ZAG Travel Sponsorship

One of ZAG’s goals is to help its members gather more information about the zoo/aquarium retail industry to make the best buying decisions possible for their facility’s gift shops. A large part of that involves knowing what vendors and product lines are available in order to make decisions on which vendor has the best products at the best prices. One way to gain this knowledge is by attending trade shows. However, not every facility has the budget to send their merchandise buyer to a show.

ZAG is pleased to announce that it will sponsor a ZAG member from two different facilities to attend both the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies (IGES), Sevierville, TN, running November 3-7, and the Smoky Mountain Gift Show (SMGS), Gatlinburg, TN, running Nov 5-9. The 2011 Annual ZAG Week will take place during this time, and the two selected buyers will be able to take part in many ZAG Week networking activities, including the Annual ZAG Business Meeting and Dinner. ZAG will cover each member’s transportation, lodging and meals. In addition, ZAG will provide a “mentor” for each recipient who will help them navigate the shows, meet fellow buyers, and provide valuable gift industry related insight while at the shows.

In order to qualify for the sponsorship, each recipient must:

• Be available November 3-7, 2011
• Be employed by an institution that has not provided funds for gift buyers to attend national gift shows in the past five years
• Attend Annual ZAG Week-sponsored networking functions, including the ZAG members’ Annual Business Meeting and Dinner on Sunday, November 6
• Be interviewed after their trip for a future ZAG newsletter article sharing their experiences at the shows, the new vendors and product lines they found, and any suggestions they have for other ZAG members who can’t get to a gift show.

The deadline for submitting an application is Monday, August 15. A random drawing of all applications received will be held and the winners will be notified by mail and phone by Thursday, September 1. Click here to download the application or email to request an application.

This is a great and unique opportunity to dramatically expand your list of vendors and industry contacts in order to offer your guests fresh and exciting new product.

Aligning the Retail with our Institution’s Conservation Programs

Part of the identity of most zoos and aquariums are their conservation programs, either in-house or in-situ. As agents of these institutions, we often support these programs in many different ways. The easiest and fastest is simply to redistribute items we already carry to highlight a new or newly important program. If the cheetahs are breeding, make a cheetah table with plush, PVC, and t-shirts. Signage is easier for some than others, but a simple statement can help focus our guest’s understanding and increase their desire to help by purchasing a supporting item. We can also order new items or even have custom items made, if we are willing to commit more to inventory. If the program is important and long-lasting enough, it could be worth the effort and expense. Post cards or rubber wristbands are economical alternatives to costlier commitments like plush. A species is always better than a particular individual. No matter how popular Bob the three legged zebra is, it is never a good idea to devote too much inventory to an irreplaceable animal. If Bob is lost, you are stuck with items that people will now just find depressing and they will not be eager to buy anything in memoriam.

A more direct way is to raise funds for a program through the retail store. The sale of a particular item can go towards a program or Add-A-Buck could be used. At the National Aquarium, we use Contribute-A-Clam and the money goes into an account used only for conservation programs, primarily invasive lionfish in the Bahamas. We have also found that this is also a good way to move slower merchandise. An underachieving child’s necklace suddenly finds new life when it is bought with a donation. We have items that we have sacrificed to the effort outright and we have others that are sold as a combination with a donation.

Retail works in a thousand different ways every day to support our institutions and those contributions are too often overlooked. These direct methods can help shine the spotlight back on many of our efforts to support and promote our facility’s programs. Retail should never be seen as separate from the zoo or aquarium it represents, we are the front line diplomats in the effort to educate and win over the public.

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ZAG Sponsored Events

Smoky Mountain Gift Show (November 4-7)/IGES (November 3-7)
ZAG will have a hospitality suite available at both shows and host three breakfasts with featured speakers. Be sure to take advantage of the suites throughout the day to rest, organize, and meet with other ZAG members. The ZAG mixer will be at Ripley’s Aquarium on Thursday, November 3 and the ZAG dinner at Sevierville on Sunday, Nov 6.

Las Vegas Souvenir and Resort Gift Show
ZAG will have a hospitality suite available for all members at the show offering daily breakfast and more. Please pick up the special ZAG guide, on-hand at the show for more information. There will be a member/sponsor reception from 5-7pm on Wednesday, September 21.



Please welcome the following new and returning ZAG sponsors, and visit their web sites. Or go to and click on the “ZAG Sponsors” section.


