By Sara Karnish
Tourists seek out small items like magnets, postcards, and jewelry at souvenir and resort shops because they are lightweight and easy to pack. Name-dropped apparel is equally popular because it bears the name of a memorable destination. But at times customers want a more substantial memento of a getaway. This is where resort gift shop retailers can offer guests a range of unique, quality gifts, typically at a higher price point, which often assume a place of honor in their home.
Large- and small-framed maps of Delavan Lake, priced at $350 and $150 respectively, are among the quality gift best sellers at Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wis., according to Sue Phelps, gift shop manager. “We are a generational resort, with many generations of families who have been coming here. I’m in my 26th year, and I’ve seen a lot of newborns who are now in college. We have a lot of repeat guests who have been coming here for quite a few years, and they are probably my biggest fans. We have some ‘newbies’ who are coming in and they are just in awe. They say our gift shop is very reasonably priced.” Phelps adds logowear is a strong seller, along with Minnetonka-brand moccasins. “I try to keep a [price point] ‘comfort zone’ for our guests,” Phelps explained. “Maybe they’re spending money somewhere else, like going out to dinner, so they are purchasing their gifts at a more reasonable price.”
Anything unique to a resort or area in which it’s located goes over well with customers. Jared Henzlik, director of retail at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., said he and his team go out of their way to find one-of-a-kind items that also match Big Cedar Lodge’s brand and aesthetic to sell in the resort’s 6,500-square-foot shop. “Our best-selling quality gifts are Johnnie-O for men, Ivy Jane for women, and any handcrafted home goods,” Henzlik said. Lisa Leggett, shopkeeper at Union City Market in Union, Wash., a go-to retail option for guests at Alderbrook Resort and Spa as the resort’s on-site shop undergoes renovation, said they are “located on the South Shore of the Hood Canal and cater to all types of travelers—from resort guests to hikers on their way to the Olympic Mountains. We inspire our shoppers with the bounties of the Canal and create a space where the traveler can take a part of their experience home with them.”
Retailers point out essentially “anyone” may purchase a quality gift with a higher price tag, so it’s important to carry a variety of items, from glassware to wall décor to home goods. Karen Gilman, gift shop manager at Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, said their most successful quality gifts include any kind of ornament, and jewelry, naming Maine Shellware as a standout seller. She noted, “Everybody is attracted to gifts with a high price point. That’s what our clientele wants. They want something that says, ‘I was here at the Samoset and this reminds me of being here.’ Anything from local vendors or artisans sells well—‘local’ is where the business lies. It’s not necessarily the price tag [determining the sale], but more what kind of item it is, and whether it’s from the mid-Coast or specific to our area.” Nicky Bohorfoush, retail supervisor with Delaware North, retail partner of Kalaloch Lodge in Forks, Wash., said items from local vendors or with a local flair are customer favorites. She counts Pendleton brand blankets, embroidered or engraved items bearing the Kalaloch name, and Stetson hats among their best-selling quality gifts.
Retailers said they are not seeing one standout trend, as 2020 was an anomaly in every way and not many trends emerged. Consumers’ buying focus still seems to be the home and garden. Leggett said she is selling more home décor items, from furniture to fine art. “In today’s climate, the trend seems to be staying close to home enjoying the natural ambiance enjoying great food and investing in personal homes and cabins,” she said. Henzlik noted, “All walnut boards, made by hand locally, have been a favorite for a gift. We are also carrying Milk Barn and Barefoot Dreams luxury baby items [which are] a huge hit!”
Great customer service and warm hospitality are hallmarks of resorts. That same focus on the customer extends to the retail side, starting with creating a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. “As you walk into our Market, you are greeted with the smell of fresh cookies made daily. If you visit our beachside patio, you will hear the sounds of crackling fires, as our grill roasts freshly-picked oysters,” Leggett said. “This inspires our guests to purchase original oil paintings of the Olympic Mountains.” Phelps said giving customers a great shopping experience starts with getting to know them. “Remember what they like and what they are coming for. We remember what they like—even those who have been coming here for 20-plus years. We greet the customer and help them. They all come in with different ideas. We’ll point them in the right direction and help them out.” Gilman said knowledge is a big part of giving customers a great experience. “If there is anything they have a question about, I have an answer ready. We just try to make guests feel welcome.” Henzlik said their key element is “good old-fashioned Ozark hospitality! We stick with specialty vendors that you would not find at a department store or online as much as possible. Additionally, we support local artisans whenever we can. People like to buy local products.”
Merchandising is critical for any retailer; resort shop operators have an advantage over other retailers as most of their customer base is already on-site. Regardless, a well-positioned, eye-catching display is critical to driving sales. “I don’t just include the higher price point gifts,” Phelps said. “I’ll add in some logo wear and other items. People will walk by and see we have a certain item. To me, a good display is all about height. Our displays are on a table that you can see from our shop window, so I’ll go out and look inside to see if the display is noticeable. We’ll also do a lot of artificial flowers, vases—anything that gives the display a pop of color. That’s what draws people. People comment on our displays—they’ll buy items right from it. We try to keep them stocked and looking full.” Gilman said an effective display is both eye-catching and inviting, with a range of textures. “[Customers] need to see items, touch them, play with them,” she said. “A good display has color, but it depends on what is being displayed. For home décor, you want to keep like colors together. For items like Sea Bags, you want a variety of colors.”
For resort shop retailers, one-of-a-kind merchandise, an attractive display, and top-notch customer service work together to drive the sales of all kinds of souvenirs and special mementos.