What are the best name-dropped souvenirs for zoo and aquarium gift shops? For this article, gift shop officials described their top sellers as well as their tips for display – and just how popular these kinds of items are today.
At the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre facility that includes a zoo, aquarium, history museum and art gallery, gift shop General Manager Nancy McGaffic carries a wide mix of items from traditional inexpensive souvenirs to higher-end items from local artists and Native American tribes in the area, with pricing ranging from just a few dollars up to thousands for unique art items. “We carry everything from Native American arts and crafts to the more tourist-oriented items such as key chains and magnets that are all mostly name-dropped,” McGaffic reported. “The name-dropped items are still very popular among our variety of merchandise.” Her top sellers include baseball caps, mugs, tins, hat tacks, magnets, and stickers. She offered this display tip “We place like-items together, but we cross merchandise within categories. In other words, I may have a sticker that just says ‘Tucson’ next to one that says our name. We group like-items together, regardless of whether they are name-dropped or not.” She noted “We have a uniquely shaped gift shop, so I use our small display areas close to the door for larger items only. I wouldn’t put small items such as magnets or key chains there, or hats.”
Kim Sessions, director of administration and the gift shop buyer for the Austin Zoo in Austin, Texas, said she continues to add new items to her name-dropped merchandise mix, but her biggest sellers remain “our magnets and keychains. They have the best price points, for example you can get a name-dropped key chain for $3.50, and a magnet for $2.50. They’re an easy souvenir to buy, and one that you can travel with easily.” Among her newest name-dropped additions, she mentioned a new plush item that falls outside these price parameters. “We worked with wildlife artists to create her, and we name-dropped her back paw. She’s an awesome white tiger with beautiful clear blue eyes.” Although based on an Austin Zoo exhibited animal that is popular to view, the plush item is a slower seller that the shop’s classic items like stickers and magnets, Sessions reported. “She’s more expensive, and that is why. Many people who are just coming here for one trip, they’re looking for something that is quick and easy to buy, such as key chains, magnets, or post-cards. Those are just always going to be the most popular items.”
As a relatively small shop, Sessions said the gift store focuses on keeping like-items conveniently together in the store. “We have all our magnets on a four-sided turnstile display. Our key chains are by the check-out, and you can see that they have our name and logo on one side of them, and our animals are depicted on the other, so they can still take home our white tiger Zoolima as seen on a smaller item.” She said that she’s followed ideas from this magazine as to the best ways to display her merchandise. “I get many ideas from reading what other stores are doing. We really do best when organizing by area, with the plush in one area, small dollar-type items in another and that sort of thing.” She also said it is important to place some child-appealing items where they can be easily seen and asked-for by younger shoppers. However, she added, “Moms don’t go for this as much as dads or grandpas. The grandfather will just get the most expensive $40 plush on the top shelf if it is something they want the little one to have.”
In Seward, Alaska, Vicki Cromer, lead receiving supervisor at the Alaska Sealife Center gift shop, called hoodies, stickers, and patches among the store’s most popular name-dropped merchandise. Alaska’s public aquarium and marine mammal rehabilitation facility draws many people seeking name-dropped souvenirs and gifts, she related.
“We have so many name-dropped items. T-shirts, stickers, Christmas ornaments, and even our binoculars are name-dropped, as well as the standard small items such as magnets. All of our name-dropped items are extremely popular,” she said. “People like to see our name on an item. In fact, they will question us about any item we carry that does not have our name or logo on it and ask us if we have another that does. Often they will literally go without purchasing an item if we do not have a name-drop on it.”
As to display tips, Cromer noted “The first thing you see when you walk in are tables and a rounder with all the name-dropped items that we have on them.” This placement adds even more to the noticeability and appeal of these items.
And in Bend, Ore., at the High Desert Museum, Alison Luce, retail lead at the museum’s Silver Sage Trading gift shop also sells a lot of name-dropped items. The museum explores the history and culture of the west as well as displaying extensive exhibits of living wildlife and flora and fauna.
According to Luce “I would say T-shirts, magnets, stickers, and tote bags that are name-dropped all do very well. We always try to have, and display, items that either reflect the museum or are from the environmental region that we’re located in.”
Among those are plush animals related to the museum’s own live exhibits, such as otters, porcupines, owls, and other local wildlife, but Luce said at this time the plush items are not name-dropped.
Although these plush items are extremely popular, so are the name-dropped souvenirs and gifts the museum offers. “People like to have souvenirs that have the name of the place or institution they visited on them, for sure. It makes them more meaningful.”
As a small shop, Silver Sage Trading needs to display its souvenir items by “grouping like-items together. We have the name-dropped items, let’s say magnets, in with other magnets that do not have our name on them.”
Overall, name-dropped items remain a big hit for zoo and aquarium gift shops, with customers seeking this kind of merchandise to keep their memories of visiting, and the animals they’ve seen, fresh. Displaying this merchandise along with other items in the same category is also important, in many cases because of limited space in the stores. And, offering a range of name-dropped merchandise at attraction gift shops, from clothing to magnets, is also important.