Garden Gate Shop
Buy a gift, plant a memory
Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a national historic landmark. It seems only fitting that this 79-acre world-class botanical garden is also home to the 5,000-square-foot Garden Gate Shop stocked with an eclectic mix of merchandise in every price point.
With a focus on fair trade merchandise and handmade items created by local artists, everything they sell is in accordance with and supports the mission statement of the destination.
Our mission statement is ‘To discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life,'” said Jennifer Kuykendall, merchandise manager. “We support the Garden’s mission and our sales support the Garden as an institution.”
Guests entering the shop are greeted with a mirrored atrium with live plants in the center that creates a sort of “infinity” effect with natural light. A large book department on one side of the store and many gondola multi-shelf fixtures hold a variety of unique gifts, and two hanging fixtures display chimes, bird houses and feeders that create visual interest.
All the merchandise is tied to nature themes and themes of conservation and sustainability and to the various individual garden themes on their campus, like the Japanese Garden, the Chinese Garden and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. Kuykendall said that with every item they consider, they think about how it relates back to their mission. Does it have a botanical image or an image from nature that is a visual aspect of the Garden? Does the item promote conservation in some way? Is it made from recycled materials?
“We sell locally made honey and china with a bee pattern because we have a working beehive in the garden,” Kuykendall said. “So we have signage on our shop displays that educates people as to the role bees play in pollination, and that they are currently on the decline due to changes in their environment.”
The annual Garden calendar is a huge seller, as are live orchid plants, Tom’s shoes, scarves of all kinds and earrings by a variety of artists. They also sell a lot of linens year round, especially tea towels, and display them in bushel baskets for the vegetable prints or in flower pots for the florals.
“Outdoor gifts and chimes are also a strong category for us,” she added. “We have a large framed rack that we display them on so we can hang a large number at a time, and they hang freely so customers can ring them to get an idea of what they will sound like at home.”
They also sell a lot of clothing — from high-end jackets to Garden logo sweatshirts and T-shirts. During special events like the annual Japanese Festival, they sell specialty clothing items that they don’t normally carry the rest of the year, such as vintage kimonos that they get from a Japanese dealer. Every year the most gorgeous one is displayed on a bamboo pole hanging in the front entrance to make a dramatic statement that pulls people in.
“The store has a seasonally changing display of Tom’s shoes that we feel are a good partner for our mission,” Kuykendall said. “We promote these extremely popular shoes through an email newsletter to let our interested customers know when we get in new shipments.”
In addition to the email newsletter, they do two Facebook promotions a week to let their core customer base know when they get in new items or have jewelry artists, book signings, food tastings, etc. in the store. They also have a couple of member sales a year where members receive an additional discount to encourage a great deal of gift shopping.
They have several buyers and always try to have something different for each season and popular annual events like the Japanese Festival, the Best of Missouri Market and their holiday floral train show.
“We try to carry items that will appeal to the broad diversity of our visitors and so appeal to different ages, price points and interests,” Kuykendall said. “We are a destination location and our customers know that there will be something different for them every time they visit us.”
Fair trade items are becoming more available and more popular, and Kuykendall said the customers seem to care more now about how things are sourced and made and are more informed and invested in what they are purchasing.
“More customers are asking for more locally made items and are concerned with supporting the local economy and artisans,” she said. “Our buyers shop local art fairs year round to find new local jewelers and artists.”
They have found that signage featuring a photo of the artist (so that the customer can visualize the person who created the item) along with their bio and brief description of their process and inspiration really helps to promote and sell local art most effectively.
And although tricky at times, another effective sales strategy for the Garden has been the implementation of satellite shops. These are special exhibition shops located out on the Garden grounds either in temporary spaces like tents or in a converted existing space in one of their buildings connected to the exhibition, like their Climatron. That location sells merchandise specifically related to the shows that they might not otherwise carry, such as the glass works of artist Dale Chihuly, fossils for a dinosaur show, Chinese lanterns and pottery for a lantern show, etc.
“Last year we had a record setting heat wave and had a huge Chinese Lantern exhibition and had tents and vendors outside for retail sales,” Kuykendall said. “Keeping cool and maintaining the tech aspect of the retail sites was a challenge. This year we started a holiday light show — Garden Glow — and had several outside locations in the winter. We had to anticipate dealing with the cold and the winter weather elements, which was a challenge as well, as is recruiting temporary sales staff in large numbers for staffing these events.”
However, when they have large temporary staffing needs, they use a local temporary staffing agency that has worked well for them each time. And despite any concerns, these satellite shops are a great way to bring more people and profits to the Gardens.
“When you shop for gifts with us you are effectively ‘giving twice,'” Kuykendall said. “Not just a gift for your loved one, but a gift to the Garden to continue it’s mission into the future for generations to come and enjoy it as well.”
By Abby Heugel