Spring 2018
Hospital Gift Shops By Zeke Jennings

Hospital stores evolving as destination boutiques for patients, visitors, staff


Akron Children’s Hospital. Photo by Ted Stevens

Hospital gift shops have a unique position of catering to customers who may not be experiencing the best of times. That doesn’t stop them from being on-trend boutiques offering a wide array of products to patients, visitors and hospital staff, however.

Carrie Fleishman, vice president of Power Purchasing Plus, a network of more than 750 hospital retailers, feels such stores are evolving by looking and feeling like something beyond what some might think of in terms of a hospital store.

“The face of hospital gift shops is changing. They are embracing their role as a destination,” Fleishman said. “More and more of our stores are involved in local community events, they host engaging store events, engage on social media and a few are even doing pop-up shops. It is an exciting time for our retail community.”

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in suburban Detroit is less than a decade old. Designers gave special attention to entrance of the facility and main corridor, which, with bricks, awnings and park benches, resembles a quaint northern Michigan town, like Charlevoix or Petoskey. It has a warm and inviting feel, and that includes the 4,500-square-foot LiveWell Shoppe, where a wide range of products awaits, including everything from all-natural foods to stylish apparel.

“The product selection is more like a department store or specialty boutique than a typical hospital gift store,” said Marilyn Arace, the store’s buyer since the hospital opened. “We have garden décor, kitchen gadgets, jewelry and Michigan products — including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. We have some items, like our baby briefcase — for important documents — that we can’t keep in stock. They fly out the door!”

Henry Ford West Bloomfield sees repeat customers and not because people have gotten sick again. Once patients and their visiting family and friends see what’s available, they often come back.

“We have a lot of people who visit Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital daily who have no medical reason to be here,” Arace said. “They come not only to shop, but to have lunch in Henry’s Café, to get a massage in Vita, the wellness center, and we have regular groups of bridge and Mah Jong players.”

While a large, newer facility, like Henry Ford West Bloomfield, may feature plenty of retail space and accompanying resources, many hospital retailers oversee much smaller areas.

One of them is Lisa Gingerich, who manages the gift shop and oversees volunteers for Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center in Temple, Texas. The gift shop is only 375 square feet, but Gingerich is still able to keep a strong selection on hand.

“I offer a wide range of products to satisfy both our pediatric patients and their parents/guardians, as well as staff,” she said. “I would say, at any given time, I offer 150 different products. The best-selling products are our plush options and T-shirts — we sell a T-shirt of the month. … We have seen an increase in self-care items. Lotions, diffusers, essential oils and salt lamps are a few of the items.

“For our younger audience, we are seeing success with trends: unicorns, pandas and llamas.”

Akron Children’s Hospital. Photo by Ted Stevens.

At Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, Sally Begue has seen hospital retail evolve up close over her two decades in the business. “The biggest change in the industry since I started is that we did not have computers,” she said. “We hand wrote everything and taking inventory that way was a big challenge.”

Begue oversees more than 2,000 square feet of retail space at two stores and more than 3,000 products, including name-dropped T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and such that are gobbled up by the 4,600 employees of the vast medical care network. When it comes to patient and visitor needs and wants, it’s plush, toys, candy, jewelry, gifts, books, cards, candles, accessories and women’s clothing.

Akron Children’s Hospital. Photo by Ted Stevens

Begue aims to keep the selection high, back inventory low and prices moderate, although she experiment with higher-end items on occasion. “We do carry some higher price points for that special customer. We try to order in small quantities of six or 12,” she said.

As with Akron Children’s, the hospital staff is often the most vital consumer base for many hospital gift stores, so a variety of fresh products and varying price points is key.

“Our retail members understand that the hospital employee is their most important customer and that the same consumer base is visiting their shop weekly, if not daily,” Fleishman said.

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Zeke Jennings

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