Mammoth of a Job!
At 60 square feet, there isn’t anything mammoth about the gift shop at Waco Mammoth National Monument in Waco, Texas. It’s not even really a gift shop, but more of a gift area inside the welcome center.
Waco Mammoth National is home to 24 fossilized Columbian mammoths. Although the first bone was found in 1978, the site didn’t open to the public until 2009.
After multiple attempts by legislators to get the site into the National Parks system, the site achieved that status in 2015 under a signed declaration by President Obama. Attendance has increased by 500 percent since.
Site manager Raegan King has worked at Waco Mammoth for five and a half years. Her staff includes approximately 20 full- and part-time employees, most of whom do a little bit of everything, including handling gift shop duties. Most of the staff is employed by the City of Waco, with King working closely with partners Baylor University, Waco Mammoth Foundation and the National Park Service.
MM: What is your background?
RK: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Arts in Museum Science. I’ve studied and worked almost exclusively in science and museums with field work experience in mammalogy, classroom teaching experience in the sciences and varied museum work in history and science. I had limited retail experience prior to working at Waco Mammoth — mainly in a bookstore. The park’s gift shop had been assigned to me as an “extra duty” when I first started at the park as a tour guide when we were a city park called “the Waco Mammoth Site.” Now that we were designated Waco Mammoth National Monument, my time spent maintaining our retail inventory has increased dramatically just as our visitation has increased dramatically with the help of the National Park Service.
How has life changed at the monument since becoming an official National Monument three years ago?
RK: Our park visitation has increased five fold! As a city park, we averaged 20,000 guests per year. Now, as a National Monument, we welcome over 100,000 guests per year. We also expanded hours of operation from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week and have expanded staff from seven to more than 20.
MM: What makes your gift shop unique?
RK: In many national parks and monuments, a professional company or entity runs the park gift shop or bookstore as a “concessionaire.” Concessionaires like Eastern National Parks Association, Aramark or a park friends group are required to draft legal agreements with the Park Service to run the shops, and they typically return just a percentage of the profits back to the park. Waco Mammoth National Monument is a new model of park management where the park partners take a more financially responsible role in operational management to reduce the amount of federal dollars needed to operate the park. So, when the federal government shuts down, the City of Waco can keep the park open. The City of Waco also runs the gift shop as a partner, so 100 percent of the proceeds return to the park’s annual budget.
MM: How many products do you carry?
As of July, we (had) 355 different products. We do have a portable building for storage of back stock (not climate controlled). … During the last calendar year, our gift shop generated over $230,000 in revenue. That’s about $3,800 per square foot annually.
MM: What are your biggest sellers?
RK: Novelty is consistently the best-performing category in terms of number of units sold and total revenue. Hat pins, hiking stick medallions, magnets, park tokens and key chains, and (mammoth-related items). If we have a product with a mammoth on it and the same product with a saber-toothed cat, the mammoth outsells the cat four-to-one. Mammoth-themed gift shop items are incredibly difficult to find. We do notcarry anything “dinosaur”-related. One of our main educational themes is that mammoths are notdinosaurs. Sales reps regularly try to sell me dinosaur items, but we insist carrying only ice age animals — and dinosaurs were long extinct by then. If a toy company carries mammoth anything, it’s probably in our tiny shop. Otherwise, we rely on customizable items that feature our name or logo.
MM: What products tend to draw reactions from visitors?
RK: Our T-shirt selection is frequently complimented as far more creative and unique than those found in typical park shops — site staff designs most of our own shirts. Adults seem to enjoy our “rock-shop” merchandise: polished geodes, mineral samples, gemstone sculptures, natural crystal clusters and the like. We even sold a 2-foot tall, $600 amethyst geode in early July. Kids love stuffed animals and toys that require interaction like break-your-own geodes or excavate-a-skeleton kits.
MM: Any advice for fellow retailers who deal with small sales space and budgets?
RK: Keep your back stock lean! Nothing sells if it’s in storage. This does require more frequent ordering and stocking, but it will pay off in increased sales. And never hesitate to mark down old merchandise to move it out. Keep your margin in mind when marking down items. Find a good margin/good seller to absorb potential loss from marked down merch.