Great gift shops extend the learning experience in a community or at a natural science or cultural site. They encourage us to invest and take home a symbol of the visit. These are traits that you might consider in planning or revamping your gift store.
1) Sell fair trade goods, sustainably crafted, with enduring value. Guests notice whether your sales items support or are in conflict with your organizational values.
2) Sell experiences that support local or site-based themes. Experiences such as off-site tours, visits to dinosaur digs, and behind the scenes tours can be booked from the shop using an exhibit to pique interest.
3) Stock memorabilia in a broad price range. Items can be as inexpensive as a polished local rock or a unique T-shirt or as expensive as a locally handcrafted item, but every item should be related to the place or message regardless of price.
4) Use the gift store as a learning place that helps guests better understand the stories and mission of the community or organization. Signage and exhibits in a store help people make informed choices about what to buy that might improve their experience at the site or support a local community group that deserves assistance.
5) Support local craftsmen, artisans, and fabricators to build a
sense of community related to your natural or cultural history site or heritage community. You can keep art and craft skills alive related to your story and purpose for the benefit of all. Hangtags with names and personal stories of craftsmen who made them help people remember the experience and the message long after their visit.
6) Be sure your bags match your organizational core values. Encouraging wildlife conservation and then requiring each customer to carry away their purchases in plastic bags creates dissonance they will notice. Consistency is important in everything you do.
7) Design your shop around the exit so people walk through it as they leave. Studies of museum stores have shown that sales are ten times as much if people exit through the store when compared to an exit with a side door into the store. If this seems like crass commercialism, then you may not be selling the right stuff.
8) Some portion of the sales items should extend the learning experience. Books, videos, maps, charts and I.D. cards provide people with the next steps in growing their knowledge and passion.
A great store extends the experience for guests in wonderful ways. A poor store that seems designed only to sell “stuff” can degrade a good experience. Make your experience even better by a thoughtful assessment of your store’s power to extend the learning experience.
– Tim Merriman