Manager’s Corner: Sally Begue, Akron Children’s Hospital
Overseeing merchandise at a children’s hospital gift shop isn’t a task to be taken lightly. Having just the right book, treat or toy at your visitors’ fingertips can bring a smile and a little bit of comfort to a scared child.
As a 25-year employee of Akron Children’s Hospital — including the past 17 as Gift Shops Manager — Sally Begue knows that all too well. Begue’s responsibilities include buying, inventory management and display for more than 3,000 items at two gift stores, but she also oversees a crew of four part-time employees and some 65 volunteers from the Akron Children’s Hospital Women’s Board.
Akron Children’s, with its two full-service hospitals and 60 specialty and urgent care centers, serviced more than a million outpatient visits and nearly 10,000 inpatient guests in 2016.
How big are the gift shops and how many products do they carry?
The Atrium Gift Shop is 1,668 square feet and has about 3,000 items. This gift shop carries, plush, toys, candy, jewelry, gifts, books, cards, candles, accessories, women’s clothing and much more.
The Kay Jewelers Pavilion Gift Shop, also known as the KJP Gift Shop, is 460 square feet and has about 60-80 items. Everything in this shop has our hospital logo on it. We carry T-shirts, long sleeve T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts, hats, tote bags, coffee mugs, pens, water bottles and more.
The Gift Shop is operated by the Women’s Board of Akron Children’s Hospital. All proceeds support the work of the hospital in its efforts to care for children.
What are your top-selling categories?
Our top selling categories are Akron Children’s Hospital logo wear, plush, candy, toys and women’s accessories/clothing.
Where do you look for new products?
We attend the Atlanta Gift Mart (AmericasMart) in January and buy for the whole year. We do see reps for re-orders and if they have something new to show us.
What do you look for in a product when deciding if a line is right for your stores?
We look at the price point and the quantities of an item. We have a range of prices and we do carry some higher price points for that special customer. We try to order in small quantities of six or 12.
Do you have any sort of training program for employees and volunteers?
Employees and volunteers go through an orientation and annual safety training.
Are you a part of any retail organizations or buying groups?
We are a member of Purchasing Power Plus. This is a company that has several vendors and if you purchase something from one of the vendors you get a discount on your order.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
SB: As the Gift Shops Supervisor, I have many responsibilities. I work with the Gift Shop Chairman and Co-Chairman, Gift Shop Management Team, buyers, volunteers and the paid staff. They all have different views, thoughts, opinions and ability levels and it is my job to make it all work.
What are the biggest changes in the industry since you started?
SB: The biggest change in the industry since I started is that we did not have computers. We hand wrote everything and taking inventory that way was a big challenge.
Any thoughts on the future for hospital retailers and how gift shops may change in the coming years?
I think retail in general will become more automated. There will not be as many people working because machines will do more and there will be more online buying than there is now. Regarding hospital gift shops specifically, the challenge will be keeping the ever-changing merchandise up to date and linking online sales with the POS and inventory system.
Do you have any professional advice to offer?
New gift shop managers should attend their state conference and go to a gift mart. It is a lot of work, but you are able to see a lot of merchandise in one place.
Be very patient with the volunteers. Find volunteers who are committed to your mission and have prior retail experience.