Finding a best-seller in name-dropped and custom gift items at zoos and aquariums depends on the savvy knowledge of shop staff and buyers, and a good recognition of items that have done well for zoo shops in the past, and fresh merchandising items for the future.
At the Zoo Store South at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash., Assistant Zoo Store Director Victoria Demers explained that picking a name-dropped item that will sell well for the shop is based on “what has been doing well and what new products are available. At our gift shop, we are run by Event Network, and they have their own buyers and vendors who keep on top of everything and adjust the items we carry based on what we are doing well with, and what is doing well at other zoo shops.” Demers said that the best advice she can offer to create a great-selling custom gift is to focus on items that have done well in the past and can be updated. “Stuffed animals, plastic toys, magnets definitely, and key chains all do well and make great name-dropped or custom items. So do clothing items. We sell a good amount of hoodies in the clothing area also,” she related.
In Big Bear Lake, Calif., Lorie Judd, assistant regional manager for the Big Bear Valley Recreational Park District and gift store buyer for the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, noted that her tiny 200-square-foot shop, in its first year in 2018, made $275,000 in sales. She is rightfully proud of the fact, and says that some of her best-sellers were name-dropped items. Her advice for picking name-dropped merchandise is to look for something unique. Having only been operating a gift shop for a year, she stressed, “We find things that we like, that we think would look good with our logo, order a small amount, and see what will happen,” she attested. “Our Silipint silicone cups with our logo are our number one name-dropped item. They’re very unique, made out of silicone, and you can freeze them or put them in the oven. They’re virtually indestructible, and kids love to fill them.”
Located in Albuquerque, N.M., the 64-acre Albuquerque Biological Park zoo shows both exotic and native animals in educational exhibits that focus on wildlife conservation efforts. The gift shop at the attraction continues this focus, Zoo Director Baird Fleming said. “We work with Wild Life Trading Company and its owner, James Ward, partners with a non-profit in Africa to assist the wild dogs there, which are rare carnivores. We will be carrying jewelry that he’s offered us, created from snares that they take from the bush in the wild. For us, the custom and name-dropped items we carry are about finding something that helps others.” He added that his store carries “everything from magnets and stuffed animals to mugs and shirts.”
According to Wild Life Trading President James Ward, “We do items for about 25 retail stores at zoos and other attractions, and we do name-dropped items for many of them. Picking the best name-dropped item generally depends on the market and the specific attraction; you look for better-selling products, and then you see if you can add value to it by adding a name-drop. That’s how we approach it,” he related. “What we want is to get as many products into as many hands as possible to help brand the attraction. For Albuquerque, we developed name-dropped plush based on new exhibits, and T-shirts, those are always items that do well, as well as souvenir items like magnets. But we also try to look for unique items that you wouldn’t necessarily find name-dropped to increase value to them, and increase average sales.”
To create a great custom gift, he says he works hard to “support the mission and guest experience of each attraction. With the snare jewelry that we offer, it comes from Namibia, and it helps us to tell the stories of the poaching units, and what we are doing to work with a major dog conservation group. It’s a good match with Albuqerque.” He explained, “What we are doing is continuing the experience, the educational mission of the attraction through products. And, hopefully we are creating a conversation. Guests go home with the products, and share the information, and that encourages them to find out more and get involved. This is much more than physical products for us; this is our passion, conservation and wild life, and we want to bring that into our stores.”
At the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Ore., Gift Shop Buyer Kathy Jones said the 200-square-foot small aquarium shop does best with items such as “magnets, salt and pepper shakers, and smaller items such as stickers – at least half of those have our name on them. We have little souvenir bottles with sand dollars in them and that type of thing. The main advice I can give is to pick fairly inexpensive items that help spread your brand name.” As to custom gifts, her shop created a custom snow globe that featured the aquarium’s 1937-built building inside it. “We’re an old landmark, so that was successful for us. I haven’t done a lot in the line, but I would suggest that the best thing an attraction can do is to choose something that reflects your own individual location, something that makes a nice take-home gift or souvenir, perhaps ornaments, something small for under $10.”
At the Downtown Aquarium Denver in Denver, Colo., Gift Shop Retail Manager Patricia Spurlock said her eclectic selection is determined by the retail buyers at the aquarium’s corporate headquarters, Landry’s, Inc. “The retail department is located in Texas. They own many attractions, and they pick different vendors to stock the shops annually. They’re in the middle of that decision process now for this year.” Her gift shop carries plush, toys, T-shirts and other clothing items, and home décor, all with an aquatic theme. The aquarium and gift shop are part of a large Landry’s complex that includes dining. Name-dropped items vary, but smaller, less-expensive items do well, as do items that guests can use at home, such as glassware. Keeping items fresh is key to keeping sales strong.
In short, at zoos and aquariums throughout the U.S., name-dropped gifts and custom items that reflect the attraction and the experience of the attraction do best in sales at attraction gift shops.
All-Time Best-Selling Name-Dropped Items
At zoos and aquariums nationwide, the best-selling name-dropped items any store carries varies by location, but some sure-fire favorites emerge.
At the Zoo Store South at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash., Assistant Zoo Store Director Victoria Demers said, “Magnets are by far the best-seller. I believe it is because they have our name on them, and they also have pictures of our actual animals here. That makes them an attractive and reasonably priced souvenir to have.”
In Big Bear Lake, Calif., Lorie Judd, assistant regional manager for the Big Bear Valley Recreational Park District and gift store buyer for the Big Bear Alpine Zoo said that her unique Silipint silicone name-dropped cup is a huge hit, but that aside, her top seller is “magnets. They just fly out the door. It may be our least profitable with a price point of $2, but it just goes out the door all day long, particularly one that is in the shape of a bear with our name on it.”
At Albuquerque Biological Park, Zoo Director Baird Fleming said items such as mugs and T-shirts and plush do well in the name-dropped category. His shop’s retail is handled by Wild Life Trading. WLT’s president James Ward stressed, “Name-dropped plush offers the biggest lift in sales. It may not be the number one seller in units, but we get a bigger boost when we name-drop that, so I would go with plush.”
In Seaside, Ore., at the Seaside Aquarium, Gift Shop Buyer Kathy Jones said, “Our best-seller is our Christmas ornaments. They all have our name on them, and there are lots of choices for our guests. They’re also a good price point which makes them a good souvenir item.”
At the Downtown Aquarium Denver in Denver, Colo., Gift Shop Retail Manager Patricia Spurlock said her top name-dropped sellers are “mugs and shot glasses.”