ZAG 2011 Annual Members’ Meeting and Dinner Roundtable Discussions

Our 2011 ZAG Dinner and Roundtable Discussion was well attended and the discussion was lively and informative. The following is a listing of the hot, cold, and confused items that were mentioned. What was great for some may have been a bust for others, but if everything worked everywhere, I guess we would all be out of work. 

Best Sellers

  • Plush – all sizes, even large and lifelike – Rhode Island Novelty; Melissa & Doug; K&M Bright Colored Plush – Fiesta; Petting Zoo; snakes from Rhode Island Novelty and K&M; Bright Colored Monkeys with Peace Vest from Rhode Island Novelty; Capybara and Ocelot from Leosco SOS; Beanie Boos from Ty; YooHoos from Aurora; Gigi Giraffe and Lovely Lamb from Aurora; 15” plush from Wishpets; plush owls from Aurora and Fiesta $8-10; Audubon Birds from K&M $6.99; Conservation Plush Critters from Wildlife Artrist $7.99; YooHoos from Aurora (mentioned multiple times); Glitter big-eye turtle from Fiesta; Plush Pillows
  • Candy – Thin stix, rock candy and bagged candies from Pennsylvania Dutch; suckers from Kendon Candy; Pucker Powder (mentioned multiple times)
  • T-Shirts – especially sale priced; Dainty Miss; Prairie Mountain; Resort Stop; Out of Hand; The Mountain Tees; Red Wolf and River Otter Tees from Campbell Creative $19.99; name drop shirts $10-20; women’s fitted tees from The Duck Company under $25; Lazy One
  • Jewelry – Cool Jewels; Cruz; mood jewelry from Mistco; Charming Shark $3.99-11.99; Wish bracelets from Killer Beads $1, Boxed Animal Necklaces from DM $7.95-8.95
  • Vapur Bottles – Lincoln Park Zoo sold 500@ $12.95
  • Snow Globes with animals from Topline
  • Glass figures and minis from Jaco (mentioned multiple times)
  • Glow Works Light-up
  • Little Critters
  • Foil Pictures from Dolan
  • Hats from Jacobson
  • Sweatshirts from Perrin
  • Mini Flopsies from Aurora
  • History and Heraldry zip pulls name program
  • Poo Poo Paper
  • Banana Paper from Red Apple Co.
  • Mr. Ellie Poo
  • Toys – Adventure Planet; Warm and Fuzzy
  • Tumbled Stone Rocks from Western Wood
  • 3-D Book marks from Bookmark Trenz
  • Colored water bottles
  • Stretch Turtles from Rhode Island Novelty
  • Magnets from What’s the Big Idea
  • Zoo Train from Rhode Island Novelty
  • Pinchers from Wild Republic K&M
  • Fancy Pal Purses from Aurora (mentioned multiple times)
  • E Teams from K&M
  • Custom from EcoEverywhere (mentioned multiple times)
  • Zoo Flip Books
  • Beadworks (Especially keychains)
  • Tynies (very small glass animals) $3.99
  • Glass paperweights from Dynasty Gallery $17.99-39.99
  • Virginia State Park Adjustable Hiking Poles from Wilcor $14.99
  • 75th Anniversary Mug from Wm. L Judd Pottery $7.75
  • Pocket Guides – Nature – Wildlife from Virginia Publications, Wilcor and Mistco
  • Virginia Wildlife Playing Cards $5.95 from Terrell (Partner with Virginia Living Museum)
  • Custom Seal Snowglobe from Mistco $5.95
  • John Deere from Learning Curve $2.95-5.95
  • Sea Creations Jeweled Boxes (mentioned multiple times)
  • Custom Silicone Cause Bracelets
  • Ladies Aussie Hat from Royal $15
  • Micro Ceramic Turtle from Creative Hand Crafts $2
  • Rubber bounce balls from K&M $3
  • Hatchin’ Grow Egg from Toysmith $4
  • Safari Inc. products – especially Good Luck Minis (mentioned multiple times)
  • Mugs from Karol Western
  • Thermos from Charles Products
  • Name dropped magnets from Clay Critters
  • Face Painting from Snazaroo
  • Custom Giraffe from Wildlife Artists
  • Solar Zipper Pulls from LaserGifts
  • Gemstone Build a Pendant from Squire Boone Village
  • Rainbow Shot Glass from Capsco $4.95
  • Smith Western Relief Mug $8.95
  • Debry Build a Watch $15
  • Face masks from K&M
  • Bagged Rocks from Western Woods
  • Rain Ponchos from Rhode Island Novelty
  • Medallions from Penny Machine Co.
  • Visors from Miracle Lace
  • Terrell Creative Custom Cards and 25¢ magnet
  • Giraffe stroller backpack from Rhode Island Novelty
  • Neckbandoos from BluBandoo
  • Truck and animal sets from K&M
  • Animal Hat with scarf
  • Drums and masks from Stone Age Arts
  • Miner’s Helmet from Squire Boone Village
  • Inflates from Rhode Island Novelty $2.50-3 (dolphin and ponies are best)
  • Cold Drink Tumblers from Polar Graphics $9.95 (purple, pink and green)
  • Dover Mini Activity Books $1.50
  • Wooden Alligators from Rhode Island Novelty
  • Light-up toys from Rhode Island Novelty for Boo @ the Zoo event (Buttonwood Park Zoo) $5-10

