went on.
Mike Hippler, buyer at Ashton Gardens in Lehi, Utah, said statuary sales have declined in recent years. “Competing with big box retailers has made it harder to sell statuary items,” he said. “Guests tend to choose bargain buys, and look online or at major retailers for the best prices. This makes sense, because statuary is a more expensive investment. Small shops that cannot afford to offer a lower profit margin on these items will hurt in the long run because they will have to wait for the right person to come along to purchase it.”