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2011 Travel Sponsorship Winners

The winners of the drawing for travel sponsorships to ZAG Week are John Stark from B.C. Wildlife Park and Karen Bellfrom Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Both of the ZAG buyers have never been to a major gift show or to ZAG Week. The lucky winners will be attending 2011 ZAG Week in the Smokies with all lodging, meals, and transportation paid by ZAG. During ZAG Week they will be accompanied by a ZAG Board member as they visit and work each of the gift shows. They will also have the opportunity to participate in networking sessions, and all of the sanctioned ZAG activities. The experience was beneficial to our 2010 winners, Laurie Vanderwal from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Cheryl Lopes from Buttonwood Park Zoo. Both Laurie and Cheryl share their thoughts below.

"The ZAG sponsorship has definitely been an amazing opportunity for me. I have a zoology degree and was hired in that capacity at Turpentine Creek, but because of the small size and non-profit status of the facility, all of the staff have a myriad of jobs. In addition to caring for over 100 big cats, helping to weld and build natural habitats and supervising 10-15 interns; I am also manager of our gift shop. I have not had any retail education or experience and do a lot of things by trial and error. The opportunity to go to a big gift show was something that I never thought I would have the chance to do and never realized the importance of it. Because of my limited retail knowledge, the opportunity to meet the other buyers was as important as finding new products and meeting new vendors. The other buyers have helped me to better understand the client base of our facility and have been a great resource in recommending good vendors and products. The ZAG sponsorship also allowed me to understand the importance of personal relationship with vendors. I now work directly with several owners of companies that I met at the show and it has given me advantages over sales reps by allowing for special orders, quicker responses to questions and better deals on pricing. Obviously, the new companies that I was exposed to at the show have also been amazing. I have new, great selling lines from companies I know I would not have been able to find without the ZAG Sponsorship. Lastly, the friendships I have developed with both the vendors and buyers have been great."
Laurie Vanderwal
Staff Zoologist/Gift Shop Manager
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

"The ZAG sponsorship was such an incredible opportunity for me. I have changed the way I buy. Instead of meeting with so many vendors throughout the year, going to the show enabled me to squeeze most of it into a few days. It was also great to take advantage of show specials. I kept track of the money I saved by using offers for free freight or other show specials to prove to my board of directors that this trip basically pays for itself.

Also, I can't tell you how great it was to meet fellow ZAG members. Everyone was so helpful and the sharing of ideas was wonderful. I have picked up a few new lines on the advice of how well they sold at other zoos and they are doing great! I will be attending again this year!"
Cheryl Lopes
Buttonwood Park Zoo

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Going to Tennessee for the shows? Use these two inserts for International Gift Exposition in the Smokies (IGES) and theSmoky Mountain Gift Show (SMGS) to save money!! The inserts provide information on where the sponsors are exhibiting, their booth number and a brief description of their product lines. Many ZAG sponsors, including those not exhibiting at either show, are offering ZAG members special deals, such as free freight or discounts on orders placed at the show! Better yet, many of these special offers are available to all ZAG members, including those who cannot attend the gift shows!

Check each sponsor’s listing carefully, it will give you the details of their offers, who is eligible, and when the offers expire. Be sure to mention that you are a ZAG member when you place your order so the sponsor knows you qualify for their offer. Also check with the sponsor before placing your order, some have more offers available than could be listed in these inserts.


ZAG Sponsored Events

Smoky Mountain Gift Show (November 4-7)/ IGES (November 3-7)

Thursday, Nov 3
  • ZAG member breakfast, ZAG hospitality room, IGES - Sevierville Events Center 8:00am – 9:30am (ZAG members only – ZAG giveaway included)
  • ZAG mixer at Ripley’s Aquarium, Gatlinburg, 5:30-9:30 pm, drinks, heavy appetizers and hors d’ouerves (ZAG members and sponsors)

Friday, Nov 4
  • ZAG member breakfast, ZAG hospitality room, IGES - Sevierville Convention Center 8:00-9:30am (ZAG members only)

Saturday, Nov 5
  • ZAG member breakfast, ZAG hospitality room, IGES - Sevierville Convention Center 8:00-9:30am (ZAG members only)
  • ZAG member breakfast, SMGS - Gatlinburg Convention Center (ZAG members only)

Sunday, Nov 6
  • ZAG member breakfast, ZAG hospitality room, IGES - Sevierville Convention Center 8:00-9:30am (ZAG members only)
  • ZAG member breakfast, SMGS - Gatlinburg Convention Center (ZAG members only)
  • ZAG annual dinner/meeting, Sevierville Events Center – North Concourse, Sevierville 5:00-10:00pm (ZAG members only) PLEASE RSVP to Brent Walter at brent@vilaszoo.org

Monday, Nov 7
  • ZAG member breakfast, SMGS - Gatlinburg Convention Center (ZAG members only)
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Please welcome the following new members:

  • Ardastra Gardens Zoo, Bahamas
  • International Wolf Center, Ely, MN
  • Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Holderness, NC
  • Turtle Back Zoo, West Orange, NJ
  • Wagon Trails Animal Park, Vienna, OH

Not going to the Tennessee gift shows?

