museums&MORE Fall 2016
Manager’s Corner: Kim Gefre By Zeke Jennings

It would be difficult to find someone as dedicated to the Lowry Park Zoo's success than retail director Kim Gefre.

With more than a million visitors each year, Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa is one of the busiest zoos in the southeastern United States. It would be difficult to find someone as dedicated the zoo’s success than retail director Kim Gefre, whose idea of success includes success educating and engaging visitors, not just profit and loss. Gefre also is a board member of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyer’s Group (ZAG).

What is your retail background?

KG: I began my career in retail as an assistant buyer at Busch Gardens in Tampa. It was a truly unique and amazing environment in which to start a retail career since it had the excitement of a theme park coupled with one of the largest zoo collections in North America. For the last 10 years, I have been the retail director at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, where I oversee the retail operation and other revenue-producing ancillary businesses.

Where do you find new merchandise?

KG: I attend about five (trade) shows throughout the year, and I can’t stress enough the importance of setting aside a budget and time to attend these events. Trade shows are not only a great way to see new product from existing vendors but to source new product lines, new vendors, and new ideas. Shopping shouldn’t be the only thing on your list when attending trade shows; don’t forget to network. You can learn so much from talking to vendors about trends in the industry, top sales categories and display ideas. This is also your chance to meet other buyers in your industry where you can share ideas and open a line of communication that will last beyond the trade show. Another reason to attend trade shows is that most vendors will have show specials that result in discounted product and/or free freight. Your savings from these vendor specials will be well over what you paid out in attending the show — so remember that when budgeting. Don’t forget to take advantage of any seminars they may have. They are typically free and you never know what jewel of information you can take back with you to help your business grow.

You can also find new merchandise by shopping other venues similar to yours. There is no shame in that. I also have vendors that will see me in my office, (but) I do not buy from catalogs. I am one of those buyers that must touch and see the product before I buy, just like my customers. It is the only way to be truly sure of the quality, size and overall perceived value of the product.

What the store’s bestsellers?

KG: Plush is our No. 1 category, with giraffe plush being the top seller. Ready-to-wear is No. 2, with adult T-shirts and kids shirts.

If you had $10,000 to spend on your store, what would you invest in?

KG: Can I have $100,000 for this fantasy instead? If I had that much to spend I would expand our main gift shop, Nature’s Kingdom. There is so much wonderful product available that I would love to buy to fill up that newly added space. However, if I only had $10,000 I would add more slat wall to empty wall spaces and I would also invest in better lighting.

What is the best retail advice you’ve received.  

KG: “Always run scared.” That may seem like a negative but it is not meant to be. It means always be on your toes, always be on the lookout for the next best thing, always be ready to make the next big sell, always be one step ahead. Never be complacent or stop searching for new ways to improve the bottom line.

How do you stay up on trends?

KG: Trade shows, vendors, other buyers, magazines and getting involved in organizations such as ZAG and IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). You have to be proactive about educating yourself and staying up on trends. You have to work at being knowledgeable because in retail trends are constantly changing. You can’t tread water in retail. You have to “run scared.”

Zeke Jennings

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