Llamas, camels, porcupines and alpacas are among the top souvenirs for visitors to Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari in Jacksonville, Texas.
Of course, people can’t take home the real thing, so after gazing at the species that frolic around the park, guests typically head to the gift shop for a 6-inch plush replica of their favorite critters, or maybe a molded figurine.
“We get a lot of children and teens here, so your prime movers are items that are marketed to them,” explained Andy Christopher, guest services manager, who oversees the 1,500-square-foot gift shop. “And we place things at an appropriate height for little fingers to find them easily.”
It also helps, Christopher added, that most souvenirs are priced at $10 or less. For that price, who can resist filling a bag with shiny tumbled rocks or magnets that you can scoop yourself? Not many visitors, apparently: “We sell those all the time,” Christopher said.
T-shirts are perennial blockbusters, and Cherokee Trace keeps sales strong by offering a tempting variety — short-sleeve and long-sleeve styles, a variety of colors, even different versions of the safari’s logo and seal. “They sell out just about as fast as we can get them in,” Christopher noted.
T-shirts are also a longtime favorite at Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Ariz. Gift Shop Supervisor Samantha Haley suggested it’s because all the T-shirts bear the park logo, so they double as apparel and souvenirs. At a lower price point, magnets are the in-demand memento; coffee mugs and shot glasses also consistently do well.
“One thing I hear a lot from customers is that they want something specifically to remind them of the park, and of their trip,” Haley explained. “So we really try to name-drop most things.”
To maximize sales, Haley displays best-selling items at multiple points throughout the sprawling, 10,000-square-foot gift shop. “People walk through here to get to the restaurant and to the Jaguar exhibition, and we know the foot traffic patterns,” Haley noted. “Putting things in different locations throughout the shop, especially in high-traffic areas, ensures that nothing gets stuck in a corner where people won’t see it.”
Souvenirs that are specific to the animals on display are a successful strategy for Bearizona and other zoo retailers. Jaguars and otters are the subject of two popular exhibitions at the Arizona park; their plush versions are also a hit with kids, while Haley said that older shoppers snap up holiday ornaments with the animals’ images.
Bears and bison — the stars of Bear Country USA in Rapid City, S.D. — help move decorative ornaments all season long, said Store Manager Mikayla Frederick. “We get them at the beginning of the season and they sell out so quick we have to order them again before fall,” she said. Bear Country USA’s ornament selection is all custom designed and name-dropped, she added, “and they’re just so different and unique.”
Frederick has found that keeping smaller items — like patches and key chains — by the register in the front of the store has boosted impulse sales of these items. “They’re quick, easy add-ons,” she said. Also popular lately are candies and other gourmet foods sourced from local artisans.
Small souvenirs also make a big impact on the bottom line for Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, S.D. “I think we had about 60 different stickers this year, and they all did very well,” said Gift Shop Manager Becky Beaton. “From what we’ve seen, they’re likely to end up on a water bottle.” Vinyl styles, adorned with the Reptile Gardens logo or animal pictures, are a favorite way to personalize everything from drinkware to school gear.
Plush is always a winner, especially versions of the real-life animals on display. Snakes are, unsurprisingly, a highlight at Reptile Gardens, and their stuffed versions sell well in the gift shop. “But we also try to throw in a few things that are random and eye-catching, like a pineapple or a narwhal,” Beaton added. A narwhal? “We had a plush version this year, and it was gone pretty much within a month,” she laughed.
Fair trade and sustainable souvenirs are evidence of social consciousness among shoppers at the Franklin Park Zoo in Stoneham, Mass. Store Manager Jennifer Bundo reported growing demand for handmade artworks, beaded jewelry and animal figurines crafted by villagers in Africa. “People like that these items are unique, and also that they help support the livelihoods of people in poor countries,” Bundo explained. It helps that the wares are quite distinctive — often incorporating “found” objects from trash, local materials like banana fibers, and even the snare wire that poachers use to trap endangered species, reworked into sculpture.
Bundo observes a parallel trend toward reusable everyday objects, like stainless steel straws and drinkware. Such merchandise is especially practical at zoos, many of which have discontinued sales of plastic straws and disposable water bottles altogether. “People are more eco conscious these days,” Bundo observed.
The retail manager has found that her suppliers are on board with the shift. Increasingly, vendors offer sustainable versions of gift shop staples, such as plush animals made out of recycled materials. “You’ve just got to keep it fresh and change it up,” Bundo said. “We have a lot of members who come into the shop all the time, so we always want to have a new look for them.”