Nonprofit Retail Outlook: Sales and Trade Shows By Jess Schmidt

{Sponsored} As COVID-19 continues to impact nonprofit retail, both retailers and vendors are learning to adapt. Although the future is less certain than in the past, the ability of those in the industry to think on their feet is proving that this industry can’t be brought down and will continue to be viable for years to come.

Stores have continued to prepare for what may come next, and for some manufacturers, this means business as usual looks totally different than it did a year ago. Murffy Stevens is the owner of Monterey Import Company. Monterey stocks products that sell well in national parks, amusement parks and museums, and they also can customize thousands of souvenirs per the buyers’ needs.

A second-generation owner of the souvenir company, Stevens is adapting through unfortunate moves such as having to trim down her workforce, but also through fundamentally changing how Monterey does business. Stevens is adjusting her business to run leaner and tighter. “I spent the first six weeks of the pandemic rebuilding phones, alarm systems, upgrading software and trying to do things that would allow us to run tighter, more compact, less expensive,” Stevens said.

Part of the changes includes offering PPE, such as customized neck gaiters and a keyring that allows people to not touch commonly used surfaces such as buttons or doors. Even though Stevens isn’t advertising these products, the demand is so big that they’re items she plans to keep in the long run.

Retailers are also taking the opportunity to make long-needed changes. The Jamestown- Yorktown Foundation was able to renovate their flagship gift shop during the closures they experienced due to the pandemic. “We have retooled our daily programming and implemented a range of enhanced safety measures designed to welcome visitors back,” said Rachel Whitfield, buyer and product manager at the foundation.

In their four gift shop locations, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation focuses on souvenirs, magnets, drinkware, décor, food and wine, as well as popular logo items, focusing on educational items, toys and books. In light of the pandemic, they’re begun stocking masks and other PPE.

They’re requiring masks for all visitors and employees and increasing cleaning frequency, as well as offering hand sanitizer throughout the sites. They’ve also marked floors to encourage social distancing and protected cashiers with plexiglass screens. Many products are available online as well, for those who can’t visit in person.

Things have looked differently the past few months for Whitfield and Stevens, on both the buyer and retailer side. Normally they both spend many weeks or weekends a year at trade shows, buying or selling their products. While trade shows have largely gone virtual, both Whitfield and Stevens anticipate and look forward to the rebirth of in-person shopping in the future. Smoky Mountain Gift Show is one of the first tradeshows happening this fall in our “New Normal.” As reocurring customers of the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, Whitfield and Stevens are both eager and excited to attend.

After more than 55 years, the Smoky Mountain Gift Show isn’t going anywhere. Stevens looks forward to the show every season to wrap up the year and “slide into Thanksgiving.” It’s a great way to reconnect with friends her company has worked with — whether exhibitors or customers — for almost 40 years. She calls the Clarion team “a friendly voice in the dark” during these unprecedented times, since they’ve been able to provide information about the pandemic.

Whitfield returns annually for in-person meetings with all of her top vendors. She prefers to have products in her hands instead of ordering them from a catalog or website. There’s no guesswork regarding size or quality, and it is easy to see up-and-coming vendors and trends at the show.

“The Smoky Mountain Gift Show has been a great resource. Their communication during this time has also been helpful, since so many shows are postponing or cancelling,” Whitfield said.

The underlying message from Stevens is one of hope. “I feel like we’re all going to get through this. (We have) reason to be optimistic! We have been knocked down as a nation and industry, but the tourists are out there, the dollars are there and it is workable. Some of my customers are having banner summers. They’re calling, saying merch is flying off shelves, they need fast reorders and don’t know if they will be closed down, but I’m seeing fab, buoyant moods,” Stevens said.

For more information about the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, visit

© 2020 Clarion Events

Jess Schmidt

Jess brings a creative writing degree and over 16 years of professional writing experience to her role as content marketer for the Great American Media Services and SmartSolutions teams. With her additional background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language and marketing strategy. She moonlights as a contributing writer with Gift Shop Plus from time to time.

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