From penguin paint to sharks with style
It’s not every day that you’re given the option to purchase artwork created by a penguin, but at The Gift Shop at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, guests can do just that.
Adventure Aquarium— the fifth largest aquarium in the country — features nearly 200,000 square feet of space and more than 2 million gallons of water with 8,500 animals — including those artistic penguins.
Their mission to be a world-class aquarium and community treasure that brings animals and people together to create extraordinary experiences” is enhanced by a gift shop that allows guests to swim their way through to purchase aquarium apparel, collectibles, toys, books and more.
“Our overall mission is to provide the keys for our guests to make memories worth repeating,” said Kimberly Stowell, retail merchandise manager. “The gift shop provides the souvenirs and accessories that guests can bring home to help them remember their day at Adventure Aquarium while also promoting and inspiring conservation of the natural world.”
Flippers and Fins
As guests enter the 6,000-square-foot store at the end of the shark exhibit, they’re greeted with the shop’s focal program wall with merchandise that is promoting their current major exhibit. Products for all ages are featured on this wall — everything from plush to apparel to toys.
“Our biggest categories are penguins and sharks and we have quite a few unique items for both,” Stowell said. “For penguins — and since we are across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love — we have developed a program called ‘Love Penguin’ that plays off of that iconic theme. We have apparel for juniors and young girls, purses and pillows for her to show off her love of penguins.”
For the shark fans, they have a program called “Great White” done in striking black and red designs that appeal to all ages of guests. Along with that program, they also have a large selection of shark teeth necklaces, some of which are personalized with the guests’ name, and if they can’t find their name employees can help guests set up a personalized order so that they can have one made for them.
“For both of these programs, we also offer adoptions for sharks or penguins, adding the ability to support our animals at the aquarium and around the world through species-specific programs to our well-rounded merchandise programs,” Stowell said.
In the fall they have “African Penguin Awareness Weekend” promoting awareness and conservation of the habitat of penguins. For that weekend, they offer penguin paintings for sale, as well as custom penguin mugs to commemorate the weekend, with a large portion of the proceeds going to The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) for penguin conservation.
That weekend there are also special up close events for guests and penguin lovers of all ages to get close and learn about the penguins. For shark week this year they offered a limited number of behind the scenes tours so guests could get a front row view of what goes into keeping a tank of sharks happy and healthy.
“Our adoption program has been very successful in creating awareness for animal conservation and providing a non-traditional souvenir for that guest that would like their money spent at our store to do more,” Stowell said.
For the penguin adoptions, each $50 package comes with a personalized adoption certificate, thank you letter introducing SANCCOB and penguin conservation, a bio card for a penguin, a stuffed penguin plush with matching ID bracelet and a reproduction of a penguin footprint painting done by one of the penguins in their colony. As with any artist, their “painters” take their time to produce their best work and cannot be rushed.
“For the original paintings, real stretched canvases are used along with ‘penguin safe’ paints,” Stowell said. “The artists are shown the paint and canvas and allowed to walk in whatever pattern they feel will be the best for a particular piece.
“Because this can be a very time consuming process, we do use a reproduction printout of an original work for the adoptions,” she continued. “However, new original works are available for sale throughout the year, either in the gift shop or through the husbandry department.”
Other unique offerings include a custom mug program for guests so they can remember their day at the aquarium every morning. They have approximately 10 templates to choose from and they can make an 11-ounce or 15-ounce mug for them with a name or nickname of their choice.
“We sell our 11-ounce custom mugs for $8.99 each or 2 for $15, and the 15-ounce mugs are $9.99 each,” Stowell said. “With the popularity this has had so far, we are looking into how we can expand this business in the future to increase the guests’ enjoyment.”
Although Stowell thinks there will always be a market for the traditional souvenir stores and purchases like magnets and key chains, she said retailers need to be mindful of the changing dynamics of the family and how they vacation/spend their money. They’ve noticed families like bundles with a few items that they can split up or a discount on an item after they spend a certain amount of money.
“Always listen to everyone’s advice, but filter out what works for your store,” Stowell said. “Watch for trends in traditional retailers and find a way to work that into your location, even if it’s in a small way, so that you can balance what guests looking for a traditional souvenir want and still take advantage of trendy or cutting edge pieces.
“It’s our goal as an organization to have every guest leave with a smile and a deeper connection with the people that are important to them,” Stowell continued. “The gift shop serves a part of that purpose by providing collectibles and souvenirs to hold and take home, services like our adoption programs to help create awareness and our personalization program to make those memories worth repeating.”
By Abby Heugel