museums&MORE Summer 2018
North Carolina Aquarium revamps gift shops By Zeke Jennings

New looks featured at Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher

With three locations along the Atlantic coast, the North Carolina Aquarium Society entertains and educates well over a million people each year.

Each aquarium has a gift shop. The retail team also operates a fourth destination-location store on the coast at Jennette’s Pier, a popular fishing spot near the organization’s Roanoke Island aquarium. The product offerings are predominately the same at all four stores, although the smaller Jennette’s Pier store has fewer products but also stocks fishing supplies.

Barbara Bayer, the Director of Retail Operations, has been with the NCAS for nine years, including four in her current role. She started as a sales associate at the Fort Fisher store before working her way up to buyer.

Bayer told us about a major renovation project at Roanoke Island, which led to revamping the other two aquarium shops at Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll Shores. The new helped the retail operation to a record-breaking year in 2017.

Where do you typically look for new products?

Pine Knoll Shores

Mandy Dudley, our buyer, and I attend four shows a year: Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show, The Gathering, Grand Strand Gift & Resort Merchandise Show and AmericasMart. This gives us a general overview of what’s available, what’s new and to see what trends are happening that we can take advantage of.

We build great relationships with our reps and also go to our top vendors’ showrooms. … Good reps will help you reach your greatest sales potential by pointing you in the right direction on purchases so you both win.

Going online is definitely a way to find the newest, latest trends and to find unique items. Social media plays a huge part in showing what consumers are looking for and what they like. It’s a great tool to find successful items.

The gift shops recently underwent renovations. Why did you feel this was necessary and what changes were made?

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island underwent a major renovation, which presented the perfect opportunity to also renovate the gift shop. The aquarium design was spectacular, creating environments that told the story and character of the area. What we had in the gift shop and that needed to be a changed were neutral, bland colors with little theme or character of interest. We also knew this was a great time to have an entrance and exit going through the gift shop; therefore, increasing our capture rate. Enlisting the help of Peter Sollogub, architect/designer with CambridgeSeven Associates, put into motion the concept of our gift shop. Collaborating with Shelly Nunnally, gift shop manager, and her assistant managers, we worked as a team to discuss how we wanted our gift shop to be a reflection of the aquarium. … Out of these discussions, the displays of a

Fort Fisher

ship, shark, turtle and otter developed and with this our shop began taking on a personality and playfulness that would draw in our visitors. Color, inspired by sea glass, and defining the departments would direct the layout and traffic flow through the store.

It is the planning and details from floor to ceiling, expressing the theme of the aquarium that has made this a unique gift shop showstopper. We know we did something right by the excited looks and big smiles on our visitor’s faces! With the success from this renovation, we took what we learned and applied that to our gift shops at Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll Shores.

With more than 1.3 million annual visitors, the gift shops had a record-breaking year in 2017. Not only did the renovations give a lift to the appearance of the shops and our staff. Showing we care resonates with our visitors and lifts them up as well.

One of your displays was a finalist in our recent Creative Display Contest. How do go about creating a great display?

It is important to create an area of interest that catches one’s eye and peaks their curiosity to come look and explore. Front and center displays are based on current features at the aquarium and hot items. We like to create stories with our merchandise, which gives our visitors a consolidated area of various items to choose from; it is also a great tool for enhancing sales.

Themes can be created in a variety of ways by coming up with a common denominator, such as an animal, color or vendor line, to name a few. Displays can have a solid appearance by blocking product this also makes it easier for restocking.

The North Carolina Aquarium has three locations along the Atlantic coast. It also oversees a small gift shop at Jennette’s Pier, a fishing attraction in Nags Head. The stores include:

  • Fort Fisher — 2,400 square feet; 2,300 SKUs
  • Jennette’s Pier — 1,500 square feet; 1,200 SKUs, including food, beverages and fishing supplies
  • Pine Knoll Shores — 2,400 square feet; 2,300 SKUs
  • Roanoke Island — 2,600 square feet; 2,300 SKUs

Each store has one full-time manager, two part-time assistant managers and six to 10 part-time sales associates, depending on the season. Proceeds go to the general operating fund in support of new exhibits, animals, educational programs and conservation initiatives.

“Our top-selling category is consistently plush, followed by apparel. Jewelry, toys and housewares are also strong categories for us. Branding the NC Aquarium is very important to us, so we name-drop as many items as we can.” — Barbara Bayer

Zeke Jennings

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