Don’t worry, you won’t be left out! Check out the sponsor insert below. Many ZAG sponsors that are offering show specials are offering them to ALL ZAG members! Be sure to check the expiration date for the special offers, and don’t forget to mention that you are a ZAG member when placing an order. Also, following the Tennessee gift shows, our winter issue of ZAG News will feature summaries of the round table discussions on trends and other topics held after the annual members’ dinner.

Specials from ZAG Sponsors Not Exhibiting







Dynasty Gallery

Handmade glass figurines, vases & paperweights - 25% recycled glass

20% discount to ZAG members only; $150 minimum order, must ship by 11/20/11; Terms & conditions can be found in ZAG eblast & ZAG postcard

Yes, expires 11/20/2011


Mr. Ellie Pooh LLC

Exotic Fair Trade Gifts & Elephant Dung Paper

If an order is placed during the week of the show or the week after the show, we offer a 10% discount plus free shipping.

Yes, expires 11/14/11

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Advice from ZAG Sponsors

Many buyers are just dumped into the world of trade shows with little guidance or – if you were anything like me – any real idea of what they should do. Do I ignore all the booths that don’t seem to meet my immediate needs? Do I grab every catalog I can while I make a mad dash through the show? Do I politely lie to the vendor and tell him I will give him a call later in the season? Where is the food?

Some buyers may only attend a show every few years while others are hitting three or four a year. Even if you go to a few shows a season, the vendors are the true veterans. They have an insight that is unique and, because of that, I have asked them what advice they would offer to buyers attending the fall shows. Below are responses from some of ZAG’s sponsors. 

Peter J Seresky of Nanco-Nancy Sales Co - www.nancobos.com
  • Be Patient: there are many booths showing lots of product. It can become very overwhelming and very confusing.
  • Be Courteous: Vendors spend a lot of money to support trade shows. As a buyer, it is important to view all offerings and do not pre-judge companies
  • Be honest: If an inquiry is made and a follow up is needed, respond to the vendors follow up. Bad news is better than no return calls or e-mails.

Ramona Pariente of Safari Limited - www.safariltd.com
  • Our advice would be to make sure you wear comfortable shoes and try not to carry catalogs, instead have them mailed to you with any samples you may need.
  • Stay focused and avoid distractions

Connie Gerster of Warm Fuzzy Toys - www.warmfuzzytoys.com
  • We at Warm Fuzzy Toys are big believers in making appointments prior to our shows to ensure that we can have at least 45 minutes (preferably more) to review the relevant items to that particular account. This ensures that the buyer will have the undivided attention of their vendor for that given amount of time (vs. someone shuttling back and forth between buyers).

Anne Worton of Wishpets – www.wishpets.com
  • Network with your zoo and aquarium peers…. fellow buyers provide a sincere, invaluable resource to you regarding topics such as hot merchandise trends, exhibit themed custom product sourcing , advice with new/existing store design, staffing issues, and more with an added benefit of gaining lifelong friends.

Ali Shearer of Polar Graphics – www.polaridentity.com
  • When selecting custom designs for apparel and souvenirs, at times it can be overwhelming to choose a decoration and color combo that works best on a particular item, and that will appeal to your unique customers. Tradeshows are a great opportunity to collaborate with your vendors and simplify this process. Make sure to utilize their expertise and ask about best selling designs, graphics, color stories and key trends.

Lucy L. Mao of Dynasty Gallery – www.dynastygallery.com
  • Make appointments with vendors that are important to your retail business. Most likely, you are equally as important to that vendor as well. Having the opportunity to spend quality time, face to face, in front of the entire product line, is priceless. Some of the best ideas have come from booth sessions with my buyers.
  • Bring your own food/snacks and keep them accessible.
  • Don’t carry a 10-foot pole. Don’t be afraid to express interest in a line/product. On the same note, don’t be afraid to explain why something does not work. This type of communication may open doors. Treat every relationship as a partnership and expect the same from your vendors.
  • Remember that we are all here to do business. If you are in a booth, you are essentially in that vendor’s office. Be polite and show appreciation for the vendor’s time, money and effort in order to display the products so that buyers would have more options.
  • Take care of your body! Walking the show while you’re hungry, tired, thirsty, or stressed will prevent you from being productive, efficient and pleasant.
  • Don’t be a catalog mule. While catalogs can be a useful reference point, don’t be in habit of relying on them. The beauty of a trade show is that the product is in front of you to touch and feel. As well, the booth staff (or at least most of them) have product information that you can never extract from a catalog.

So, it would seem that buyers should be open, polite, honest, and just say ‘No’ to those extra catalogs. Vendors arrive before we do, they stay longer, and they often grab their lunch in their booth. I’m not saying you need to toss them a biscuit, but a smile couldn’t hurt!