    Slow Sellers
  • Items representing animals not found at the facility
  • Art Tiles
  • Playing cards
  • Beaded jewelry
  • Silly Bands
  • Candy competing with pucker powder
  • Soaps and lotions
  • Pinchers (mentioned multiple times)
  • Masks
  • Floppy magnets (high breakage)
  • Bamboo shirts
  • Grow-a-head $10.00
  • Pens floating name
  • Models (gluing a sample helps)
  • Shot Glasses and mugs
  • T-shirts for older children
  • Dinosaur items
  • Big Eyed Plush
  • Puzzles (mentioned multiple times)
  • Holiday items
  • 75th Anniversary Collectible Coin $10.75
  • 75th Anniversary kid’s map $2.75
  • Windchimes
  • Suncatchers
  • African handcrafts
  • Handbags
  • Wind up toys
  • Cameras (mentioned multiple times)
  • Hanging Monkeys
  • Adult T-shirts
  • Rubber snakes
  • Chompers (mentioned multiple times)
  • Antler Jewelry
  • Purses
  • Sunscreen
  • 3-D postcard with glasses
  • Fleece vests
  • Home décor items except small figurines from SPI, John Perry and glass paperweights
  • Bird houses
  1. Items listed as slow for some but best sellers for others

  • Name dropped items
  • Plush
  • Zipper pulls
  • PVC
  • Suckers with plush

If you have questions about what was mentioned above, and/or need contact information on who said what, please contact Tammy Ward/National Aquarium at

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Items Yet to Be Found

Shows are great, but sometimes you just can’t find that special something. The listings below are unanswered inquiries from the roundtable discussion at the annual dinner. If you can give some advice, it would be greatly appreciated.

  • Virginia Living Museum is looking for Head boppers with Earth balls for Earth Day
  • Turpentine Creek is looking for Coatimundi plush
  • Reston Zoo/Virginia Safari Park is looking for American made products and inexpensive children’s t-shirts
  • Brandywine Zoo is looking for children’s and adult’s sweat shirts with low minimums; binturong (bearcat) plush; more ocelot items; zoo related toys; post cards with low quantities – American made items
  • Brookfield Zoo is looking for Fleece jackets at a reasonable price
  • Virginia State Parks is looking for tin cup that can be engraved
  • Buttonwood Park Zoo is looking for Asian elephants
  • Loggerhead Marinelife Center is looking for sea turtle socks
  • Binder Park Zoo is looking for coffee cups; 9oz clear beer glasses; gift ideas for special events; toddler line
  • Milwaukee County Zoo is looking for chimes; fair trade
  • Tanganyika Wildlife Park is looking for fixtures
  • Rainforest Adventures is looking for refurbished parking meters for donations

