By Karen Appold
A well-lit rock boasting beautiful colors can often sell itself. After all, many guests who visit geology and natural history museums, caves and rock shops are already rock enthusiasts. But how can owners and managers of these shops scale new heights with sales of their gem and mineral specimens?
One way is to stock what has proved to be popular at other shops that cater to rock aficionados. For example, at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum in Golden, Colo., Daniel Schlegel, Jr., museum operations manager, said pyrite samples are a hit because of their shine. Cube-shaped Spanish pyrite pieces that resemble dice are particularly popular. Wine stoppers and trendy jewelry made locally from rocks and minerals are also highly sought after.
For Danny Gillespie, managing director, Cave Spring Park, Van Buren, Mo., paying $4 for the chance to fill a two-by-three inch felt drawstring bag with a variety of bright, colorful tumbled stones takes the cake with his customers. Adjustable gold or silver gemstone rings with a bright, colorful polished stone or bead glued securely on it for $1 are also tops. “Guests perceive these items as a good value for the money,” he said. “They attract both kids and adults. We would prefer to sell 100 items at $1 each than wait for a guest who will buy one $50 item.”
Selenite merchandise attracts customers at his 8,000-square-foot shop, said James Bey, owner, Bey’s Rock Shop, Bechtelsville, Pa. Examples of products include small tumbled stones to carry in your pocket, wands, spheres and nightlights. Stone candle holders, which come in a variety of shapes and colors, are also a hit because they are not only natural stones but something useful. Stretchy bracelets adorned with a variety of stones are the shop’s biggest jewelry seller. They come in many different varieties of stones and sizes.
Paula Bennett, retail services manager, Village Gift Shop at Ruby Falls, Chattanooga, Tenn., said its top seller continues to be a necklace with gold and silver plated options featuring amethyst, citrine or quartz stones. “Because of the necklace’s many variations, it’s easy for customers to tailor their selection based on their personal tastes,” she said. “It’s not unusual for multi-generational customers visiting as a group to each select a necklace to take home as a memento of their time together.”
An agate slice ornament adorned with Ruby Falls’ logo is popular year-round. Geodes with cut bases at all price points are also popular. “By displaying geodes together, customers discover that each geode is a one-of-a-kind keepsake,” Bennett said.
Keeping Display Tactics Top of Mind
Lots of light fills Gillespie’s 900-square-foot shop. In fact, it has more than 100 PAR30, 5,500 Kelvin LED bulbs on the ceiling plus lights on and in individual displays. “Bright light makes inventory sparkle; it brings out the bling in rocks,” he said. “It also makes it easier for staff to see what guests are doing.”
None of Cave Spring Park’s gift shop displays are locked and only two that show off small jewelry items are accessible only by staff. Cards are provided with most rock and gem items. “This is the information age; guests want to know about their purchases,” Gillespie said.
Bey has found that when a customer can touch something without having to ask a salesperson to show it to them, he makes more sales. Therefore, most items are out on tables, shelves or other displays that are easily accessible. More delicate pieces are nicely spaced out in large well-lit glass cases.
Bennett said agate, salt, selenite and quartz lamps are turned on in display areas. “These pieces sell better when customers can see how they look when lit,” she said. Large geodes with cut bases are displayed with smaller geodes at various price points. “The larger pieces are striking and stand out dramatically. Stocking displays with varied sizes and price points gives customers many options.”
For Ryan Burke, general manager, DeSoto Caverns, Childersburg, Ala., the trick is to make sure that items geared toward kids are easily accessible. “Don’t put something that grabs their attention on the top shelf of a six-foot display,” he said. For adults, it’s easier to have intriguing items at eye level. The 1,600-square-foot shop has a table right at the entrance that tells a story. “We take some items in our gift shop that we want to highlight and push in sales and creatively decorate the table.”
Going the Extra Mile
The Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum relies heavily on its students for staffing. “A lot of them are quite knowledgeable about geology because of their classes here at the school,” Schlegel said. “Students will ask guests what interests them or where they are from, in an effort to guide them to an item that will appeal to them. Because our stock can turn over quickly, staff check what we have available when starting their shift.”
