Summer 2011
Vacation Destinations By Haley Shapley

Resort gift shops offer more than just sweatshirts and sunscreen — when done well, these stores become an integral part of the trip, providing customers with lasting mementos to capture their memories.

Picking up a souvenir on vacation is a time-honored tradition — who doesn’t enjoy pulling on a cozy sweater from the beach, displaying a snow globe from a ski resort, or looking at the painting in the living room from a family trip five years ago?

As a result, resort gift shops — whether in a high-trafficked city like Las Vegas or up in a secluded mountaintop — are in a great position to reach people when they’re open to buying something. “People have a lot of free time when they’re here, so it’s a very strong shopping environment,” says Valerie A. Willis, director of retail operations at Shops at the Del, part of Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, CA.

Plus, when on a trip, whether for business or pleasure, people are usually keen to pick up a memento, either for themselves or someone back home. “What you can do with resort gift stores is you can really extend the guest experience through merchandise,” says Erin DeLoach, managing director of retail at The Shops at The Hotel Hershey in Hershey, PA. “[Some stores are] making very, very high dollars per square foot.”

“Anecdotally, the larger full-service hotels, convention hotels, and resorts are most likely to lease out their retail/gift shop operations, such as car rental, high-end retail, and newsstand. At select service properties (such as Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Hilton Garden Inn), the “gift shop” is usually a mini-mart located off of the front desk and staffed by the front desk agents,” says Robert Mandelbaum,

Director of Research Information Services for PKF Hospitality Research, a national firm providing services to the hospitality, real estate and tourism industries.

In season

Although resort gift shops have great opportunities to reach customers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Many stores have times of the year when traffic is higher and lower, but perhaps none are affected as much by seasonal fluctuations as resort gift shops, particularly those located in areas that are associated with a specific season. “Traffic is the thing that constricts us the most,” DeLoach says. “We don’t have the luxury of being part of a mall and getting traffic that way; we have to really count on our season’s guests that love us and come to visit every year.”

It can be a tough balance to keep enough merchandise in stock to fulfill the shoppers’ needs and wants, while also not getting stuck with a lot of extras once things slow down. “You have to gear up and be ready to go full force, and then at the end of the season, inventory starts running out, but you don’t want to gear back up,” says Missy Hill of Hill’s Resort in Priest Lake, ID.

Las Vegas–based retail consultant Pamela Joy Ring says it’s not just seasons that have to be taken into consideration, but also time of day. “If you’re competing against the sunshine and the ocean, your shop may be a little busier in the morning and then get quiet,” she says. Planning for all these traffic variations, both with stock supply and staffing, is an important skill for keeping profits up and customers happy.

What sells well

The merchandise at resort gift shops varies based on location and size of the shop, but common categories include apparel, accessories, spa products, sporting goods, home décor, and jewelry. Sundries—snacks, beverages, sunscreen, razors, and other items bought in order to use on the spot—are also popular at some locations. The more isolated the destination, the more important these essentials become. Hill’s Resort devotes about half of its gift shop space to convenience store items, as the nearest city with any real shopping options is 60 miles away.

Dominating many resort store shelves are private label products, perennial best sellers given that many people like to collect apparel, hats, and other accessories that identify where they’ve been. “Brand-name recognition: That’s the best way to have your resort or gift place seen elsewhere,” says Diane Chiasson, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a Toronto consulting firm that works with resort gift shops. These items can run the gamut in price, from pens, key chains, and golf balls at the lower end of the scale to jackets, robes, and silk scarves at the higher end, making it a great category for all ages and budget levels.

In addition to just offering merchandise with the resort’s logo on it, some shops take items from recognizable, upscale brands and then logo those. “There’s a lot more credibility with someone making a purchase from Greg Norman, because it’s known,” says Willis of a line of golf polo shirts carried at The Signature Shop in Hotel del Coronado.

Spreading the word

If you build it, they will come — but only if they know it’s there. Marketing is an essential component of getting the word out about the location and offerings of a resort gift shop. Fortunately for many of these stores that are part of a large property, the resort as a whole advertises all the amenities of the location, including the shopping options. Hotel del Coronado has a “Day at the Del” campaign that encourages people to spend the day exploring the property, with shopping being one of the draws advertised. The Hotel Hershey promotes its stores in major national publications, regional magazines, billboard and online.

