The ongoing antics and intriguing behavior of zoo and aquarium inhabitants are what keep people coming back for more. Animals and sea life never fail to keep things fresh and interesting. Savvy proprietors of on-site gift shops recognize they must do the same. For this article, four store officials shared some of their latest inventory additions at their facilities in different parts of the country.
Ever mindful of the environment, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach, Va., introduced its newest green plush product this year – Conscious Plush. “They’re made with 100 percent recycled fiber fill and have embroidered eyes and noses, which means less plastic!” said Assistant Merchandiser Vicki Krauter. Since the gift shop’s best-sellers are almost always plush items – “We’ve found that our guests love something soft that can be cuddled,” she added – the move towards green has a measurable impact. The 1,430-square-foot retail space has also begun stocking bamboo reusable straws to help with its Skip the Straw initiative, and Water Clocks which are timepieces powered by water.
Krauter recommends rotating and moving souvenirs to different displays to boost sales. “New locations for your merchandise keeps it fresh and appealing to guests and provides new opportunities for them to discover it.” While plush sales remain a constant, the gift shop at Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center also sells a lot of Bubble Drops and spinning wands. “These interactive toys seem to keep our guests’ attention,” Krauter concluded.
Visitors to the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, N.C., will find a host of new items inside the gift shop this year. Despite being only 355 square feet, the retail space has found room to include a Fossil Find Mining Bag, a new SiliPint color, locally made leather cup sleeves and coasters, Pennybandz® and collector’s book, 3D postcards, additional Critter-in-a-Purse options, wildlife call Stuffies, and jumbo stuffed animals. The store has also upped the variety of shirt styles it carries. “We rely heavily on storage spaces and restocking,” explained Kerby Price, retail operations manager. Fittingly, Good Luck Minis – pocket-sized toy animals – top sales, besting bottled water two-and-half times over. Priced at a mere 75 cents each, they are among the least expensive items in the store, but sales accumulate. “We carry 12 different mini animals, all sold under the same label, and many folks collect multiples,” said Price. In terms of raw profit, however, she conceded the store’s big winner is Gem Mining Roughage. These are three pound bags of dirt that can be used at the mining sluice just outside the shop to find hidden gemstones. “It’s definitely the activity-based nature of this item that makes it so popular,” she said.
The most successful souvenirs at the WNC Nature Center are ones that can be placed in multiple spots throughout the gift shop. “Even though we’re a small space, we still get a lot of skimmers. Folks will miss it in the first and third spot but see it in the second,” said Price. Therefore, groups of things like the Good Luck Minis, 93 cent tiny turtles and 70 cent polished stones occupy multiple locales at opposite ends of the store. “Cashiers will always help if they’re available, but spreading them out ensures people looking at that price range won’t walk away disappointed if staff members are busy with someone else.” The store also makes good use of its vertical space. Jumbo plush animals are suspended from the ceiling. Shirts and local art are displayed on a 14-foot tall wall. “This allows us to carry higher end items in a small space without losing valuable real estate we need for faster selling items. It also allows shirts to be folded on the floor so more sizes and colors can be kept in the storefront.”
At OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Ariz., sustainability is woven into its mission statement. “Having an aquarium in the middle of the desert is a great opportunity to not only showcase marine life but also to teach people how they can become better stewards of our earth,” said Dave Peranteau, who serves as the director of animal care and conservation. It should come as no surprise that OdySea Treasures Gift Shop walks the walk by offering items such as plush and T-shirts made from recycled bottles. Single-use plastic has, in fact, become a thing of the past across all departments inside the 5,000-square-foot store. “In our toy department, for example, we work with the vendors on our packaging so it’s post-consumer cardboard, and if we put things in a bag, it’s a re-usable poly bag that the parents can actually store the toys in, other than just a bag that you would open and toss away in the garbage,” said Gift Shop Manager Terese Thompson.
“Our best-selling items are ones that speak to OdySea’s creatures,” Thompson continued. The aquarium has quite a collection of black-footed African penguins plus a wide assortment of sharks. The octopus is popular too. Themed plush, toys, T-shirts and more definitely drive sales. A family-friendly set-up is also key. Staff is plentiful and knowledgeable at OdySea Treasures Gift Shop. “We work really closely with Dave and his team to know what is going on in the aquarium. We can answer questions if customers ask about what’s happening with the octopus or the new baby penguins, for example.” Plenty of things are left open for families to touch and feel and play with. Patrons are encouraged to spend time looking through featured books about the aquarium. “Their time inside here should really be an extension of their aquarium experience more than just going into a store and shopping. It really should be as entertaining as the aquarium,” Thompson concluded.
Visitors browsing the gift shop at The OutBack Kangaroo Farm in Arlington, Wash., naturally find plenty of items honoring the facility’s namesake. “We carry all kinds of different things – plenty of stuffed animals, T-shirts, hats, magnets, postcards. Because we’re a kangaroo farm and petting zoo, items featuring kangaroos are our biggest sellers,” said Owner Ray Strom. Kangaroos may be the main draw but plenty of other animals populate the property. There are wallabies, lemurs, miniature goats, alpacas and llamas on site not to mention a few feathered friends – chickens, ducks and peacocks. All of these are represented is some way, shape or form in the 400-square-foot gift shop, plush being the most common variety. “People come in with credit card in hand and they’ll tell their child to pick out something. To make it easy, we make sure there is plenty of selection!” Strom concluded.