museums&MORE Spring 2012
Animal Instinct

Trends in zoo products lean toward the wild side

Zoos stores are in the unique position of being located in an area where animals are showcased on a daily basis. And whether it’s a pattern or a plush, animal-themed parties and products are popping up everywhere from the fashion runways to mainstream store shelves, which is good news for retailers who have been carrying similar products for years.

But one of the hardest things about retail is knowing what’s on the horizon and what to buy for the future. Plush always sells, but what kind? What do people visiting zoos want to take home?

We took a little of the guessing game out of things for you by talking with some retailers about zoo product trends they have on their retail radar – and on their shelves.

What items are currently selling in your store?
Tommy Lee Brown, manager/buyer
Saint Louis Zoo Gift Shop
St. Louis
In this down economy we have seen an increase in inexpensive jewelry, and because it has a price point of $5 to $7, people can afford these prices. Plus, it is something they can wear and actually use.

We also work with companies like Safari LTD to develop products that feature our collection and our conservation centers, as featuring conservation ideas in toys is very important to get children thinking about conservation at a young age. Every zoo and aquarium should be concerned about conservation and reflect these ideas in the majority of the merchandise they sell.

Conservation products set zoo and aquarium stores apart from the big box retailers who just want to sell items and don’t care about the conservation messages as we do.

Lu Geis, gift shop manager
Sedgwick County Zoo
Wichita, Kan.
Plush continues to outpace other departments in our store. We carry a large selection of both realistic looking and bright colored animals. It seems like the trend here may be heading back to a more realistic looking piece, but I believe that color will still play an important role. We also do very well with glass animals.

We have been selling more of our top end products this year, so I hope this is a good sign for the economy. T-shirt sales have felt a little flat, but I am bringing in some new vendors and hope to turn that trend back to an upswing.

Ross Reed Beardsley, director of retail operations
Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens
Santa Barbara, Calif.
When I was in a popular resort gift shop in Florida recently, I realized all I wanted to take home was a plush alligator with the institution’s logo embroidered on it for under $10. I guessed that some of my customers probably want embroidered plush at a similar price point at my location too, and they have done quite well.

Ruthie Taylor, retail manager
Gift Shop at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Gulf Shores, Ala.
We offer the Animal Planet series of “The Little Zoo That Could.” This sequence of episodes features our zoo during some major hurricane evacuations and highlights some of our very special residents.

A new item that is exclusive to us and that I am really excited about is a limited edition tribal messenger tote bag. This tote is designed and manufactured by dragon 88 and is made from 12 recycled 20-ounce plastic water bottles. It’s ideal for laptops or iPads and is also a “feel good” purchase because 10 percent of proceeds are donated to the International Rhino Foundation.

What trends have you noticed?
Because trends sell for a moment you have to get them in and out fast. But as I buyer, I do not sit around wishing. I take action and have things developed and produced. I go to my manufactures and suppliers and have the products I want made. For example, I wanted a penguin name shot-glass program so I had Miami Souvenir make it for me. I also wanted a picture frame that looked like our Zoo Pylon and had that produced by Mistco. It’s extra work, but the rewards are endless.

People want more bang for their buck. They are willing to pay for the experience of a day at the zoo, but don’t need to buy as many “things” to take home and fill their house with. Higher quality, and thus, higher priced items have done quite well, whereas mugs with our logos on them have completely dropped off.

Green, green, and more green! Many of our animal lovers are conscious of the environment and want to purchase products that help to preserve it. I would love to see more “green” products for children. There are wonderful vendors out there that produce organic clothes and stationery, but there just isn’t a good selection of toys or plush.

Are there any items you wish you could carry?
Any kid’s coin bank I have ever brought in has done quite well, and I wish there were more ceramic animal-themed “piggy” banks for under $10 retail out there.
My goal this year is jump on new animal arrivals and births faster. We have a penguin born with a bad foot and a local shoe company made us a special boot for him to wear. I should have been in product development that afternoon.

What do you do to maximize displays?
The secret to great displays is a functional fixture. If you are using fixtures that do not enhance the merchandise then you are not going to have success. Take your best sellers and do a feature table with some slower moving items mixed in to help get them selling as well.

Also, when doing wall displays of your best items, make sure you vertically merchandise the items so the guest can see what you have for sale on the entire wall. If you horizontally merchandise then you may be losing sales because not all the items are represented at the top of the wall and can be blocked by floor fixtures.

Make sure plush is in hand’s reach of children. If it is merchandised over four feet high, more than likely the child cannot reach it and you’ll lose a sale. I recommend plush stages for all stores to keep plush at children’s reach and you have the ability as a retailer to put out a ton of product. Plush stages are really a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Just as important as how we display items is the need to move things in the shop on a regular basis. We have a large member base and need to keep things looking fresh. We will move an item we have been carrying all year and suddenly members will start commenting on the “new item”.

One hot selling children’s item that we carry is an eco rescue team-complete with rescue vehicle, animal, staff and wildlife fun facts available through K & M Wild Republic. It is packaged in a large box with a clear cellophane front to view the merchandise. When I first received this product, I displayed them on a shelf, and they sold ok. When I made floor stacks of them to make shelf room for other items, the sales for this item accelerated. Placement is a huge role in marketing.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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