museums&MORE Summer 2012
The Front Door Gift Shop

Where all the senses engage for retail success

Not many people can resist the smell of freshly baked cookies and coffee, which is precisely why employees at The Front Door Gift Shop at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Ill., use those aromas to create an atmosphere in their store where employees, patients and visitors can come to relax.

With a coffee shop featuring Starbucks coffee and specialty drinks located within the store, it’s easy for the smells of coffee and cookies baked on site to waft down the hallway and draw customers in to peruse the shelves.

We use sights, sounds and smells to create a warm, inviting atmosphere by playing piano CDs and incorporating small fountains and silk flowers within displays,” said Pat Chlebowski, operating manager. “To welcome our guests, we have a flower cart with floating balloons located just outside our door that seems to say, ‘Come on in and enjoy.'”

Staffed by volunteers, the 1,000-square-foot gift shop is located just within the main entrance of the hospital and has the look and feel of a boutique. Along with Chlebowski, volunteers — both adults and teens — and a paid manager staff the store.

“We exist to be of service to our staff, patients, visitors and the community at large and we raise funds to help this very excellent health system,” Chlebowski said. “This can only be accomplished by keeping merchandise fresh, rotating product frequently, changing the look of displays and simply being helpful, friendly and offering suggestions.”

They’re located across the street from a medium sized outdoor shopping mall, and with this in mind they try to find merchandise that customers can’t find there such as the “Pouchee,” which is described by the company as “the ultimate purse organizer;” Demdaco’s Willow Tree Angels; Galleria umbrellas and totes; art tiles/art work and three main purse lines — Baggallini, Lug and Vera Bradley, as all three lines have a strong following.

“Our customer base is equally divided between hospital staff and visitors/destination shoppers and we don’t differentiate with products,” Chlebowski said. “We do have specific get well items like balloons, plush, fresh floral arrangements and Fannie May candy, but our merchandise selections is wide and varied.”

They have a small baby/children’s section that offers a quick pick-up gift for a new mom or a child that needs entertaining, as well birthday gifts. New baby best sellers include flowers, balloons, two card lines and pink/blue plush, as well as baby clothing, blankets, etc. for baby showers and future grandmas, as Chlebowski said if it’s just “too cute,” grandma will buy it.

“At different times throughout the year, we mix in some small furniture and lamps,” she said. “I believe that the mixture of merchandise keeps things exciting and brings customers back to see what’s new. However, over the past five years in our area, I have noticed a big shift from home décor sales to accessory sales, especially jewelry.

“I believe that quality women’s accessories and clothing like jackets, tops and sandals at a good price will always sell,” she continued. “Women generally don’t hesitate to spend money on accessorizing themselves. We do not sell much to men or for men, but carry a small amount of sport themed games, socks, tumblers, etc., which generally are purchased as gifts for men.”

Best sellers for kids, if being purchased as a gift, are educational toys like puzzles, books, games and other items that stimulate creativity and imagination. Merchandise varies throughout the year and items are frequently purchased to entertain a child while they are waiting, with items under $10 selling best.

“If a child picks something out, it is usually plush or a small gimmicky toy,” Chlebowski said. “Kids are great impulse buyers. Baby and children’s toys are all in the same area, a small alcove in the back of the store, and there are small wind-up toys located near the register. Other impulse items near the register include specialty candies and/or fudge and smaller items we want to promote. Candy bars and magazines are also within close proximity to the register.”

Merchandise is frequently moved around to give the shop a fresh, new look and specials are offered a couple of times a month. Sometimes it will be specific to a category like jewelry or a general discount of 20 percent for almost everything in the shop. However, they have to exclude some merchandise because the vendor requires that it never go on sale or because the profit margin is just too low to begin with, such as candy and periodicals.

They have also implemented a guest book at the checkout counter that asks for the customer’s email address, with those who sign up getting the “scoop” first on upcoming promotions and/or sales. Chlebowski also intends to start sending them special coupons to use in the gift shop and is hoping word-of-mouth will help increase store traffic as well.

“One of biggest retail challenges is getting the word out to the public that we are a unique shopping experience and definitely worth a trip to check us out,” she said. “Since we are a not-for-profit organization, we are not allowed to compete with local retailers in public advertising. That means our best advertisers are our current customers.

“Many have told me that they do come a distance just to shop because of our unique items,” she continued. “To them, we are a shopping destination.”

By Abby Heugel

Managing Editor

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