Building the Nest
At just 600 square feet, the Owl’s Nest Gift Shop at Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, Kansas is about as cozy for customers as a nest is for an owl.
That doesn’t stop gift shop manager Cassie Standley and her small team of staff and volunteers from running a clean-looking, well-balanced store stocked with nature and regionally focused books, puzzles, toys, jewelry and gems. Oh, and healthy snacks, of course, like crickets.
Standley had led the Owl’s Nest Gift Shop for a little more than a year. She’s also the volunteer coordinator for Great Plains Nature Center, which she feels is just one of numerous culturally driven organizations benefitting from a “strong shop local movement” in Kansas’ largest city.
The Owl’s Nest carries nearly 1,800 SKUs. Proceeds to go the center’s general operating fund.
How many people work in the Owl’s Nest?
The shop staffs three employees: myself and two part-time clerks — Connie and Glynis. We also receive help from volunteers. They help process new and incoming merchandise, take inventory once a year, help out during special events and occasionally run the register. Volunteers are essential in every facet of the GPNC, and the shop is no exception.
We carry such a wide variety of products, there’s something for everyone in the Owl’s Nest. Jewelry, gems and rocks, puzzles, books and field guides, plush and hard plastic animal toys, puppets, candy, games and activities, stationery, mugs, T-shirts, and locally made items. Of all those categories, books and toys — both plush and plastic — are top contenders for best-sellers. We supplement the educational mission of the center, so we sell a lot of books and pocket guides.
Where do you look for new merchandise?
Reps, catalogs and suggestions. A lot of our items are things that were popular before I took over the shop, so we will continue to stock them because people know they can find them here. We also look into suggestions that people bring us to see if we think they’d be a good fit for the shop. We are in the process of having our own hiking medallions designed as a result of a customer suggestion.
We find great local resources on the natural world from local universities, such as the University of Kansas Press and Kansas State University, or from partners like the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism. We also listen to suggestions from members, volunteers and staff. Arcadia Publishing carries regional titles, including a few penned by our former director, so of course we stock those. Then there’s the local organization, Kansas Sampler, that produces the best books on all the cool spots to hit in the state, even in the smallest, most-rural Kansas towns.
Do you carry anything unusual that seems to prompt a reaction?
Sometimes kids see our rock selection and say, “Cool!” and people really enjoy engaging with the Audubon birds that make birdcalls when you squeeze them.
The edible bugs definitely draw the biggest reaction, though. Common reactions include: “Can you eat these?” “Can I get some?” “Ew!” and “Bugs are the food of the future,” and just today, “I found some all-natural snacks for you!”
We have a customer who gets some every year for Halloween, and I once sold a pack to a dad who wanted to prank his kids into thinking he found them under a log on a camping trip.
How do they taste?
Not bad! The candy ones taste like the candy they’re embedded in; you don’t notice the bugs much. The larva reminds me of corn nuts, but less crunchy. Personally, I’m not so keen on the crickets, but some of our customers love them.
We have a rolling T-shirt display rack that we move just outside the shop doors every day because we can’t fit all of our T-shirt styles in the shop on display. We’re fortunate to have lots of storage space, both in our shop and in the building, so I can honestly say this is not a big issue for us. We try not to put too many of one item out at a time, but keep the shelves full and group like-things together.
How do you organize products to create a great display?
We have a lot of variety, so I like pulling together different types of items centered on a topic, like trees or the season or an upcoming event, such as our pollinator party — a great time for bee- and butterfly-themed displays. Sometimes there is a news story about something in the natural world that prompts a display. Kansas had a snowy owl invasion this winter, so we featured our snowy owl toys when that was in the news.