John Ball Zoo
Grand Rapids, Michigan
1. What makes your store unique?
Our store is in the only zoo in Grand Rapids. We get calls from a variety of people asking about specific animals that they are interested in purchasing. They will say things like, I needed a River Otter stuffed animal, and I knew the zoo would have it!” We also have a variety of items that you can’t find anywhere else around the city. We sell things that are locally made, like local peacock feathers from a peacock farm and things that are handcrafted from around the world. Anything that would be considered a unique animal themed gift, you can usually find in our gift shop.
2. What is your retail background?
I started working at John Ball Zoo in 2002 while I was in college. During that time I was promoted to a variety of positions here and loved working here so much I wanted to come back every summer to work again and to learn more. I was promoted to gift manager/buyer in 2006 and have been doing it ever since. I owe a lot of my success to ZAG (Zoo and Aquarium Buyer’s Group) and for the networking possibilities that are put in front of me every day with this organization.
I have had the pleasure of serving on the ZAG Board for the past three years, and I get to help people every day just like they started helping me when I took over the retail department here at John Ball Zoo.
3. What is the most popular product you sell?
The most popular products are the Good Luck Minis from Safari Ltd. We have sold close to 13,000 just in 2014 alone! We sell around 20 to 30 different styles, so people will end up purchasing close to 10 at a time. Another great item that we sell are the Break Your Own Geodes from Village Originals. Kids and adults love to buy these rocks. They can take them home and then break them open with a hammer to see all of the beautiful crystals that are inside the plain looking rock — an interactive gift that is in our top 10 for the year.
4. What are your top three retail tips?
1. Always keep things clean. People do not want to shop around in a dusty and dirty gift shop. We have a daily cleaning list that gets done with different sections in the gift shop every day to ensure things are being cleaned and dusted regularly.
2. Make sure your employees are trained properly and engaged in the products that you sell. All of our employees go through an orientation, as well as being trained by a manager and given a detail-oriented tour of all the products in the gift shop. Since we sell so many green/fair trade items, they need to know where these come from and what the benefits are from buying on these products.
3. Make sure your store is well merchandised. Myself and my assistant managers are trained on how to merchandise and put together items for an appealing look to our guests. Don’t leave holes or empty spots/pegs. If something is not out, your guest can’t buy it. When you create a display of items, it makes the guest think about buying it and even purchasing a few items that are merchandised together.