museums&MORE Fall 2020
Great Wolf Lodge By Debbie Eisele

A resort with multiple retail stores, attractions, and entertainment focuses on excellent service in every facet of its business

Resorts offer travelers amazing retail experiences. This year, museums&MORE wanted to discover the shopping amenities offered at Great Wolf Lodge, a resort that is well-known for its attractions and entertainment. Great Wolf Lodge opened in 1997 in the Wisconsin Dells and now offers visitors 18 locations across the United States, one in Canada, and a new resort slated to open this year.

Great Wolf Lodge, Atlanta Gift Store

This resort understands managing multiple locations with multiple retail settings in each environment and relishes in providing customers a shopping experience that delights. Kenny Funk, senior vice president of retail, food and beverage, attractions and entertainment with Great Wolf Lodge, delved into its offerings, which include branded merchandise offerings in all its retail stores, and discussed operating during a pandemic.

Describe the philosophy and mission of Great Wolf Lodge.

Kenny Funk: Our mission is simple, we bring joy to families. Our resorts offer a comprehensive family getaway anchored by our world-class water park featuring an array of family-friendly attractions, fun-filled entertainment, delicious eateries and interactive retail experiences.

Great Wolf Lodge Gift Shop

Describe the typical traveler to your Lodge.

KF: A majority of our guests are young families, but whether you’re 19-months or 91-years old, you’re going to have fun at Great Wolf Lodge!

Great Wolf Lodge Gift Shop

How important is the retail environment to the overall operations of Great Wolf Lodge?

KF: At Great Wolf Lodge, we think of our retail business as an extension of the overall guest experience. If a guest has a great time at our resort, they will often recognize that positive experience by making purchases in our retail outlets. A gift from their trip serves as a tangible reminder of their family’s experience. We like to say we help families create treasured memories, but memories are ethereal, where a product tied to that experience makes it real and a great reminder of the visit.

Great Wolf Lodge Candy Company

How many stores are offered, typically, at each location?

KF: We have on average five retail outlets in each lodge with a diverse array of offerings. We have a line of Great Wolf Lodge commemorative products such as fashion apparel, hardlines, toys, plush, etc.; swim apparel and accessories in support of the water park experience; a candy story; a Build-A-Bear branded retail experience where kids can make their own stuffed friend; and, a retail outlet to support MagiQuest our one-of-a-kind, interactive adventure game experience.

Great Wolf Lodge Build-A-Bear Store

Describe how often you sell customized or namedrop products and the success of those products.

KF: Over 90% of the product we sell at our lodges is branded to the Great Wolf Lodge experience, either by using our logos and marks, or featuring our characters.

Great Wolf Lodge branded merchandise

Explain what happened to your retail environment when the pandemic arrived.

KF: On March 15, we made the decision to close our lodges and did not have any sales during the closure period. We’re pleased to have 13 of our lodges back operating, which means our retail outlets in those resorts are open and we’re seeing a nice increase in sales.

What was the most effective form of communication Great Wolf Lodge used to keep in touch with customers during the pandemic?

KF: We made sure we consistently communicated to our guests via email and through our website. Initially, our communication was mostly to inform our guests about the closure of our resorts, but we quickly pivoted to the steps we were taking to safeguard our guests when we reopened. We called this program our “Paw Pledge” which centered around five core COVID Operating Principles that include steps to prevent the virus from getting into our resorts, protocols for physical distancing, enhanced sanitization and disinfection measures, steps for personal protection and ways to minimize surface contact.

Describe the safety protocols Great Wolf Lodge has enacted within its retail environments.

KF: As part of the Paw Pledge, we have created contactless payment capability, distancing markers, directional or flow markers in locations and plexi separators for our point of sale locations. All of our employees (or Pack) wear PPE masks, and we require guests aged 5 and older to wear face coverings in public areas of the resort, including retail outlets. We have suspended use of fitting rooms for the time being. Since guests are visiting our resorts from a further distance, we are allowing returns – but all returned items are sequestered to specially marked bins for seven days before being restocked in the store.

Please share some retail tips you have for other destination retailers.

KF: Service in the COVID era is more important than ever. Masks tend to hide facial expressions so it is incumbent upon leaders to ensure they are really focused on how we can best meet guests’ needs and articulate effectively through the masks. We have identified and trained the notion of micro-expressions with our Pack. Micro-expressions are visible in the eyes and surrounding face muscles. We teach our team that a genuine smile can still be seen while a fake smile cannot be seen in micro-expressions. Further, we have developed what we call “ImPACKful” service. Four steps of ImPACKful service are:

  • Greet and engage every guest, every time
  • Ask open-ended questions to discovery needs
  • Recommend offers and options which meet their needs
  • Recognize and remember their purchases to validate them

We have seen huge lifts in our business since we have initiated these measures.

Great Wolf Lodge Best-Sellers

Please share any other information you feel would be helpful to other retail buyers, managers and directors.

KF: Inventory management and deciding what to do with product from spring that is now out of date is critical to profitability and viability going forward. I highly recommend developing a new forecast methodology to interpret the new normal business levels, along with the demographic and psychographics of those now visiting the business to avoid carrying costs on inventory that will take longer to sell than normal. Further, now is NOT the time to abandon the strategic plan developed to drive the business forward. Guests expect and will pay for variety and newness – and if your company doesn’t offer it, they will find a place that does.

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the former managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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