museums&MORE Winter 2011
The Great Outdoors

The Lindsay Wildlife Museum Gift Store may be small, but it has a large impact

As one of the most recognized wildlife rehab hospitals in the country, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif. has been a part of the community for more than 50 years by providing learning opportunities for more than 100,000 visitors each year to connect to wildlife. One of those opportunities is through retail.

Christine Garcia, manager of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum Gift Store, makes sure that products represent and support the museum’s mission of “connecting people with wildlife to inspire responsibility and respect of the world we share.” From books and educational games relating to the animals and native plant life to a variety of unusual plush, store selections are creative, educational and fun.

“Our store focuses on California Native Wildlife, as that is what visitors will see and experience when they visit Lindsay Wildlife Museum,” Garcia said. “By carrying science kits and toys for children that represent the animals, it keeps the children excited about what they have learned in the museum. They then get to take a piece of that experience home.”

They might also get to take a piece of cake home if they choose to have an environmentally friendly and educationally fun birthday party in one of the classrooms at the museum. As they celebrate, they meet live animals, learn interesting animal facts and create a theme based hands-on project that goes with the party theme.

The store sells custom goody bags for parties for $4 that are tailored to one of five themes, the most popular being “animal kingdom.” The bags are put together in the store by a staff member and contain a book about backyard animals, a section of stickers, a small ball with an animal inside and a pencil with the museum name imprinted on it.

The birthday child also gets his or her own bag and a T-shirt as well, and after the party is over the guests are allowed to come in and enjoy the museum and the museum store.

Small Wonder
The 400-square-foot-store may be slightly small, but it packs a big punch economically and environmentally. Upon entering, guests are greeted with toys, puzzles and games on the left, a spinner of rocks and minerals on the right and DVDs and greeting cards located toward the front. Garcia likes to keep a lot of color toward the back of the store, like children’s books with colorful covers, to draw the customer in and encourage them to spend more time shopping.

“Despite our relatively small space, I take pride in the fact that we have something for everyone,” Garcia said. “I keep most toys and items that sell for children in the front of the entrance. We also have adult tees, books and a small adult area with some home items like etched glassware and mugs as well as adult jewelry. But 75 percent of the store is geared toward children’s products, since children and families are our key audiences.”

Plush toys and children’s books are the best sellers, and many of the plush – such as opossums, raccoons, turkey vultures, mountain lions, etc.- are not the kind you may find in a typical toy store.

“I will usually incorporate a display that has plush, like a great Horned Owl, with a couple of owl books that sell well and maybe a puzzle or game that also has an owl on it,” Garcia said. “I like to carry the theme all the way through the display.”

Along with general storybooks, many of the non-fiction children’s books teach about the animals in the museum. Some of the best-selling reference books for children are the non-fiction Time and National Geographic series geared toward different reading levels, while Zoobooks, a magazine-style book, also does well.

“To help highlight the books, I try to change the shelves once a week and often put a table in the front of the store to feature new books where visitors can easily see what we have,” Garcia said. “I also try to feature a table or two in front of the store where I will have sale items 30-50 percent off. I will change displays to make the store look fresh and switch merchandise around to a different place if needed.”

Recycled Products, Fresh Ideas
The museums store tries to support vendors that are environmentally friendly, and whenever possible Garcia tries to carry products such as plush toys made of bamboo or recycled plastic bottles and organic T-shirts, as well as reusable bags with their logo.

“The Audubon series of adult books is my best seller, and we also carry a variety of books that focus on recycling and taking care of our earth,” Garcia added. “I think the trends are supporting greener products, so hopefully in the future we will have even more choices.”

Since they are a small store without a lot of storage space, Garcia likes to do business with vendors that allow her to order small quantities. Since she must always consider the mission of the museum and stick with product that represents the plant and wildlife of California, she includes educational items such as different kits that correspond with classes taught at the museum.

“Because we are a green business I carry kits that focus on recycling like our Enviro Battery Kit that uses a plastic bottle to power a light bulb or activate a music chip all with fruits and vegetables,” Garcia said. “I also carry a Windmill Generator Kit powered by wind. These items work well with the science classes that teach about taking care of our environment and recycling.

“Robotic toys are also a very good seller,” she added. “We carry animal kits that work on solar power, and they fly off the shelves, as do remote-controlled items.”

Many of the items carried in the store are a result of research, as Garcia is always on the web looking for new and interesting merchandise that reflects the museum’s mission. She visits gift shows and other museums and stores to get new ideas and inspiration.

“Museum staff and volunteers also let me know when they find something of interest either at another museum gift shop or local fair,” she said. “In fact, I have a great local T-shirt vendor that a staff member put me in touch with, and her shirts have been one of the biggest hits in the store.”

Garcia is the only full-time museum store employee, but the admissions staff at the front desk also rings up store sales and helps with the store when possible. She said she’s also fortunate to have about 15 different volunteers work three-hour shifts once a week or every other week. Volunteers go through a two-hour training session on the cash register, as well as help out inside the store with restocking and keeping the store tidy.

“The staff and volunteers here are wonderful and so dedicated and passionate about helping wildlife, teaching about our animals and inspiring the public to be good stewards,” Garcia said. “It is also so much fun for me to be able to work around animals and I learn something new every day that I am here. I look forward to coming to work and this is truly the best job I have ever had.”

By Abby Heugel,Managing Editor

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