Making the first move in promoting conservation
Aquarium and zoo stores are often thought of as places to buy a T-shirt or a piece of plush for the children, but rarely as an extension of conservation education or a place that animal enrichment can benefit.
We, as retailers, can no longer be considered just an extra revenue stream but a part of the whole visitor’s experience. Retailers must open up conversations with all zoo staff and find out what the needs and wants of your facility are and then come up with plans to help with these issues. Nine times out of 10 it is going to revolve around not having enough funding for supplies or special wants for the facility.
This is where retailers can connect real people with real animals and that the people can really help the animal directly. A true connection to animals is selling animal enrichment items that visitors can buy and donate back to the animals they just saw. That is a powerful experience.
The Safari Gift Shop at the Saint Louis Zoo offers Boomer Balls that visitors can pick out, buy and donate right at the register. The donor’s contact information is taken down so an animal division person can reach out to let them know exactly which animal will receive the ball. Not only does this help the retail operation’s bottom line, it provides much-needed enrichment items for the animals that may not be in the operating budget.
Talk with curators to get ideas how something like this could be implemented in your store. For example, if your facility wants to help butterflies, you could sell Milk Weed. If your zoo is focusing on bees, then carry Bee Blocks and ask for donations at the registers.
All Retailers should consider selling items like Bird Strike Tape and Toad Abodes that can help save an animal’s life right in your own backyard. Post signage in your store that says “Conservation Starts at Home,” and sell products that people can take home that impacts animal conservation in their community.
Be creative. Engage with your institution and offer true solutions and real working ideas that help everyone. You, as the retailer, must extend the first hand and ask the questions. Don’t wait for keepers or curators to come to you.
— Tommy Brown is retail manager and conservation buyer at the Saint Louis Zoo. He also is the vice president of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyers Group (ZAG).