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ZAG Interview

Theresa Danneffel, Gift Manager/Buyer at John Ball Zoo

Describe your facility…acreage, annual attendance, major exhibits, most popular animals, etc.
John Ball Zoo sits on 11 acres of land right outside of downtown Grand Rapids, MI. Next year we will be double that size with all of our new additions. We are building a funicular (uphill tram), a treehouse for rental spaces and a new central services building (which will house our new warehouse and commissary). At the entrance of the zoo we are going to be putting in new bathrooms and a new gift shop that will be 4 times larger than what we have right now. Our annual attendance is 400,000 which again we are hoping will increase with all of our additions. The major exhibit changes that we have done in the last 3 years have been our new Lion Exhibit, Spider Monkey renovation and just this year, our Petting Zoo renovation. Some of our most popular exhibits are the Penguins, Lions, Bears and Snow Leopards. In the next few years we are also building a new Tiger Exhibit and renovating our Bear Exhibit. All of these brand new additions could not have been possible without the help of the private donations we have been given over the last couple of years.

Describe your merchanise operations…number of year-round shops, seasonal shops, square footage, seasonal carts, etc.
We have one permanent shop that is open during all zoo hours. We are not open year round right now so we have no year round shops. The main gift shop is only 500 sq ft right now and sells the biggest variety of items. It sells all the plush, toys, imprinted t-shirts and PVC items, along with a variety of other things. We also have 4 satellite carts. Sand Art/Airbrushed Tattoos which goes very well together. Sand Art was new for us this year and has been proven to be a huge hit with the kids! We also do an Animaland Stand that we call Stuff It! This is the 3rd year for this stand and while it has slowed down a little bit, it is still holding its own. I have a Front Entry stand near the entrance of the zoo which sells impulse items (face masks, walk a pets, wild clingers) as well as necessity items (sun block, cameras, batteries, hats). This stand always does well for the guests that forgot something at home and for the guests that just want a quick souvenir on their way out. Last, we have a gift cart that changes themes each year. This year we themed it as “Reptile Cart.” This was genius! It is located right outside the main gift shop and is an overflow catcher for all the parents that try to keep their kids out of the gift shop. Since this stand sells all the snakes, including the 70” plush snakes, they can’t make it by without buying something!

List some of your best-selling merchandise items and categories. Where possible, please include specifics like vendor name, color, etc.
Our best selling item hands down are the Good Luck Minis from Safari. We upgraded to the bigger display this year and we have already doubled what we have sold last year and it’s not even the end of the season yet. Face Masks from K& M are also a huge seller for us. As always Plush is the number 1 category and I don’t think that will ever change.

Are any items or categories trending downward in popularity?
I think the big eyed plush for me has really slowed down this year. 

What merchandise are you looking for that you haven’t been able to find?
I am always looking for Adult themed gifts that will sell well. I have found a few items, but that is one category that I always struggle with every year.

What trends do you foresee in 2011?
I have heard that hot neon colors are coming back in. So I think I am going to gear some of my apparel buying towards bright neon colors for 2011.

Will there be any new shops, carts, or attractions in 2011?
As mentioned above we are getting many new things for 2011 including the new gift shop! It is going to be 4 times larger than what I have right now so I am going to have my hands full at the shows this fall. We have been waiting for this for a long time. We are also planning our new Bear Exhibit for 2013 and our new Tiger exhibit for 2014. We have many changes coming our way at John Ball Zoo.

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 offer the schools gift bags for purchase when they come to the zoo. We also offer those to the onsite birthday parties and they are offered on our website. We sell gift cards out of the gift shop, and we offer gift cards to all of our after hours parties or special company rentals that may come to the zoo. We are doing a kiosk at our local mall for the months of November, December and part of January, so check back with me then and I can let you know how that does! We are selling Memberships, Adopt an Animal Footsteps, Gift Cards and some gift shop items.

What trade shows do you go to?
I go to The Gathering and also the Tennessee Gift Shows. I love attending the ZAG week activities during the Tennessee show and also think it greatly benefits me with buying decisions.

Anything you'd like to add?
If anyone has any questions about the new things we are adding to the zoo in the next couple years, do not be afraid to contact me. I will do my best to answer questions and let you know how it worked here. I am very excited for all of the new changes we are going to be facing over the next couple years and to see us grow so much!

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



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!


ZAG Board Election Results to be Announced Soon

The 2011 election of four new ZAG Board members will be completed with the counting of the ballots during the last week of this month. The top four vote getters will start their three year terms after the results are officially ratified at the Annual ZAG Business Meeting on November 6th. The Board membership is permitted, per the ZAG By-laws, to have a maximum of nine members. The election has been conducted by the ZAG Governance Committee, and the ballots will be counted by persons not affiliated with ZAG or any of the candidates.

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