Trends in Gifts and Souvenirs at Zoos and Aquariums

Are there any current trends of note when it comes to gifts and souvenirs at zoos and aquariums? According to the officials interviewed for this article, the answer is a resounding yes, with no single trend standing out nationwide. 

At Bear Country USA, located in Rapid City, S.D., Retail Manager Angie Frederick said when it comes to gifts “Purchasing something that is practical and usable, as well as something that reminds shoppers of where they’ve been, is the real trend. We are selling a lot of ornaments right now, and clothing remains our number one gift item.” In the souvenir category, Frederick related that “Magnets and stickers are the most popular purchase. Stickers are definitely a new and trendy thing this year, because people enjoy putting them on water bottles, their computer, even on the back of phones.” And additionally, stickers make an easily portable, inexpensive purchase. 

“Purchasing something that is practical and usable, as well as something that reminds shoppers of where they’ve been, is the real trend. We are selling a lot of ornaments right now, and clothing remains our number one gift item.”

– Angie Frederick, Bear Country USA, Rapid City, S.D.

When Frederick looks at new gifts and souvenirs prior to stocking them at her 6,000-square-foot shop, she noted that the selection needs to fit the location, and needs to reach across a wide range of price points. “For example, we have 28 different species here at Bear Country, and we have a large selection of plush animals and are always looking for plush that represents that, as well as for different price points for the plush. Having many different price points available is important, because there are a lot of kids on their travels with their parents, and they bring their own allowance money. If you have a $5.99 teddy bear, that is something they can afford. They leave it for mom and dad to buy a $30 bear, and they may not always purchase it.”

Also located in Rapid City, S.D., Reptile Gardens always goes for the plush when it comes to current gift trends. According to Sales Manager Becky Beaton, at her 5,000-square-foot shop, “Plush always sells the best of anything; people have always been into that, and the trend continues. Higher-end items are also moving well this year. Things that we thought we’d hold on to for a while have ended up selling fairly quickly. We have a gem stone selection with different types of rocks and minerals, and we buy septarian eggs which are fossilized. We buy a couple of these different items every year in a price range that can be somewhat expensive for us. They usually don’t sell quickly. This year one of the more expensive pieces sold mid-way through the summer. This was a year where some things that were higher-end and don’t normally sell as well or as quickly got more attention.” The reason? “I think they sold better in part because we did a lot more shifting of items in the gift shop this year than we have in the past. We haven’t always spent the time to move things around if the items didn’t sell in one spot, and we tried to focus on that more than in past years.”

For straight souvenir-type items, Beaton related that “T-shirts are doing very well this year. People like to have something they can wear as well as collect, something that is practical but still a souvenir. We heard a lot of comments this year as we were walking around, where a child would mention getting a toy, and mom or dad would say no, get something that reminds you of this place and can use. It seemed like that was more of a trend this year than in the past.” Beaton added that when she’s looking at new items for the store, “We look at things with the idea ‘if we pick this up, what can we sell it for, and is it something I personally would buy for the price I put on it.’ If we absolutely love something, but the price is too high, we won’t pick it up no matter how much we like it.”

In Williams, Ariz., Samantha Haley, gift shop manager and buyer at the 10,000- square-foot Bearizona gift shop, said personalized gifts are a current trend. “We have a pocket knife with a wood front that’s name-dropped with boys’ names, and they do really well for us. People like the personal touch. I’m not a huge believer in name programs, but I’ve been surprised at how well it does. Also, as a general trend, people like to have something that reminds them of being in our park. For example, we sell wine racks that have bears holding the bottles.” In souvenirs, Haley said, “Stickers are trending, they’re inexpensive, name-dropped to the park, and have themes that have to do with North American animals and the mountains in the area. The old favorites such as magnets, particularly photo magnets which show the animals that are here, and key chains, are less expensive, popular souvenirs.”

When she considers stocking new gifts and souvenirs, Haley said she looks at the cost of the item, the product itself – and its packaging. “The product itself, the way they package it, is really important. I need to know how we are going to merchandise an item. And while quality is important, cost is important, too. If a family is spending money to get in the park, to eat in the restaurant, then lower priced items are nice to have if they want to get a souvenir as well.” 

At the Santa Barbara Zoo, in Santa Barbara, Calif., Christi Almoney, guest services associate, speaking for retail director Ross Beardsley, said, “We have a focus on conservation here at the zoo that people are very much interested in today. So we have more eco-friendly plush animals, more eco-geared clothing, and we try to stock a lot of things like water bottles that are sustainable. All make great gifts and do well.” She noted that the zoo has two different gift shops on its 30-acre, ocean-close location. “One of our shops carries imported items that are all fair trade, including hand-crafted pieces from small tribes and locations such as Kenya,” she explained. Almoney, who has worked in both gift shops, says that souvenir trends lean toward the standards, such as magnets, key chains, and pencils. “The price point is right, and with many small souvenirs, they are impulse buys. They’re right there as customers walk in and out of the store, and so they’re easy to purchase, too. Hats have done very well for us this year as well, which are name-dropped with the zoo on them.”

“We have a focus on conservation here at the zoo that people are very much interested in today. So we have more eco-friendly plush animals, more eco-geared clothing, and we try to stock a lot of things like water bottles that are sustainable. All make great gifts and do well.” 

– Christi Almoney, Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Almoney said Ross Beardsley, the zoo’s retail director, is “always looking for more fair trade and eco-friendly items. Updated animal shirts that feature the animals we have here are also something that shoppers look for and we look to carry.”

In Las Vegas, Nev., Tiffany Schaff, program director of Seaquest Interactive Aquarium asserted that “Certain plush items are currently trending in our store. We have fantastic little small pod river otters from Wild Republic that I just can’t keep on the shelf; also a Wild Republic capybara, which is really cute. I get that in, and we are sold out immediately. I would say any really cute plush that represents the animals we have here is a strong seller, so kids can visit and take home a friend,” she laughs. She added that “the shop is getting away from jewelry and higher-end items like that. We do have some fun friendship bracelets and sharks tooth necklaces.” However, the store, which now has a national buyer rather than herself, has recently undergone another major alteration. “With recent changes in the market, such as Toys ‘r Us closing their doors, Seaquest thought we could be not just a gift shop, but a toy store, a real brick and mortar store for kids to explore. There aren’t that many of them anymore. Branding our gift shops as a stand-alone toy store where kids can come in and play with toys is where we are going,” she attested. “With that in mind, we’re expanding plush, we are working on bringing in things that challenge kids’ imagination, such as kinetic sand, puzzles, and play sets.” With this in mind,  small souvenir items are trending “out.” Schaff explained, “We’re trying to get away from that. Of our 10 locations, only our store and one of the very newest destinations are in locations where people are really looking for more souvenir-type things. So even what we have is limited in stock, and that’s not something you’re going to see us reordering.” 

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