Although they say laughter is the best medicine, retail therapy can’t be that far behind. That’s why Kathy Halbert, gift shop team lead at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, has made it her top priority to ensure a pleasant shopping experience for any guest who enters either The Gift Spot at Scottish Rite or The Kid’s Corner Gift Shop at Egleston.
For patients and families, even the shortest hospital stay can be stressful,” Halbert said. “We strive to create an atmosphere of normalcy for children and their loved ones by providing features designed to brighten a hospital stay and to offer families and visitors a respite from their worries and concerns.”
What they’ll find instead is a variety of high-quality gifts, toys, games and affordable luxuries that may just be the prescription for success.
Sales, Not Stress
Halbert has served as Gift Shop Team Lead for two years, although she’s been at the hospital for eight. She started as a volunteer in the gift shop, moving to a part-time position and then serving as a store coordinator. Recent expansions to the hospital required them to create a new position for her, one in which she oversees and buys for both stores.
“We want to keep the stores as similar as we can,” Halbert said. “With a different coordinator in each store, it would be hard to synchronize everything without someone above them to go-between.”
Only 15 miles away from each other, the 1,200-square foot Gift Spot is located on the outside edge of Atlanta, while the 1,100-square foot Kid’s Corner Gift Shop is in the heart of the city’s downtown. Although each store is set up by its store coordinator, both are similarly designed and carry a majority of the same products.
“Most of the time I simply duplicate the order and purchase 75 to 80 percent of the same product for the stores,” Halbert said. “But there is a bit of diversity in the clientele from place to place that requires attention. With one store in a slightly more affluent sector, I have to be sensitive to pricing and selection with certain items.”
But regardless of location, customer service is the top goal every day. Halbert said that although they do want to make money — a gift of the proceeds is given to the hospital once a year — the top priority is to make everyone who comes into the stores relaxed and comfortable.
“They’re either in a stressful job or a stressful situation,” she added, “and we want them to come to our store, enjoy themselves and get away for a little bit.”
Around 65 percent of the clientele are those in a stressful job — the hospital staff. And even though she lures them in with candy, snacks and a Children’s employee discount day each month, she keeps them coming back by offering an ever-changing array of gifts and purchases.
“Most of the staff is looking to buy everyday stuff and gifts for other adult family members,” Halbert said. “It started out with lotions and creams — as medical staff wash their hands so frequently — and grew into other body care items, nice glassware, candles, etc.”
Sales actually increased when gas prices went up, as people realized that they could get everything they needed for a birthday or anniversary at the gift shop. They didn’t have to spend the time, money or gas going to the mall; they could simply stop in the shop and get all they needed.
The recent introduction of gift cards has done extremely well. While people buy them for the kids so they can come down from their room to the store and get what they want, many hospital employees buy them for fellow employees, which is why only a few of the items offered are “”get well”” specific.
Day-to-day they sell an incredible number of glasses — both sunglasses and reading glasses — and logo merchandise to both staff and people visiting the hospital. Halbert said they often come into work having forgot their glasses, so they stop to pick up a pair of the readers in the store. As for the logo merchandise, her explanation is simple: it’s cute.
“The logo itself is cute and attractive, not just a blocky emblem, so people wear the merchandise other places than just to work.”
A Cure for Boredom
As you would expect, most family, friends and patients who visit the store are looking to buy a children’s gift. Although they carry a small number of infant items — clothes, pacifiers, toys — the majority of products are aimed toward the four- and five- year-olds. While they do sell plush at upwards of $65, most books, gifts, games and plush are at a variety of affordable price points.
“I’m very particular about having affordable yet high-quality merchandise in my shops, keeping low price points,” Halbert said. “It’s not fair to the children if they can’t come in and buy a toy or game.
“We’re dedicated to making sure the children are satisfied,” she continued. “If they come down from their room with only $1 and want something that costs $2.50, you can pretty much guarantee a volunteer or member of my staff will throw in extra money so they can get what they want.”
And what they want is simple: fun and distraction. Coloring books, paint-by-numbers and puzzles always do well, along with the predictable favorite of plush. While dogs and bears lead the pack, they carry everything from stuffed tigers to armadillos.
Because boys like anything they can use their hands to play with, a peg wall holds handheld games and puzzles for less than $12. A stand of cars priced between $5-12 has also proven to be profitable. They will occasionally theme a section based on the trends — when pirates were big they had a big area of pirate product that sold out — but one theme they keep all year is the “girly-girl” section.
“Some little girls are so particular, so we have a specific ‘girly girl’ section in our stores that displays a variety of pink, princess-type product,” Halbert said. “Everything from tutus, tiaras, jewelry, wands, and pink plush has been flying off the shelves.”
This also makes it easier for the personal shopping service they offer for phone orders. Many customers do not personally know the child for whom they are purchasing a gift, so after asking them a few questions, the store is able to put something together.
“Most people who call only know how much money they are willing to spend and who it’s for,” Halbert said. “So if they have $50 to spend on a gift for a ‘girly girl’ or a boy who loves cars, we can go to work on an order that will be delivered up to the room by the customer service desk.”
Because they get just as many children in the store as adults, the store is kept simple but fun. Nesting tables at the entrance are dedicated to new and seasonal items, changing themes every couple weeks. Halbert noted that since it’s the first thing people see when they walk by, it’s important to catch their attention and show them something different each time.
Window displays are also a way they creatively draw in customers. At the Scottish Rite location, volunteers constructed a large paper mache tree and “planted” it in the front window. Seasonal merchandise and decorations are displayed throughout the year, even decorating the tree with cotton for snow, hearts for Valentine’s Day, etc.
“At the Egleston store, we fill the window with a large school bus full of plush,” Halbert said. “We keep it up all year and change the plush and product according to the season. The kids just love seeing the big school bus and finding out who is ‘riding’ on it.”
Whether it’s product or displays, Halbert contends that you have to like change and be willing to adapt. People like to see what’s new in any store, so keeping it fresh is paramount.
“I constantly work on bringing in different stuff,” Halbert said. “I even put a few pet products in the store and they flew off the shelves. There is no harm in trying.””