ZAG Interview
Laurie Vanderwal, Staff Zoologist at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Describe your facility…acreage, annual attendance, major exhibits, most popular animals, etc.
Turpentine Creek is a non-profit rescue facility for exotic big cats. The facility has 459 acres of land - approximately 80 acres are currently developed and more habitat areas continually being built. We house over 100 exotic cats as well as 7 bears, a coatimundi and a few hoof-stock. The majority of our animals are rescued from the exotic pet trade, while others are from breeding and other facilities shutting down or down-sizing. Many of the cats, if the refuge had not taken them would be put down. Our annual attendance in approximately 40,000 visitors. We have a relatively strong base of return visitors that like to see to continual growth and improvement of the facility, but are also get many new visitors as well.

We have approximately 30% of our cats in smaller concrete enclosures, while the other 70% live in beautiful, large natural habitats. The goal is for all the animals to be able to live in the large habitat areas, and as money is raised to build we are continue to expand. The cats in the smaller enclosures are part of our 'self-guided' tour and the habitats are part of our hourly 'guided tour' experience. I think guests enjoy the smaller enclosures because of the closeness (about 5 feet from all the animals) and they get the feel of how big the cats truly are - but the natural habitats are fantastic and give space for the cats run and play and have more space.

The most popular cats are our 3 white tigers as well as our 2 ligers (lion-tiger cross), but we promote the idea that all the cats are individuals - they have names and rescue stories and the guests have connections with many of the different cats. 

Describe your merchanise operations…number of year-round shops, seasonal shops, square footage, seasonal carts, etc.
Our facility has a gift shop which also acts as our main entrance and ticket selling area. It is also our main business phone number and where room booking occurs (we have on-site lodging). I manage the gift shop, but the daily operations are run by our 'interns'. We have an internship program that allows 10-12 college graduates an opportunity to work at our facility. They are responsible for cleaning, feeding and maintaining the animals, lawn care, some habitat building, enrichment activities, keeper talks, leading guided tours, general public relations and many more things, along with all this they work the gift shop one day a week. We also have a small 'satellite' store in downtown Eureka Springs (small tourist town about 7 miles from the facility). This store acts primarily as an information center for the facility and a way to advertise in the town. There is merchandise for sale, but sales are negligible. I do not buy separately for the downtown location.

List some of your best-selling merchandise items and categories. Where possible, please include specifics like vendor name, color, etc.
Our best sellers are apparel - primarily t-shirts (both adult and children) and plush. We have done quite well this year with the rhinestone tanks from United Souvenir and Apparel, as well as with all the Mountain t-shirt designs for adults. All plush does well, I have noticed quicker sales of anything $5 and under, but the larger stuff has done well too - the 'posh' line of pink and purple leopards and tiger from Petting Zoo have been quite popular so far this spring. Other then that, mood jewelry is something I added this spring and it has done better then I expected and the Zoobooks from Flipbooks have been fantastic. We also make magnets in house with photos of our own animals which are a consistent best-seller and because they are made in house the mark-up is fantastic.

Are any items or categories trending downward in popularity?
I'm not sure what has actually gone down in sales, but I have a few items that have never sold well - Fleece vests with embroidered logo (jackets and sweatshirts did well). I also tried African and world music CD's from Putamayo and play them in the gift shop for ambiance and to boost sales, but sales of those have never been good (original order was in 2008 and we still have some left). Seems as if glassware (mugs, pint glasses, shot glasses) have declined somewhat - but am always looking for new designs to attract repeat customers and boost sales.

What merchandise are you looking for that you haven’t been able to find?
Not too sure - have also wanted to do adult coffee table books about the big cats - do well with children's books and would like to try more mature type books - although many zoos say they don't do well, but we seem to have a higher adult customer base than most zoos. Also, we get a lot of requests for books with the stories of all of our animals and have not been able to find an affordable way to do this (minimums are quite high on this type of completely custom product). Very specifically still looking for coatimundi plush, and good plush of mountain lion (cougar) - Wild Republic has one 12" that is great, but would love a smaller ($5-$6 price range). 

What trends do you foresee in 2011?
The refuge doesn't really seem to fall into the 'trends'. I know that a few new products that I have recently added are already doing well - mood jewelry, PooPoo paper products (safari and zoo animal line) and some of the Eco-everywhere custom items (note cards, journals - with designs of our cats). I am starting to carry products that are by local (or at least USA) artists and crafts people - hope to have success with idea that not a product that can be found at local 'Wal-Mart' or any other facility and at the same time support local artists.