Smaller shops also have a number of marketing outlets available to them—Ring suggests providing collateral material in hotel rooms or through an in-room television channel. Many resorts publish their own magazine, which can be a great vehicle to catch a guest’s attention. Chiasson recommends resort stores keep a good database of local potential clients to market to, especially during the property’s non-peak season.

Another great marketing opportunity for resort gift shops is with groups holding meetings on-site. “It’s not a bad idea to get in touch with the association before they leave to provide them with information about your store,” Chiasson says. Some shops have success with offering a free gift or special discount for those associated with a visiting group. Chiasson also suggests holding a helpful seminar in the store — like different ways to tie a scarf—that gets people to visit and then look around, or have a prize to give away for those who come in and drop a business card in a bowl.

And even with a high-turnover customer base, that doesn’t mean window displays can be set and forgotten. “It doesn’t take very long to move tables around and change windows,” Chiasson says. At Shops at the Del, they sometimes change target window displays several times within a few days if a big group with a number of potential shoppers is meeting at the hotel.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a destination mall property or in a resort—you need to constantly hone your skills as a great merchant,” Ring says.

A captive clientele

While overnight guests make up the bulk of the customers at most resort gift shops, they aren’t the only ones visiting the stores. Shops at the Del, for example, estimates that half their traffic comes from day visitors, while The Shops at The Hotel Hershey benefits from locals perusing the stores.

Online sales offer another opportunity for reaching people, although Ring says this is an underutilized resource with resort gift shops. “More and more people are using the Internet to book their reservations and research where they’re going to go,” says Ring, who in addition to working as a retail consultant is the chief marketing officer of BannerView.com, a company that builds, promotes, and maintains websites. “It’s just a natural thing for the gift shop to take advantage of the web.”

The good news for these shops is that while people likely aren’t there for the express purpose of making purchases, they’re often more than happy to do it. “A lot of people don’t want to go elsewhere other than that destination,” Chiasson says. “Shopping at a resort is kind of an extension of a vacation; it’s something fun for the person who is there.” They also might be a bit more likely to be in the mood to buy something nice for themselves or as a gift. “Typically the consumer that goes to a resort is predisposed to treat themselves and spend money on themselves, even in these economic times when they’re more budget conscious,” Ring says.

DeLoach thinks it’s a cliché to say that guests on vacation will purchase marked-up goods, but if they believe the product warrants the price tag, they’ll be apt to spend the money on it. “There was a paradigm before that people went on vacation and threw caution to the wind,” she says. “I still see our guests as wanting to have a price-value relationship and wanting to buy something special. If they can buy something special and understand the price, they will buy anything.”

Taking a piece of the trip home

Part of creating a high-perceived value is offering something that really speaks to place. At The Hotel Hershey, the signature item is Le Vian Chocolate Diamonds — rare brown diamonds that come from a mine in Australia. “We have guests that collect them, and we sell a lot of chocolate diamonds to people who live in the area,” DeLoach says.

At Hill’s Resort, guests enjoy huckleberry margaritas, pie, syrup, taffy, pancakes, smoothies, mimosas, ice cream, and more. Naturally, the gift shop carries some of these popular huckleberry products, a signature of the property, and sets them in the front of the store, sure to catch the eye of passersby. “That’s where we display the stuff that [guests are] going to see and say, ‘I have to go in and get that,'” Hill says.

Having these types of location-specific products that are reminiscent of a visitor’s stay is vital to making a resort gift shop stand out, according to Ring. “[Guests] may indulge and buy something on an impulse that captures their experience,” she says. “For example, if you’re in a tropical setting and you see some kind of fabulous sarong that you’d never see in your local department store, you may indulge because it’s really a memento of your trip.”

It’s not just the merchandise that matters, but the setting, too—the best resort gift shops are well-lit, uncluttered, and designed to look as special as the resort itself, befitting of the geographic location they’re in. “People do want to take home a memento from their vacation, and they want to do it in a unique setting,” DeLoach says. “They don’t want to walk into a resort gift store and have it look like Macy’s.”

Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is a Seattle-based freelance writer who 
specializes in retail, travel and health topics. Learn more at www.haleyshapley.com.




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