Sponsor Question

Each season, buyers must become psychic as we struggle with the eternal question. What will they buy this year? We can have a reasonable idea from past sales and trends, but the buying public is fickle. For every years spanning successful item, there are two or three boxes in the back of our storerooms that we’re debating for giveaways. Maybe the Marketing Department could use some funny shaped silicone bracelets. As difficult as it is for us to commit to a new product or line, imagine the debate that goes on for our vendors. So the question I posed to our sponsors was this:

It is often difficult for buyers to decide to add a new item or category. Diverting funds from known sellers to take a chance on something untried can be scary. This must be even more of a risk for vendors, so my question is: What criteria do you use for new items and how do you decide what to sacrifice? 

Neil Walwyn, Sales Manager – Moovie Studio -
We at Moovie Studio believe in trying to accommodate needs of stores to minimize conflict – good example is this creative display we developed to accommodate a new category with minimal add on requirement for stores…this is fixture most stores have with pockets to go on side with corresponding ( same design) pens! 

Bobby Lee - Kraf & Associates, Inc -
In our position, we show items at trade shows and use a combination of customer response and advance orders at a trade show. Based on those factors, we project whether we can sell through all of the initial inventory we have to buy in a reasonable time frame. That time frame can be a portion of a season, a full season's time, or more than a season. It all depends on how big of a gamble financially we have to take. If it is a small amount of dollars invested, we can afford to be more patient with an item. In order to make large investments, an item, series or line must really generate a great deal of interest.

Leo Glenn - Earth Sun Moon Trading Co. -
Both new product introduction and product discontinuation are largely determined by our customers. Deciding to discontinue a product is pretty simple: if our customers can't sell it, it goes away. With new products, we encourage our customers to let us know what's selling for them, and we ask them what other products and designs they might like to see. We've recently introduced mugs to our line, and we feel confident that they will be successful, because it was our customers who asked for them. When developing a new product or design, we often send out images to appropriate customers for feedback. This lets us know if we're on the right track. In short, listening to our customers lets us know which items aren't working for them and helps us to develop new products with a high rate of success.

Peter J Seresky - Nanco-Nancy Sales -
It is interesting that both buyers and sellers have the same pressures and challenges. Given reduced budgets and pressure to turn inventory, both groups are less apt to take risk on new items or categories. Balance that with the mantra of always having something new and fresh to sell.

What we try to at Nanco is stay focused on the categories that we know we can turn while investing in art and product development to give a fresh look. By doing this, we have a better chance of turning our inventory while creating excitement with innovative designs and ideas.

Michael Curley – Wishpets -
From a vendors point of view new items are crucial to the success of your company. The commitment we have to make on untested items is substantial so you often look for trends in the market place that have a proven track record. Price is always the first criteria - the consumer has a comfort level that they are willing to pay. The other trends we look for is fabrics, colors, and subject matter. If we are able to create items at the right price with a good design in the correct colors and fabrics, then we buy it.

Deborah Campbell - Campbell Creative Group -
CCG is an Art Company that is dedicated to design originality for exhibits and /or special events with a minimum of 144 qty. CCG has been designing for this industry since 1989 and realizes regionality is a huge component to what will or will not be successful in any venue. We also offer 72 pc minimum from our extensive selection on line. Please contact us for login information.

Susan Georgulas - Georgetown Home & Garden -
When we decide to enter into a new area, we do a lot of research on trends and like items in the same arena. We also review pricing and costs. We do not want to invest in inventory that does not move. We know our retailers feel the same way.

