museums&MORE Winter 2015
Zootique at Cameron Park Zoo

One difficulty a zoo gift shop can face is attracting the general public — beyond just visitors to the zoo. At Zootique at the Cameron Park Zoo (CPZ) in Waco, Texas, the team uses social media and email blasts to zoo members to remind them that the store is a great source for home décor, gift items, toys/plush and products for any occasion.

They also highlight the role they can play in providing zoo and animal themed merchandise for kids’ parties, theme parties, gifts, etc., including educational toys, games and books.

Customers can also shop Zootique without paying admission to the zoo,” said Michael Davis, retail sales manager and buyer. “This is especially helpful during the winter season when it may be too cold to visit the zoo. In this way we can keep the revenue stream Zootique creates flowing during down times.”

Sustainable Sales

Owned and operated by the Cameron Park Zoological and Botanical Society,

Zootique is approximately 2,000 square feet of retail space that supports the eco-friendly, conservation-minded mission of Cameron Park Zoo through retail sales proceeds.

Zootique uses a departmental floor plan, with a plush assortment at the front of the store near the zoo entrance that flows into drinkware, souvenirs and toys. Wall space is used for T-shirts/apparel on one wall and pegged toys on the other, and the back wall is home to the cash wrap, display cases and occasional items.

“Make sure your shop is well-lit and inviting,” Davis said. “Dark spots, burned-out bulbs, dust — all these can make your shop look like you are going out of business. The customer will treat your merchandise only as well as you treat it.”

Top selling SKUs are consistently plush items, specifically giraffes, and the store’s top plush vendors are Adventure Planet, Aurora, Fiesta and Wish Pets. While they focus mainly on zoo and aquatic animals based on animals in the zoo’s collection, they do carry some noncollection plush animals that are traditional zoo favorites.

“I try to turn over 75 percent of the assortment every quarter while maintaining best sellers and customer favorites,” Davis said. “I listen closely to customer comments and requests for different plush and accommodate those whenever possible. I am always looking for the next big thing in plush, be it sloths or Red River Hogs.”

Davis added that they’ve had a marked increase in infant/toddler/youth T-shirt SKUs in the past year, while a subsequent decrease has been seen in their adult T-shirt offerings. The next fastest growing SKU is name-dropped drinkware, especially re-useable water bottles.

They focus their efforts on buying sustainable, recycled or earth-friendly products whenever possible and are especially aware of the palm oil crisis as it affects orangutans in the wild. Davis tries to source products that reflect and support Cameron Park Zoo’s conservation efforts, and they recently began using recycled multi-use totes and biodegradable recycled brown paper bags exclusively for customer purchases.

“Zootique has a ‘Conservation Corner’ where we highlight items that are earth friendly, recycled and sustainable,” Davis said. “We also check all of our vendors to make sure their business practices support the zoo’s conservation mission. As an independent buyer, when I travel to trade shows I seek out vendors who share this commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly merchandise.”

With this in mind, some of the more recent items they’ve added to the assortment are Art Studio recycled wool zoo themed ornaments, Red Ape Cinnamon brand spices and rubs — these items support orangutan conservation and only use sustainable palm oil — and keychains from Focus on Souvenirs made with organic and sustainable products. Davis also listens for products suggested by customers, many of who are very engaged in the effort to be earth friendly.

“I attend several trade shows each year, and I use the networking resources offered by The Zoo and Aquarium Buyers Group (ZAG) that are available on the ZAG website,” Davis said. “I have built personal relationships with other buyers through this resource and depend on them for trends and hot sellers around the nation. I also maintain professional relationships with several vendor sales representatives built on trust, performance and quality of merchandise.”

Logging On

Another key factor in retail success is using social media to your advantage. As Davis said, “If your gift shop doesn’t have an active Facebook and Twitter account —why? You are missing out on incredible free opportunities to engage your customer and make your shop seem relevant and exciting.”

Zootique is active on Facebook and Twitter and posts frequently — around four to five times per week — about new products, sale items, special purchases and any other newsworthy events. They coordinate with the zoo’s webmaster so posts are always shared on the zoo’s social media sites as well.

“We also ‘follow’ and ‘friend’ other zoos, gift shops and wildlife conservation sites, so we can share information with our followers,” Davis said. “We have developed good relationships with local lifestyle bloggers and make sure they are aware of our special events to share with their readers. In addition, we always try to include an eye-catching picture of products or zoo animals, and we keep the posts short, light in tone and to the point.”

Communication is just as important offline, and Davis said investment is the key to an engaged and informed staff. They have morning huddles each day prior to opening in which they take a few moments to discuss any new additions to the assortment and any specials, promotions, sales or clearance items. They also use that time to discuss customer service and highlight any positive feedback or comments, discuss merchandising any new items, talk about best sellers and when shipments can be expected.

“Zootique also partners with our animal care staff to stay abreast of any new additions to the animal collection, any potential issues with exhibits being closed or under construction and any upcoming special events,” Davis said. “I then communicate this information to Zootique sales staff, giving them a feeling of investment in the happenings at the zoo, as well as giving them information to more readily answer customer questions.”

Along with investing in your staff, Davis also recommends that other buyers/managers network and take advantage of ZAG and the resources offered and build relationships with your animal collection staff and curators, as they can be a valuable resource for information.

“Ensure that the customer has a memorable experience in your shop and they will leave with a positive view of the zoo,” Davis said.

— By Abby Heugel





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