My picture this issue was taken at the Rainforest Discovery Zoo in Tennessee, the gift shop of which is featured on page 10. After spending time with the people and animals at the zoo, I was driven to buy something. Why? Part of it was because I had to walk through the gift shop on my way in and out, but mostly because I wanted to remember my trip with something tangible. Plus, the holidays were coming and something from the store would be a unique gift.
Fortunately for me, the store offered a variety of products from plush to fine jewelry, so there was something for everyone on my list. It was fun interacting with the other shoppers in the store as a shopper myself, not as an editor. This got me thinking — do store managers and buyers put themselves in the shoes of their customers? If you were a mom with three kids, what would you be looking for? If you were a retired art professor, what kind of selection would interest you? Could both find something in your store?
Suited to Sell
To digress just a bit, in grade school I remember hearing the word niche” used to describe how well an animal or plant fit into its environment. A polar bear found its niche in the artic, a toucan in the tropics, etc. How well they adapted determined their relationships with the others, and ultimately, their survival.
In the world of retail, niche markets are those core groups of people, within your larger target audience, with similar characteristics that you can target. A niche is your specialty. Looking at it that way, how well you adapt your product and approach determines your relationship with others and, ultimately, your sales and success.
When writing the features for this issue, the prominence of “niche” markets came clearly into view. I never realized that something as simple as a pen could be so complex, with a dizzying array of options, price points and associations dedicated solely to this product. While a zoo may carry a bulk of personalized pens at a lower price point, some museums carry a selective amount of writing instruments priced much higher and merchandised with jewelry or accessories.
It’s really all about knowing your customer, knowing your “niche” market and handling the specific challenges of each store. I bring up challenges because the hospital gift shop management piece in this issue takes a look at the specific of challenges faced by these types of shops. Although many customers are shopping for get well or new baby gifts, the majority of the customers are hospital employees who have no time to shop anywhere else. They come to the gift shop for everything from birthday cards to anniversary presents, as it’s the only place for them to go.
Although not all stores are positioned in this way — and each has its own specialty — there’s no reason you can’t offer guests a little bit of everything for any occasion. Just because you’re a zoo gift shop or a resort destination doesn’t mean you have to only offer stuffed tigers and flip-flops. Whether you’re a gift shop for an art museum or a children’s zoo, you have something special and diverse that you can offer your customers.”