By Natalie Hope McDonald
Children’s museums are about creating sparks, about finding fun new ways of learning in enriching spaces with family and friends. At the Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington, Del., worlds of science, math and adventure collide with interactive exhibits and a gift shop stocked with educational merchandise for the whole family.
Joseph Valenti, a spokesperson for the museum, said that the gift shop plays an important role in celebrating learning. Not only do customers find unique books and educational games within the retail space, but there are also branded items like Melissa and Doug’s School Time Classroom Play Set and fun learning mat crayons.
“With regards to plush toys,” said Valenti, “we have always had great success with Folkmanis.” These are plush puppets made since 1976 that kids can play with and interact with on many different levels. Because they are designed to replicate real animals found in the natural world, there is also an educational component to them, as kids can learn about various species of mammals, birds and reptiles in a cuddly way.
These popular plush puppets are displayed in the shop’s special ECOnecct exhibit, “which piques kids’ interest,” admitted Valenti. Because of the success, he said the shop is actually adding a lot of new merchandise in the coming months.
“We are moving towards more Delaware-centric items in the store,” he explained. “No specific plush toys, but more post cards, magnets, and penny presses that incorporate the Wilmington Riverfront and Delaware as a whole.”
Snakes, Puppets and More
EDVenture is the largest kid’s museum in the American Southeast. The nonprofit educational center is also host to one of the famous exhibits. It’s called Eddie, and it’s a 40-foot-tall replica of a 10-year-old boy.
Weighing in at 35,000 pounds, Eddie has been attracting kids and school groups to the Columbia, S.C., museum along with the museum’s changing exhibits about math, science and nature.
Woody Goff, the museum experiences manager, said the gift shop is a good reflection of the museum with a range of merchandise that sparks kids’ imaginations while teaching them important lessons.
And when it comes to plush, Goff says the fuzzier and cuddlier, the better. “Our guests can’t seem to get enough of plush snakes,” he said. “We sell about 10 different styles of snakes ranging from native South Carolina species to pink zebra print snakes with bows on their heads.”
Goff said puppets also sell well at the shop. “From an imaginative princess puppet to career based offerings,” he explained, “interactive plush like puppets are a crowd pleaser.”
Kids who visit the museum’s gift shop are also drawn to anything creepy, crawly and slimy. “If it’s slimy,” said Goff, “we can’t keep it on the shelves. From putty to mud to ooze – our visitors can’t get enough.”
One way the shop has created buzz with these items is through creative displays. The eye candy at the gift shop needs to match up with the total museum experience.
“The snakes have been really fun to display,” Goff admitted. “We have coiled them and tied them in knots like they are ready to strike, and hung them from the tops of our displays.”
Meanwhile, new merchandise is introduced at point of sale, which is especially effective for repeat customers. They tend to pick up a new toy or gadget while it’s still new. A lot of sales trends at the shop are created this way.
Start Your Engines
Right now, it’s all about Hot Wheels at the Chicago Children’s Museum. The gift shop has an array of toy cars in conjunction with an exhibit about these longtime favorites. It’s been a crowd pleaser across several generations.
“Anything that is demoed sells well,” said Kelly Willie, store director, “because it is open for people to try while in the store.”
Located on the city’s famed Navy Pier, the museum gets a lot of traffic year round thanks to its prime real estate and evolving schedule of events and interactive exhibits.
The gift shop alone is stacked wall to wall with educational toys, books and games, as well as a large selection of logoed merchandise that tourists won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Willie said that Ty Beanie Boos are big sellers this season; they’ve become popular collectibles among school-age children. Emoji-inspired plush is also flying off the shelves, she said, “because it is a big trend right now.” And more kids are using emojis on their smart phones.
The newest items being introduced are “usually highlighted in a feature table,” said Willie, or in one of the windows to draw attention to passers-by.
On any given day, staff can also be found playing with toys and games that for sale. “We demo anything that we can,” said Willie. “Either our staff demos it or we leave it out for people to try themselves.” She said that these demonstrations have become particular powerful merchandising techniques at the 1,500 square-foot store, particularly when it comes to toys.
A Holiday Expansion
The Please Touch Museum has become an institution in Philadelphia for parents and their kids. After moving into a much larger space a few years ago in sprawling Fairmount Park, the museum has had a chance to also enlarge its gift shop with even more exciting developments this season.
Alice Emerson, a spokesperson for the museum, has been busy re-imagining the store experience. “We have closed our old shop for renovation,” she explained, “and will re-open just in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season.”
The shop is a natural extensive of the fun and smart exhibitions that have been attracting kids to the museum since the 1970s. Parents who were kids then are bringing their own kids today.
“We sell exclusively on site at this point,” said Emerson, “as our store is designed to give parents and caregivers the opportunity to extend the museum experience beyond our walls.”
In the same way that the exhibits are designed to inspire creativity in the kids, so is the inventory at the shop selected. “All the toys that we sell echo the skill-building that happens in our various exhibits, and sections of the store will be themed around those exhibits,” Emerson said.
The museum, which features permanent exhibits, as well as temporary exhibits is tied to retail offers that target a range of interests for the budding artist, builder and thinker. “Our current feature exhibit is The Adventures of MR. POTATO HEAD, and so of course our store is a one-stop-shop for all things creative and spudly,” said Emerson. “Bringing home toys that extend the museum experience helps children to continue their skill-building, and is also a neat way for families to recreate and share fun memories of their time spent together on site.”
The holiday season is especially busy at the museum when second only to summer, the venue experiences some of its biggest crowds.
“One of the fun elements we are bringing in specifically for the holidays,” she said, “is our Holiday Sleep Shop. We are offering a fanciful and unique mix of warm and cuddly apparel for the whole family.”