museums&MORE Summer 2010
Healthy Sales

Beaumont Hospital gift shops garner healthy sales with a variety of products

By Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

In a hospital gift shop, one might assume that the most popular items are Get Well cards and flowers. While those are dependable mainstays, they aren’t necessarily the items that make The Perfect Gift and Family Affair gift shops at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. so successful.

Sometimes an item will take off unexpectedly and surprise us,” said Missy Knudsen, nurse coordinator of breastfeeding and retail services. “This often happens when an employee buys an item, then takes it back to their unit and shows it to their coworkers. Before you know it, we have a run.”

Because a majority of gift shop customers are hospital staff, both stores focus on offering a wide variety of items that allows them to shop for life events — birthdays, new baby, anniversaries, and holidays — at the hospital, negating the need to stop somewhere else after work. In essence, they can shop for an entire party on the concourse — a gift and card at one shop, flowers and balloons at another, a decorated cake at the bakery, etc.

“Family Affair is in the concourse/lobby of the South tower of the hospital in an area dedicated to retail and food service ‘storefronts,'” Knudsen explained. “There is a large seating area central to the shops. This location is ideal in that it receives a large amount of traffic from employees, visitors and patients visiting both the gift shops, Baker’s Deli and Concourse Cafe, Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks — all hospital managed. We benefit from the opportunity to cross merchandise to this diverse group.”

This also creates a respite area for staff and visitors to come to relax, eat and shop, maybe forgetting for a moment they are in a hospital.

The Perfect Gift
Every department of the hospital itself strives to provide high quality services that are safe, effective and compassionate. Maureen Husek, director nutrition and retail services, said the retail areas focus on providing products that exceed the customer expectations in an environment of outstanding customer service and relief from the stresses of the day.

“We don’t stock items that can be purchased in big box stores or malls,” Husek said. “Instead we break out of the traditional gift shop mold, keep it fresh and offer only the best customer service.”

That’s done in both gift shops, the flower cart, display kiosks throughout the campus and a cart that tours through the Mother Baby unit daily to sell breast-feeding supplies and items from the shops. Each shop focuses on a different customer base, so unique merchandise is sought out for each shop.

The Perfect Gift, a 1,600-square-foot store on the first floor, offers everything from clothing, giftware, furniture and seasonal merchandise to books, magazines, candy, cards, jewelry, candles, lotions and soaps, logo items and plush.

“I try to focus on more adult items in the gift shop, such as jewelry, adult apparel, adult cards, candles, bath and body products, etc.,” said Bridget LoPiccolo, retail services manager of The Perfect Gift and flower cart. “The magic price is anything under $25. Some of the most surprising items are the $25 sound activated laughing animals that roll around on the floor — we sold 36 in two days — or the $120 clogs worn by a large amount of Beaumont staff.”

LoPiccolo said the biggest challenge is finding new and unique items, as with the hospital staff being their greatest customers, they’re challenged to keep them coming back to see what’s new.

“I have been surprised by the amount of seasonal holiday home décor we have sold in the past two years,” LoPiccolo said. “I think people are focusing on their homes more, and in general, I love to check each day to see what’s moving and what’s not. I love to see we picked a winner and are on target with what the customer is looking for.”

A Family Affair
What they may be looking for is something different from traditional gift shop offerings, which is where Knudsen and Family Affair come in. This 500-square-foot family-oriented mother/baby shop includes infant and children toys, gifts, plush and clothing as well as breast-feeding supplies and breast pump rentals.

“Family Affair focuses on maternal-child products such as breastfeeding equipment, nursing apparel and infant clothing and accessories,” said Knudsen, an RN that manages both the clinical and retail areas. “Our mainstay items include breastfeeding supplies, especially nursing bras and breastpumps, but we also focus on additional children’s items that are wholesome and educational as well as fun.”

Along with general giftware and toys, the boutique carries products that help develop fine motor skills and special items for premature babies — including diapers, clothing and car seat inserts — along with items that help create tactile and sensory experiences for children with developmental delays. They have also introduced personalized monogramming in this shop, which has become very popular.

“We have traditionally done well with items that are name-specific, but were frustrated when we were left with a large group of names that didn’t sell or customers disappointed if we didn’t have their name,” Knudsen said. “We wanted to be able to customize our own names and vary the merchandise to meet demand. So, instead of buying into personalized ornaments and water bottles, we purchased an embroidery machine and trained our staff to use it.”

Not surprisingly, Knudsen has found that customized gifts are particularly popular with new grandparents in their large Mother/Baby unit. A lot of business is also done in children’s backpacks that can be monogrammed or embroidered with a name and blankets embroidered with a newborn’s name and date of birth. As the equipment is on-site in the shop, they can also offer same day delivery, adding to the success of the program.

Quality Counts
With the issues of an economic downturn in all areas of retail, the store employees are grateful for any successful new programs. For the children’s area, Knudsen has noticed the demand for small, impulse items decreasing and the larger gift items increasing.

“Customers in our shop are focusing on one gift item that represents a better quality, while keeping an eye on value,” she explained. “They are not picking up the extra impulse items or ‘trimmings’ as much as past years.”

But the biggest challenge for Knudsen is maintaining a space that is merchandised with the appeal of a variety of goods that will sell successfully, yet changes frequently enough to continue to attract customers that walk by on a daily basis.

“Product is always changing and window displays are reworked frequently to spark the interest of shoppers,” Husek said. “We provide customer service training and always review new products with the staff. Family Affair staff are trained and certified to fit nursing apparel and managers and buyer meet with vendors regularly to seek out new products, as well as attending merchandise marts and reading retail trade publications.”

Knudsen added that the most rewarding part of her experience within the retail component of her job is interacting with the customers, especially the children who are patients.

“It is a wonderful feeling to see a child struggling with an illness or hospitalization enter our store and leave the traditional hospital environment for a few minutes,” she said.

And whether it’s an ice cream cone, a stuffed animal or a simple card, they might just find The Perfect Gift along the way.

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