Said Gillespie, “We greet people when they arrive, let them know it’s ok to ask questions and offer assistance when it looks like they might want something, but we don’t hover. Even staff who don’t know a lot about rocks are encouraged to talk about the things they do know about and to learn more. We promote the fact that most of our selections are natural or locally handmade. When a guest brings an item to the counter, we agree with their selection and say ‘oh, that’s a beautiful piece’ or ‘good choice, eagle eye.” Staff need to pay attention to guests; any staff member caught twice on a cell phone with guests in the park is dismissed.
Bey greets each customer by saying hello and asking if they need help finding something. “Many customers are repeat; we get to know and care about them,” he said. “We know what they’re looking to add to their collections and keep lists so when we find it, we make sure they’re the first to know.”
Furthermore, Bey gives his honest opinion when a customer asks about a piece and never pushes someone to buy something. “If someone doesn’t really love something, it’s against your best interest to push them into buying it,” he said. “That guarantees that the person will come back and maybe next time they will find the perfect piece.”
Ruby Falls’ “shop now, pick it up later” service gives customers the opportunity to shop before their tour, have their purchase set aside and be able to pick it up when they are ready to leave the park. “This saves customers from having to put items in their car before they tour the cave or having to carry their purchase through the narrow passages on the cavern trail,” Bennett said. The store boasts 6,000 square feet.
Burke has set core values for his staff, which include providing excellence, teamwork and care. “We try to build relationships with guests,” he said. “They need to be able to trust us and not feel like we are solely there to try and sell them something. I advise staff to make eye contact, smile, connect and speak enthusiastically.”
Other Ways to Strike it Rich
One student at the Mines Geology Museum found success in consistently selling out of a certain book by showing visitors how easy it was to identify a rock by using it. The museum also offers a scavenger hunt throughout the museum. When guests complete it, they receive a free rock.
Gillespie offers lots of variety. “We frequently hear that we show a far greater diversity of gem and mineral items than other similar facilities,” he said. “Comments like ‘wow, I’ve never seen things like these outside of a museum’ are fairly routine.”
Bey recommended labeling everything, such as what it is, where it is from and the cost so that customers can easily see it. Customers can take home labels to display with their piece. Keeping tables and shelves well stocked is also key. “If you only have one or two of something it doesn’t sell as well,” he said. “It either gets lost in a mish mosh of pieces or customers don’t want to buy the last one because they may feel it isn’t good quality and that’s why it was left.”
Posting to Instagram, Facebook, Google and the shop’s website also increases sales significantly. “Sometimes it only takes one post to sell a piece or even multiple pieces,” Bey said. “Several years ago when salt lamps where huge, I posted one photo of our display and we sold 500 in two weeks.”
How Display Can Enhance the Sales of Gem and Mineral Jewelry
Jewelry displays have to sparkle to get guests’ attention. Danny Gillespie, managing director, Cave Spring Park, Van Buren, Mo., said direct ceiling lights on jewelry displays is paramount, as are displays that are easy to restock and reorder.
At the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum in Golden, Colo., Daniel Schlegel, Jr., museum operations manager, said well-lit unlocked jewelry cases on the counter attract customers. Necklaces and earrings contrast with the case’s coloring, so they pop out.
James Bey, owner, Bey’s Rock Shop, Bechtelsville, Pa., said including a label that tells what a jewelry item is made from boosts sales. He said it is especially important to include the label with the purchase if someone is buying it as a gift. “They want to make sure the person they are giving it to knows what it is,” he said. “If I don’t have something labeled, I’ll offer to make a label which often seals the deal.”
Paula Bennett, retail services manager, Village Gift Shop at Ruby Falls, Chattanooga, Tenn., recommended displaying a large piece as a centerpiece to draw attention to the selection of smaller affordable items. “We stock displays with varied sizes and colors so customers have many options to choose from,” she said.