Name-Dropped Merchandise
Sales Tips from Zoos

A day at the zoo isn’t complete without a souvenir to remind patrons about their experience. Whether guests come from near or far, they usually appreciate finding a keepsake that bears the facility’s name or logo. If the items feature likenesses of the zoo’s inhabitants – all the better! Read on as proprietors of several zoo gift shops in varying locales elaborate on some of their best-sellers.

Zoofari Outpost Gift Shop at Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford, Fla., is well-versed in the kind of impulse items shoppers favor. “Magnets, key rings, postcards, T-shirts, mugs, pencils – all those kinds of things are popular,” said Store Manager Anita Coogan. These name-dropped souvenirs are portable and their price points are low – qualities that naturally appeal to day-trippers. The approximately 1,000-square-foot store sees a lot of school groups and summer camp kids depending on the time of year so it is essential to have a lot of small trinket items on hand. Their budget may be modest and allowance-based, but children still want something to remind them of their time at the zoo. Coogan also stressed the significance of having offerings that relate to the setting. “When people visit a location such as a zoo, they want to relate to the animals that they see there. It’s important to have those key animals represented by product whether it’s a plush item, T-shirt, magnet or what have you.” At Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, snakes, giraffes, parrots, macaws, an Amur leopard and a rhinoceros number among the creature inhabitants and the Zoofari Outpost Gift Shop strives to carry items that reflect this diverse wildlife.

Educator Emily McClure and Buyer Kevin O’Carroll of Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Fla. The best-selling name-dropped souvenir for the gift shop is magnets.

Many animal-centric facilities have evolved to include a no-straw, no-lid policy and Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens is no exception. Zoofari Outpost Gift Shop features a stainless-steel straw kit emblazoned with the destination’s logo. The shop also offers similarly adorned eco-friendly color-changing drinking cups. “We’re all trying to take steps to combat global warming and make our earth a better place,” Coogan explained. The facility is also a non-profit organization. “It’s important that we have the right items in our gift shop to support our mission at the Zoo. Every bit helps and we’re working hard to try to achieve everything we can to take care of these animals and their existence.” Although the gift shop operates under the guidance of a management company, staff does have a hand in decision-making in terms of merchandise selection and their choices reflect it. Display always drives sales. “Most people come in knowing exactly what they’re looking for. Magnet, key rings, all those kinds of things. We have our name-dropped magnets up on a magnet board. Shoppers can’t miss them,” Coogan concluded.

Apparel tops the list of best-selling name-dropped souvenir items inside North Woods Gift Store at Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Mass. It makes sense given the facility’s four-season locale and the fact it is open year-round. “We always try to make sure we have a good selection of T-shirts, and sweatshirts, depending on the weather. Guests can always utilize apparel and it’s beneficial if it has our name on it,” said Sales Manager Jessica Roberts. The approximately 1,000-square-foot store stays in tune with what Mother Nature dictates. “We try to stay within season, so in the summer we get the summer baseball hats. During the winter, we do beanies. We just always have something available.”

Name-dropped mugs are another popular souvenir item at Buttonwood Park Zoo. “Especially around the holiday season, we’ll dress them up with a little bow and incorporate peppermint sticks or hot chocolate packets. Those make nice gifts for people,” Roberts said. When seeking new items to name-drop, North Woods Gift Store finds it helpful to listen to its customer base. “They give great suggestions. We’ll think something may be phasing out – it could be magnets, for example, or another item – but then a couple of customers will come in and announce we’d love a magnet to remember our trip!” This exact exchange happened just recently inside the store. “Somebody was looking for magnets and we ended up ordering some because if one or two people are looking for them as a way to remember their trip here, we should definitely have them.” Moral of the story: never underestimate customers’ whims and desires!

Anita Coogan, manager, Zoofari Outpost Gift Shop, right, and Mary Norris, assistant manager, photographed with some of their top-selling items. This shop at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford, Fla., always offers small trinkets for camp and school groups.

Clearly never underestimate the power magnets exert either. Magnets attract customers at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Fla., too. In fact, they’re number one on the list of best-selling name-dropped souvenir items inside its roughly 2,600-square-foot gift shop. Second on the list are ornaments – primarily the Christmas variety which sell year-round, much to Buyer Kevin O’Carroll’s surprise. Key chains are next in terms of sales followed by plush animals which are outfitted with little jackets bearing the facility’s name. Flamingo and alligator plushies sell especially well since both creatures are Sarasota Jungle Gardens feature attractions. “One of the big things you can do here is hand-feed flamingoes,” O’Carroll explained. Name-dropped T-shirts round out the list. “Those are definitely popular since we get a lot of tourists from different parts of the country and around the world. Offering something that is easy to pack or is small and durable like magnets or key chains is the best plan,” said Educator Emily McClure.

O’Carroll recommended keeping name-dropped merchandise in line of sight. “You want to try to keep it at eye level and keep it well-lit and easy to identify. People are already looking for those items on their own. You just have to make it easy for them to access those items.” Customer feedback informs a lot of the decision-making at Sarasota Jungle Gardens when it is scouting new items to name-drop in the gift shop. “One of the things that we received a lot of requests for was a flamingo crossing sign,” O’Carroll said. Quite a few people in the state of Florida, not to mention elsewhere, are fond of decorating their lawns with flamingo ornaments. Of those, many thought it would be funny to add a “flamingo crossing” sign to complete the look – something akin to a “deer crossing” sign often seen in other parts of the country.

Unfortunately, Sarasota Jungle Gardens didn’t feel quite comfortable carrying a big metal sign that proclaimed: “Flamingo Crossing” in its gift shop. “So, we found an alternative,” O’Carroll said. “We procured these magnets that say the same thing and also feature our name.” The “Flamingo Crossing” magnets have been well received and have appeased enthusiastic flamingo fans for the time being. Once a flamingo fan, always a flamingo fan!

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