Georgetown Home and Garden is known for the whimsical planters we carry. The company was started with these items. Many ZAG vendors have looked at our mini giraffe, mini bear, and mini zebra styles….

This year we are expanding our line with watering cans that are sensibly priced and different than our cats and dogs, etc. They have a different look and feel and a smaller price point. We know watering cans sells well because we have had (2) turtles and a lady bug in the line at a higher price point since the company started. What we have heard from retailers though, is that items over $40.00 at retail have slowed down due to economic trends. We also have heard that they are “rooster-ed, dog-ed, and cat-ed out.”

We saw an opening and a price point that we could work with, and we decided to figure out a line to fill that niche. We developed a rustic line of metal watering cans in smaller sizes that can retail at $24.99. We went from 60 ounces to 46 ounces, and developed a line of animal watering cans that catch the eye because the animals are unusual. The more we can stay away from “me too” items, the better chances we have at moving something. So, instead of a tabby cat or Westie dog, we have a water buffalo, rhino, hippo, small bird, and rustic bunny can. The colors are not bright and brand specific, but are muted and funky. The reaction has been great!

The sacrifice is that we have less new animal planters this year. We also have developed another tier of pricing in a category we do well in, and we have made it lower. Will people trade down? How will this impact our business? You do not know. We feel after analyzing business in catalogs, at retail with our largest customers, on the web, etc…that this new line will add in a layer of business we did not have before. Good, better, best scenario….

Suzanne Hammond – Fiesta -
The criteria Fiesta uses on new plush item decisions is based on consumer research, fabric trends, play value or educational value of a design , new style elements, and color forecasting. This information is reviewed by our production team of designers and sales staff to help make educated decisions on items. The relationship and communication Fiesta has developed with their customers is invaluable in the decision making process. Their feedback is key in the selection of which new plush animal styles are updated and added. A zoo, aquarium, or animal park may be planning the birth of a new animal baby and Fiesta strives to meet their merchandising needs to promote its arrival. Or, our customers could be planning the opening of a new exhibit and will be needing merchandise in anticipation of consumer interest in the new exhibit.

"Decision to drop an item is always difficult, but necessary in order update with new items. The decision to drop an item comes from careful analysis of customer's feedback and from our sales data. If one of our customers has a plush need for a particular animal (like the exotic Tasmanian Devil, Three-Toed Sloth, or Pot Bellied Pig), every effort is made to continue it", says Michael Lauber, Fiesta President.

Pat Trello - Allstar Wholesale -
Recently I wrote an article in the November issue of Souvenirs and Novelties magazine concerning technology and the changing landscape as it relates to the travel and leisure business. As you are probably aware the ever evolving area of electronics can be confusing to many buyers and they are not certain as to what products they should purchase to provide “power” or “storage” to a product a visitor may have i.e. digital cameras, cell phones, games and gadgets etc. As you may have guessed this is a huge area and has great selling potential if the venue knows what to purchase and where to get it at a competitive price. Products include batteries, memory cards, chargers, earbuds and a whole lot more. Recently lords international partnered with Travelocity to distribute their line of products to the travel and leisure industry, the line includes 153 items ranging from chargers and audio to travel pillows and comfort products (a list of products and press release is available). Products come on a 4 sided display making it easy for stores to get an assortment of products at a competitive price; in addition we recently launched a battery program again in display format which offers AA/AAA 4pack batteries for .69 per pack allowing for a 4 to 6x mark!!

