Better Days Ahead
When people end up in the hospital, their loved ones do their best to cheer them up. Before visiting patients, many people browse a hospital’s gift shop to find items to brighten a patient’s day. Gifts range from books and puzzles to jewelry, flowers and more — options to usher a splash of color to hospital rooms.
In recent years, these convenient destinations have experienced challenges. “The most significant impacts to sales are still COVID-19 related — specifically changes to visitor traffic. We see very few children on campus (except in pediatric hospitals), which changes the dynamic — particularly with labor and delivery,” said Gwynne Gillette, chief operating officer at Cloverkey.
The Carrollton, Texas-based company offers full-service retail solutions for its partner hospitals. In addition to supplying gifts and other merchandise, it provides retail fixtures and staff, and is responsible for all retail operations. Many people still hesitate to visit patients because of the ongoing fear of COVID.
Supply chain concerns also impact sales. Along with this are unprecedented price increases from suppliers and a shortage of volunteer staff. However, some shops are performing well.
Top categories across Cloverkey’s 20 shops include fashion (apparel, jewelry, footwear, perfume and accessories); hospital logo merchandise; food and drinks; flowers and general gifts.
“Hospital logo merchandise has been especially hot. Logo apparel does best and prices range up to $175 for high-end brands such as Patagonia and NorthFace,” said Gillette. “Within the fashion category, we have smocked tops and dresses ranging in price from $20 to $50. Jewelry is always popular and purses are doing well.”
For the past few years, women’s clothing has been selling at St. Vincent’s Hospital Gift Shop in Birmingham, Alabama. Retail Services Manager Lee Patterson points to strappy dresses and floral print blouses/tunics; home fragrance and candles; and jewelry with religious symbols.
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s UNM Hospital Gift Shop works with Purchasing Power Plus — a buying group for retailers in the healthcare gift industry. Gift Shop Manager Judi Stallings mentioned the importance of plush.
“The day an order goes on the shelf, sales jump by about 20%. Cell phone accessories are another staple,” added Stallings.
UNM’s business is also driven by employees who stop in for snacks and sundries. This past holiday season, they shopped at hospital gift stores since getting out in the community posed quite a challenge. “We had a great fourth quarter in 2021,” mentioned Stallings.
Beebe Medical Center Auxiliary operates two shops in Delaware — one in Lewes, and another in Rehoboth Beach.
“We do well with seasonal. In July, items that are made in America perform and during Christmas time, ornaments and gifts sell,” said C. Wendell Alfred, president of Beebe Medical Center Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is the oldest fundraising arm of Beebe; all proceeds benefit the medical center.
New Services & Amenities
To spark business, many hospitals implemented new services and amenities.
“Our online shopping option has been hugely successful. It allows virtual customers to shop directly from the store for delivery on campus. In locations where the hospital has satellite facilities without an on-campus shop, customers can buy online. We utilize the hospital’s existing intra-campus transportation services for deliveries,” said Cloverkey’s Gillette.
The merchandise displayed on each shop’s online site is populated directly from on-hand inventory. Merchandise changes as items sell and are replaced.
“Payroll deduction as a form of payment for hospital employees is a critical component of our most successful shops and we implement it wherever possible,” said Gillette. This enables employees to make purchases and have the charge deducted from a future paycheck. Charges do not accrue interest and this form of payment enables employees to shop without carrying their wallets around since they often don’t have pockets in their scrubs.
“It’s seen as a benefit for employees and results in an estimated 20% higher sales in locations where it’s available,” added Gillette.
New services also include online ordering. Albuquerque’s UNM teamed up with an outside firm and receives a portion of sales. “It’s taken a while to get going, but has become successful,” concluded Stallings.
Lenoir Memorial Hospital Cheer Corner in Kinston, North Carolina, joined forces with a local bakery, which delivers homemade treats weekly. “Most Thursday mornings we have a line of staff waiting,” revealed Angela Quinn, gift shop manager.
“I am proud of the creativity of our retail members and how they moved through COVID with positivity. There have been moments of hopefulness, as we all worked creatively to meet today’s challenges,” said Carrie Fleishman, vice president of Purchasing Power Plus.
To capture interest, Birmingham’s St. Vincent’s Hospital Gift Shop, boasts several “feature” displays that are changed frequently. “We utilize the empty space above the racks with seasonal trim. In spring, it was colorful paper lanterns.
Christine Parker, gift shop manager of the hospitality shop for Kent Hospital in the coastal community of Warwick, Rhode Island, has had success with creating color blocks within the displays. “Be sure the items are all one color. It really makes the scene ‘pop,’” advised Parker.