Trends in Name-Dropped Souvenirs at Zoos and Aquariums

At Cape May County Zoo’s gift shop, 10-inch plush pandas wearing zoo logo vests are the runaway best-seller. That’s because they hit sweet spots for both kids and their parents, according to Kaitlyn Prosser, retail manager for the Cape May Court House attraction. “Parents want a souvenir with the name of the zoo on it, and kids always want stuffed animals — so it’s the best of both worlds,” she explained.
Name-dropped souvenirs cost more to order, but they are among the most popular items sold at zoo and aquarium stores — and for good reason. Many visitors are specifically looking for mementos branded with the name of the attraction. Items typically do well if they’re also useful, like T-shirts and refrigerator magnets, or if they tie in to zoo attractions, like popular animals. Cape May’s name-dropped plush, for example, rotates styles between the zoo’s most beloved attractions, including snow leopards and red pandas.
Prosser said the gift shop also carries logo apparel. But aside from toys, best-sellers in the name-dropped category are small impulse souvenirs like magnets and key chains. “For us, what makes a difference is where we display it,” Prosser explained. “Magnets are the first thing people see when they walk in, and key chains are right up at the counter.”
Some zoo shops have found particular success with souvenirs that are not only name-dropped with the attraction, but also personalized with the names of guests, their children or even their pets. At the Nature Store at Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, Pa., visitors can have their names stamped, while they wait, into wooden animal “paw” ornaments; onto lenticular key chains from LaserGifts; and on the side of mini mugs from Holden International.
“The majority of our guests are stroller parents who want to buy something to remind them of their visit,” said Robert Rowan, the zoo’s senior director of Operations. These souvenirs do even better, he explained, “when they have our name or logo along with the name of their child or children.” At the 1,350-square-foot gift shop, Rowan explained, all the personalized products are in a section on display racks, “so if we don’t have a specific name in one product, there’s a chance it might be available in another.”
The LaserGifts line is also “very popular” at the John Ball Zoo gift shop in Grand Rapids, according to Retail Manager Allison Gartner. Personalized pocket tool kits, key chains, and street name signs have all done very well. This year, dog names are especially in demand: “During Covid, I think everyone’s gotten a dog,” Gartner laughed.
The most effective displays for this kind of product, according to Gartner, give people room to hunt around for their names, or for the styles they’d like to have personalized. Gartner displays her LaserGifts souvenirs on spinners with plenty of space between them.

“Parents want a souvenir with the name of the zoo on it, and kids always want stuffed animals — so it’s the best of both worlds.”
– Kaitlyn Prosser, Cape May County Zoo, Cape May Courthouse, N.J.

After four years at the zoo, Gartner became retail manager last fall, and for now is “sticking with what works” in the name-dropped category. Many top sellers are common products like coffee mugs or reusable tote bags featuring Grand Rapids imagery. “These are things you use every day, and that way, you’ll always see our name,” Gartner noted. “They are things that create a memory — and tie into what grows that passion for our zoo and our area.”
That connection is why Lisa Hurd, store manager at the Buttonwood Park Zoo, is hoping to bring more name-dropped items into a gift shop that traditionally didn’t carry them. “Anything with our animals, these are going to be things people can relate with,” Hurd said. 
Popular merchandise at the store includes a new line of sterling silver animal charms, as well as the perennially best-selling apparel line for adults and kids featuring zoo animals like coyotes, black bears and sloths. Ball caps, messenger bags, Christmas ornaments, and “Baby on Board” decals featuring the zoo’s popular baby sloth are also doing well this year. 
When guests walk into the 700-square-foot store, the first thing they see is a zoo-specific merchandise display along the back wall. “It’s a colorful wall, and we have constant foot traffic,” explained Hurd.

“These are things you use every day, and that way, you’ll always see our name. They are things that create a memory — and tie into what grows that passion for our zoo and our area.”
– Allison Gartner, John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids, Mich., commenting on products such as name-dropped coffee mugs and reusable tote bags.

Name-dropped and logo apparel is the runaway best-selling category at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Hoodies and T-shirts top sales, along with logo fleece blankets, according to Stacey Wade, district manager for retail at The SSA Group, which manages the zoo and aquarium store.
To boost sales, Wade merchandises apparel “on a focal table or on mannequins, to showcase how clothes look on a body form,” she explained. Whether wearable or not, branded items are consistently the top sellers at the Pittsburgh gift shop. “Most guests want to leave with a memory of their trip,” Wade observed, “and nothing is better than leaving with a name-dropped souvenir.”

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