museums&MORE Spring 2016
Manager’s Corner: Shawne Sheldon, Washington Park Zoo By Zeke Jennings

Volunteering at the local zoo has blossomed into a career for Shawne Sheldon. Ten years ago, Sheldon began volunteering her time at the Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, Indiana, which, at that time, didn’t even have a gift shop, but rather a gift cart. Sheldon eventually got a job working the cart, and when the zoo entrance was expanded and a gift shop was added, Sheldon, with little retail experience, was tabbed to run it.

Sheldon muddled,” as she put it, her way through learning the ins and outs of being a buyer, although that might be a modest way of describing it, as the gift shop’s sales have increase every year since opening. Sheldon’s role has expanded, but retail remains her favorite part of the job.

MM: What are some of the store’s bestsellers?

SS: Of course anything plush is a huge seller. For us if it is a tiger, wolf or river otter — we can’t keep them in stock. I like to rotate my vendors every other year or so to get new items in here, so I have used pretty much any plush vendor out there. Anything with lower price points does well for us. I am finding that trucks and toys for boys are starting to pick up, and I created a wall of jewelry last year that did very well for us. Pucker powder candy is also a big hit here and of course anything with our logo or name drop on it does well for us.

MM: Where do you find new merchandise?

SS: At the beginning I didn’t realize how important going to gift shows was, but it didn’t take long of trying to find new companies to learn that is the best place to find new things. You get to see it in person and also see how everyone else is receiving it.

MM: Is there one thing you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning?

SS: There isn’t one thing, but it would have been nice to have a mentor to help me figure everything out in the beginning — prices, good ways to display and where to buy — but I think I have managed to find prices and items that work for our area. It is a constant job to keep the gift shop clean and organized and you always have to be thinking about the next thing or ways to fit more things in the shop and display them.

MM: What are your biggest frustrations? How do you handle them?

SS: My first is storage. Everyone might have an issue with this but I have very little. I started ordering majority of my items at the gift shows so I do not have to do reorders through the season because when my orders come in they sit in the middle of the gift shop until we can get them entered and put away. I have a small storage barn at the back of the zoo but otherwise I beg for space from another city department off zoo grounds which makes it difficult to get stock sometimes. The second is theft and breakage, sometimes when we get large groups in here it gets out of hand. It is just frustrating to find broken items in the shop. I just try to keep the breakables on higher shelves so little hands can’t reach them.

MM: How do you stay passionate about what you do?

SS: I don’t find it hard to stay passionate about my gift shop. I get excited every year to put new things in it and set it up a different way. When I order things at the gift shows I don’t get the orders until months later and it’s like Christmas seeing all the good stuff you ordered. I enjoy seeing people come in and find things to purchase. I have a wonderful staff who helps me with display ideas and they get excited about the products also. I am proud of what we are able to accomplish with the space that we have here.

MM: What are your goals for 2016?

SS: We are looking into building a new larger gift shop with storage in it, hopefully in the next two years. So for 2016 I will be working on the layout and funding for that. It is pretty awesome that I get to design it from scratch. We will still keep the existing space as a gift shop also. I have always felt I could sell more stuff if I had more space. It gets too crowded in here and people pass it by because of that. Of course it is also to beat my sales from last year, I am always in competition about that. On a personal note, I need to learn to delegate more things, as I am sure a lot of people can relate to that but it is a hard thing for me to do.

Zeke Jennings

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