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ZAG Interview
Matt Fouts, Assistant Director at Tanganyika Wildlife Park

Describe your facility…acreage, annual attendance, major exhibits, most popular animals, etc.
Size: 25 acres (with 50+ acres for expansion)
Annual Attendance: approx. 85,000
Major Exhibits: White Tigers, Clouded Leopards and 6 interactive exhibits
Most Popular Animals: primarily the major exhibits listed above

Tanganyika Wildlife Park is a private, family owned facility in Wichita, KS. It was started by Jim and Sherri Fouts, who started by supplying zoos with animals from all over the world for more than 30 years. Over time, we have amassed one of the best private collections of animals in the United States. Tanganyika is accredited by the Zoological Association of America. After doing private tours for several years, Tanganyika took on a multi-million dollar expansion and officially opened to the public. Currently, the Park boasts over 30 exhibits, multiple venues for events such as weddings, birthdays, etc., two concession stands and a small gift shop. Our mission is to: Share our passion for animals by providing REAL experiences that are entertaining and educational in order to have a significant impact in the stewardship of selected species. 

We provide “real” experience through several interactive stations and by bringing ambassador animals around our Park. Most of these allow visitors to interact by touching or feeding the animals. We boast that we are the most interactive zoo in Kansas with six interactive stations including: Indian rhinos, ring-tail Lemurs, lorikeets, children’s zoo, red kangaroos and giraffes. In addition, we are home to more than 30 other species, over 50% of which are endangered.

Our facility is also unique because of our successful breeding programs. We believe caring for animals isn’t simply enough. In order to truly preserve a species, you must actively and responsibly breed them. As such, we are one of the most prolific zoos in the country for our size. For instance, our facility alone has increased the worldwide, captive clouded leopard population by over 10%. 

Describe your merchanise operations…number of year-round shops, seasonal shops, square footage, seasonal carts, etc.
Currently, we have one gift shop, which has approximately 800 sq ft of usable space. I have used a couple of extra fixtures for special events, but nearly all gift shop sales are done in the gift shop.

List some of your best-selling merchandise items and categories. Where possible, please include specifics like vendor name, color, etc.
Our best seller in 2011 was Pucker Powder. We carried the 12”, 18” and 34” and they all did very well. In addition, we sold a lot of heart pendant necklaces and choker/bracelets with the animal print name program from MAI. Also, the custom playing cards and magnets from Terrell Creative continue to do well.

Plush is our top category. We did very well with the WOWs from Wild Republic, primarily due to the ring-tail lemur interactive exhibit and the lower price point. Also, the 25” standing giraffes from Adventure Planet continues to be strong. In regards to toys, we did well with all the Hatch & Grow type products from multiple vendors. Also, items from Adventure Planet like rubber snakes and novelty type items did well. Finally, we added some mugs, shot glasses, etc this year. They all seemed to do pretty well, but I had no basis to compare them with. 

Are any items or categories trending downward in popularity?
Our other candy items declined somewhat, but I believe it was primarily due to the popularity of pucker powder. Also, high end figurines didn’t seem to do as well.

What merchandise are you looking for that you haven’t been able to find?
There hasn’t been much I haven’t been able to find.

What trends do you foresee in 2012?
It was nice to see more vendors this year with Made in America products for two reasons. It is good to keep the money at home and in our economy, and second it helped reduce the minimums on custom products while maintaining reasonable prices. We like to showcase our own animals as much as possible and we were able to do that much more reasonably.

Will there be any new shops, carts, or attractions in 2012?
We will be opening a mandrill exhibit, Malayan tapir exhibit, and Red River Hog exhibit as well as new animal stage show.

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)?
Not at this time.

What trade shows do you go to?
IGES and Smoky Mountain Gift Show

Anything you'd like to add?
I would like to thank ZAG and all those who have made it possible. It has been of great assistance in improving our gift shop and ultimately assisting us in fulfilling our mission. Any zoo type facility with a gift shop should definitely consider joining and getting involved. Please keep up the good work. 


Please welcome the following new and returning ZAG sponsors so far for 2012, and visit their web sites. Or go 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

Congrats to the new board members that are going to be joining ZAG! Tommy Brown from St. Louis Zoo, Donna Steakley from Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Theresa Danneffel from John Ball Zoo and Laurie Vanderwal from Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

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