museums&MORE Summer 2018
Getting creative with custom products By Zeke Jennings

Products specific to your location create shopping experience like no other

Name-dropping is a long-established practice of destination location retailers. It’s a great way to assure memories and experiences come flooding back to the mind of the visitor every time they look at a keepsake, wear a cap or play with a toy.

Essentially, it’s advertising.

Cory Schwartzman, account manager for the San Francisco Chocolate Factory, is encouraging his customers to utilize the company’s still-somewhat-new custom tin program to not just brand the name of their location, but promote upcoming and current exhibits.

San Francisco Chocolate Factory

“They can put exhibit images on a keepsake tin of delicious gourmet chocolate, reasonably priced, and they’re achieving, to an extent, their advertising goals and making money while doing it,” Schwartzman said. “That’s a valuable proposition, and I love being able to offer it.”

San Francisco Chocolate Factory offerings come in a range of flavors, light to dark, and there are specialty varieties, such as espresso caramel and chipotle almond. The company recently added a mint variety for those locations that are particularly hot during the summer. Schwartzman said the company offers low enough minimums to be an option for smaller locations, and the product’s shelf life lasts up to two years.

When Christa Dyer was in charge of retail operations at The DoSeum Children’s Museum in San Antonio — she recently took a similar position at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville — name-dropped merchandise accounted for nearly 40 percent of the gift shop’s sales and was its top category in terms of profit margin.

“A lot of thought and creativity goes into creating a successful name-dropped product,” Dyer said. “We still do the traditional items, like cups, mugs, key chains, etc., but many do not just simply have The DoSeum’s logo on it. We take a creative approach to them so they are more eye-catching and one-of-a-kind to the shopper. When working with your vendor, ask for feedback and their own personal opinion of the product you are wanting to source. Don’t be afraid to shop around with multiple vendors to make sure you are getting the best deal and quality of the product.”

Whether a museum or zoo, destination locations often have an exhibit or animal that it becomes synonymous with, one that visitors flock to see when arriving. Such is the case at Naples Zoo, home to an endangered Florida panther named Uno that was blinded as a cub as a result of a shotgun blast.

Wildlife Artists Inc. created this plush based on Uno, a popular panther at the Naples Zoo that is blind. (Photo: Larry Richardson)

Wildlife Artists Inc. takes great pride in creative realistic-looking plush animals and was up to the challenge when the Naples Zoo decided to add a line of plush that looked just like Uno, with his distinctive eye coloring and scars. The plush has Naples Zoo name-dropped on it.

“The first year the plush was released, it accounted for 12 cents per cap on its own. It represents nearly 10 percent of total plush sales and nearly 1 percent of total sales — a big success,” said Don Winter, vice president of marketing, Wildlife Artists. “The plush won the 2017 IAAPA Brass Ring Award for Best Plush.

“We’re seeing similar success for a new dolphin plush we created based on Jax, a dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center who was attacked by a Bull Shark and rescued. Our plush matches it’s scar and the name Jax is embroidered on it. If done right, the success of these plush far outweigh the initial costs and minimums that may be a little more than shops typically purchase.”

American Life Brands

Jeanne Tripi, Retail Market Sales Manager for American Life Brands, offered advice to buyers that echoed both Dyer and Winter in terms of looking to create a customized product for your store beyond just adding a logo. “I would ask that buyers not be fearful of inquiring about custom designs,” Tripi said. “We specialize in tailoring designs for our customers and because we have in-house design.”

American Life Brands, which makes everything at its facility in Jackson, Wisconsin, offers a wide array of keepsakes, but also has a long line of functional items, such as tote bags and all sorts of pet products and has low minimum thresholds for orders. “I cannot overstate how quickly the sale of pet products is growing,” Tripi said. “People feel strongly that their pet is family and just like any treasured family member, gifts or keepsakes are top of mind when visiting a destination.”

Speaking of functionality, hats and T-shirts are at the foundation of destination-location name-dropping and remain huge sellers. When it comes to color and design trends, the market is anything but stationery. When it comes to customized and name-dropped hats, Capsmith Inc. is an authority on the subject


“We are seeing an influx of interest in lighter pastel colors, such as Little Boy Blue, in addition to the already incredibly popular melon and mint,” Capsmith owner Dan Smith said. “We have been seeing great response from new pastel shades and a return to classic neutral shades for men. A renewed focus on cap fit has been one of the most predominant factors that most customers discuss with us. Our Reinforced Front Nylon Mesh Back caps are wildly popular, and focus on the custom deep fit crown and slightly curved bill. Cactus and Aztec patterns, along with a hand-painted and hand-drawn look are seeing a conscious move to a more artisanal direction.”

Zeke Jennings

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