museums&MORE Spring 2016
Rounding Up By Zeke Jennings

Curious Cub Gift Shop a proud part of Rosamond Gifford Zoo's mission

In every transaction that occurs at the Curious Cub Gift Shop at Rosamond Gifford Zoo, patrons are offered a chance to round up to the nearest dollar as a way to make a small and easy donation to the zoo. In collecting what would have been loose change in a lot of pockets and purses, the gift shop has created and easy and effective fundraising campaign.

This has been a tremendously successful means of generating additional income for the zoo,” said Janet Agostini, CEO and president of Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. “In 2014, this feature generated $11,000 and the 2015 total is estimated to be similar.”

The Syracuse, New York zoo’s history dates back to 1914. It was under the control of the city until 1979, when the Onondaga County Parks system took over after decades of decline. The original location closed in 1982, as construction began on a new location at Burnet Park, which opened in 1986.

The zoo is one of Syracuse’s most popular tourist locations, drawing better than 350,000 visitors a year. Not bad considering the city in upstate New York has a metropolitan area population of about 700,000 and its winters are notoriously harsh.

Agostini took some time recently to tell Museums & More about the Curious Cub Gift Shop’s operations.

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MM: What makes your store unique?

JA: The entrance to the shop is just inside the main zoo entrance. When you walk into the gift shop, the store is shaped like an elongated D; the wall to the right is not only curved, but also made up entirely of windows. We utilize this great amount of visibility to showcase and merchandize our plush — the largest category in terms of variety and sales — as well as key toy pieces. The public has clear view of this space from the outside of the gift shop. This feature is always a hit with guests, especially children. … We also use this space to highlight winning images from our annual winter at the Zoo Photo Contest.

MM: How do you go about finding new merchandise?

JA: We utilize vendor reps, social media and publications.

MM: Do exhibits at the zoo influence what products are stocked at a given time?

JA: Much of our stock is consistent year over year. Animal births tend to influence the number of SKUs we will stock for that particular species, and how many pieces we keep in stock. For example, we had two red panda cubs — Rohan and Pumori — born last summer and introduced to the public in the fall and the number of red panda items we sold doubled. We tend to focus on stocking mostly species that we exhibit at our zoo, though there are some exceptions where we carry items representing species we don’t have at our zoo; giraffes, for example.

MM: What are the most unique products you carry?

JA: Elephant Poo Paper — journals and other stationery products produced from elephant dung. Guests who have never encountered this product before usually respond with stunned disbelief, often followed by laughter, and many say they never would have thought something unpleasant could be reused in such a unique item. The kids love these. Ocean Sole — rubber sculptures of various sizes made from recycled flip-flops gathered from the coast of Africa. The company offers employment and living wages to people in Kenya to clean up the shores of this plastic waste and turn them into beautiful works of art. Guests are drawn to the pieces because of their unique and colorful look, and are inspired by the story of the company. The good work of this company fits in line with our zoo’s mission of preserving the natural world and sustainability.

MM: How does the store fit into the zoo’s overall mission?

JA: An educated and friendly staff is the best asset you can have as a customer service-based business. The zoo’s mission is to provide an engaging guest experience and our vision is to provide the “best day ever” for everyone who walks through our doors. The Curious Cub Gift Shop serves as the last touch point for many of our guests, and we take great pride in providing a great experience with knowledgeable staff to set the stage for their return visit. Engaging each guest, making them feel welcome and helping them have fun while exploring the store are all important components to creating an atmosphere people want to return to and support.

The zoo provides an excellent opportunity to ignite someone’s interest and concern for the natural world and that spark could easily come from one of our books or toys. Play and education are two important components to inspire children and adults alike.

Curious Cub Gift Shop gets bigger and brighter

Two years ago, poor layout and poor lighting was plaguing the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s Curious Cub Gift Shop. In addition to bad lighting, the store’s entrance was too small, the slat wall and floor fixtures were mismatched and the two cash wrap stations were poorly placed, which hindered the flow of traffic in and out of the shop.

Luckily, the zoo has friends, as in the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo organization, which stepped up to fund an $113,000 renovation project that took place during a six-week span in early 2015. Retail-quality LED lighting was installed, the cash wraps were demolished and rebuilt in a better location with three point-of-sale stations, the flooring and walls were remodeled and the entrance was widened from 6 to 12 feet. Janet Agostini, CEO and president of the Friends of Rosamond Gifford Zoo, called the changes “remarkable.”

“They allow us to display significantly more product on the floor, which helps with storage,” Agostini said. “The new flow of traffic is much better for our guests; we do not have the same issues with bottlenecking that we did in the past. Utilizing three points of sale during our peak season has drastically helped reduce lines and wait times for our guests.”

Agostini said the renovation was two years in the making and involved consulting with many different specialists. Time and effort well spent, she added: “The entire process was worthwhile for the amazing new space we now offer our guests.”

At a Glance

  • Where: Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park in Syracuse, New York
  • Store: Curious Cub Gift Shop
  • Size: 1,700 square feet
  • Staff: Two full-time employees, including manager and buyer Jessica Bumpus, plus 15 to 20 part-time employees during peak season (May through September)
  • Traffic: The zoo draws 370,000 people annually and has a membership list of 9,500 households
  • Best-selling category: Plush accounts for nearly 50 percent of total sales
  • Online:;

Zeke Jennings

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