museums&MORE Summer 2012
The National Aquarium

Think outside of the pond

More than 1.4 million visitors pass through the National Aquarium’s doors in Baltimore every year, and along with finding more than 16,000 specimens from 660 species, visitors also will find four gift shops with merchandise carefully selected to inspire both young and old to enjoy and appreciate all that the world’s aquatic environments have to offer.

The mission of the aquarium is ‘to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures,'” said Ivan Gautier, director of gift store operations. “We consider our gift stores a treasure within the aquarium and hope to extend the wonderful experience that the guest has or will have at the aquarium.”

There are four opportunities for guests to shop, as the aquarium offers The Aqua Shop, a 5,000-square-foot store located on Level 1 of Pier 3; the Shark Shop; the Dolphin Shop; and the Atrium Shop. All offer something unique for guests of any age — not just products, but a retail experience they can’t find anywhere else.

Diving In

As guests leave the shark exhibit and enter the ray tray exhibit, they’ll come across the Shark Shop filled with a mix of shark-focused items such as shark teeth on a necklace or in a display box, a shark stuffed animal or a T-shirt.

They also have merchandise that’s part of the exclusive National Aquarium DIVE story, something that they have carried due to the amount of divers that train and volunteer at the aquarium. There is a logo specific to the DIVE Story — the regular diver down flag with the white angled stripe — but they have incorporated a shark fin in the stripe.

“Many certified divers spend time in the ray tray feeding and help with some of the health inspections,” Goutier said. “Our shark shop displays many of the dive items because it is near our ray tray, the exhibit where all our sting rays are housed. For DIVE we carry T-shirts, magnets, a mug, a pin, various dive books and a beach towel.”

The Dolphin Shop, housed outside the corresponding exhibit, carries items related to the dolphin experience and general National Aquarium souvenir items, while the Atrium Shop located on the first floor across from the Jellyfish Experience is focused more on the younger guests with souvenir items such as toys, candy, books and music.

“Due to the popularity of the dolphins on exhibit, most of our top-selling items have a connection to dolphins, such as a large dolphin with the National Aquarium embroidered logo on its side, a dolphin plush animal that wears a National Aquarium hooded sweatshirt and custom dolphin and shark slippers,” Gautier said.

The Main Attraction

When guests enter The Aqua Shop — the main store at the aquarium — they’re greeted with not just dolphin and shark products, but an assortment of National Aquarium souvenir items, most of which are exclusive and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Numerous displays offer everything from aquatic themed books and a counter containing beautiful adult jewelry and aquatic themed houseware products to children and adult apparel and accessories such as hats, glasses and youth jewelry. It varies and displays can change weekly, monthly or seasonally.

“We use our front feature tables and double and sometimes triple expose items to get the most sales from certain items,” Goutier said. “We also like to move merchandise around to keep the store fresh and new for our repeat customers. We are really trying to focus on signage that ties our merchandise in the stores back to the aquarium. This way the guest connects with the items more and it becomes an extension of their experience.

“For example, around the holidays the Aquarium does a showing of “The Polar Express” in the 4-D immersion theater and we tie in some merchandise to coincide with that,” he continued. “We have many guests that come back year after year to see this movie and it has become a tradition for some.”

Although they don’t have penguins on exhibit at the aquarium, the immersion theater shows “Happy Feet,” which means visitors to the shop — especially children and teenagers — love anything and everything penguin.

“We have a buying team that attends many of the trade shows looking for products that will tie into our merchandise assortment, but products customized for our venue and any items that a guest can buy with their name on it are popular,” Gautier said. “Many of our National Aquarium T-shirts designs were done in house by our art department and souvenir items like magnets, mood color changing stadium cups and small plush items with a candy component to them such as a lollipop with National Aquarium on them sell well on a consistent basis.”

Also popular are light up LED toys and water-inspired science project type items such as hand boilers, water bottle rockets, clocks that run on water, etc. They carry a large assortment of aquatic inspired youth jewelry, and Goutier said anything connected to “mood” jewelry — be it a ring or a necklace — remain strong sellers.

In keeping with the mission of the aquarium, they also have a collection of items that fall under their “Go Green” story such as an eco-lifestyle clock that runs on liquid for fuel, an entire assortment of aquatic inspired science projects, T-shirts that focus on saving the planet, a variety of BPA-free foldable water bottles, reusable tote bags and an assortment of books that talk about conservation and sustainability.

“We’ve also noticed more guests that are local to the surrounding areas and that people seem to be staying closer to home and not taking long distance trips,” Goutier said. “This is another reason why it’s important for us to change the store more often to satisfy that guest that is revisiting the store. Because of this, we’ve been featuring more local inspired items such as the blue crab, lighthouses and anything with a local flair.”

Goutier added that the employees are more than sales associates. They are also responsible for giving out information about the aquarium, as well as local facts and information about the Inner Harbor and of Baltimore.

“We make sure that all our guests feel as if they are special to us because they are,” he said. “We’re not afraid to try something new and we use the staff and the venue to get ideas to inspire the experience in our store. Think outside of the pond!”

By Abby Heugel

Managing Editor

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