Will there be any new shops, carts, or attractions in 2011?
So far no word on anything new - has been discussions on brand new gift shop for a few years (desperately needed) - but financially not possible. Main "newness" is the addition of new merchandise. The facility itself is always building new habitats and releasing animals into new enclosures and rescuing new animals. The main change this brings to our gift shop is our photo products with the new animals; because they are made in house we can make a many or as few as sales dictate.

Do you have any special merchandise projects that are unique to your facility (for example, photo opportunities, special sale events, school bags, web site/catalog sales, gift cards, off-site shops)?
We do various products with photos of our own cats - much of it is done in-house. All of the magnets are made here, we sell 8x10 photographs that we display on foam-core in clear plastic bag, we have wooden "photo boxes" made locally that we then put photos of our own cats in. We also do a calendar every year with photos of our cats (we also put all of our cats birthdays in the calendar) and the sales of that are fantastic - It is marketed as a fundraiser for the habitat areas specifically and even after the year is over - I knock the price down and sell it as 12 great photos of our cats.

What trade shows do you go to?
Except for last year with the ZAG sponsorship to IGES and SMGS, I have not gone to any shows. My experience was amazing and I am still convincing my supervisors and our board of directors that it is worth while, so I may be able to go again this year.

Anything you'd like to add?
My job at Turpentine Creek is extremely varied. I am a staff zoologist, the assistant curator as well as gift shop manager. I am intimately involved with the care of the animals, am heavily involved in construction of enclosures, and also run the gift shop. I am often running in a million directions at once, but love the job. The care of the cats is always the number one priority at the refuge and even if working the gift shop is not directly next to a tiger or lion I know that by bringing in more revenue through gift shop sales I am helping care for all these amazing creatures.

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Become a “fan” of the ZAG FACEBOOK page today! Network with other buyers and hear about the latest sales and updates from the vendors. Ask questions on the Facebook page and get a response from your other buyer friends quickly! The more fans we have, the better it will be to get all of our questions answered. Help us get our fan count up!



Below is the list of the current ZAG board and the committees they head. Please feel free to contact any of them if you have questions, suggestions, ideas or would like to help!

President: Brent Walter, Henry Vilas Zoo
Secretary: Maria Lasecki, NEW Zoo
Treasurer: Beth Feingold, Aquarium of the Bay
Board Member: Mary Jane Brown, Akron Zoo (retiring in 2011)
Board Member: Bill Lucey, Rainforest Adventures
Board Member: Robin Miller, Lion Country Safari
Board Member: Kathryn Swinimer, Calgary Zoo
Board Member: Tammy Ward, National Aquarium Washington DC

Website Committee
Beth Feingold
Bill Lucey

Membership Committee Robin Miller
Kathryn Swinimer

Newsletter Committee
Tammy Ward

Gift Shows Committee
Bill Lucey
Brent Walter

Sponsors Committee
Tammy Ward

Governance Committee
Mary Jane Brown
Maria Lasecki
Bill Lucey

Finance Committee
Beth Feingold
Kathryn Swinimer
Brent Walter

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Show Calendar 2011


19-25     California Gift Show
  • Showrooms 19-25
  • Temporaries 22-25

24-27     Philadelphia Gift Show


1-5        Gift + Home at Las Vegas Market 
2           California Gift Show First Tuesday Eco + Fair Trade 
6-9        Orlando Gift Show and Orlando Cash & Carry Show 
6-9        San Francisco International Gift Fair
13-16     Seattle Gift Show
27-30     Fort Lauderdale Gift Show 


6          California Gift Show First Tuesday Fashion Accessories 
18-20     California Gift Show Fall Gift + Home Market 
20-23     Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show 


4         California Gift Show First Tuesday Baby + Kids 
16-18     Gulf Coast Gift Show at Fort Walton Beach 
23-25     Galveston Gift & Resort Merchandise Show 


1         California Gift Show First Tuesday Spa, Bath + Romance 
3-7       The International Gift Exposition in the Smokies® & Souvenir Super Show 
4-7       The Smoky Mountain Gift Show® 
10-11     California Gift Show Gift Sample Sale 
13-16     Ocean City Resort Gift Expo 


4-7       Grand Strand Gift & Resort Merchandise Show

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