ZAG News

Volume 12, Issue: 1                                                 www.zaggift.com                                       Jan. 2013


So Long 2012…Hello 2013!

2012 brought many changes to ZAG and to the Zoo & Aquarium Industry. We are saying goodbye to ZAG founders and board members Brent Walter and Steve Fairchild who year after year have diligently worked toward bringing ZAG to the level it is today by fostering large networking opportunities and  fortifying relationships between buyers and sponsors. As per the ZAG by -laws, Brent and Steve are required to step down from the ZAG board for one year before they can answer a BOD call for candidates. 2012 also saw dramatic swings in our businesses experiencing devastating lows to great highs. Mother Nature played a key role in the Zoo & Aquarium industry and we wish all our friends affected by the many storms and extreme weather a quick recovery in their business and a prosperous 2013 season. As we look to 2013 we are excited about our prospects and hoping for economic recovery for the entire nation. 2013 brings big changes to the ZAG Board of Directors, welcoming Missy Rosevear from Lehigh Valley Zoo and Michael Davis from Cameron Park Zoo along with reelected Robin Miller. Big congratulations to Donna Steakley as your new ZAG President and Tommy Brown as Vice President. We are excited and look forward continuing ZAG’s mission and bringing Zoo & Aquarium Buyers together from around the world. 

Happy New Year from all of us at ZAG!

Communication is KEY to Success!  

Everyone knows that effective communication is a vital part of a successful business. ZAG is here for you! We are constantly updating our web-site www.zaggift.com and our Facebook page www.facebook.com/zaggift! When you log in to www.zaggift com, you will have access to contact information for all our members. This is a valuable resource, especially when you are in need of advice or are looking for new strategies or product for your store!

Facebook is a great way to keep in communication with other buyers and sponsors in the industry! Check it daily, ask questions, share the news, create a buzz, it’s a great forum for buyers!

-Presidents Message- by Donna Steakley

First and foremost I want to thank Brent Walter and Steve Fairchild for all their work on the ZAG board over the past years. This will be the first year without either of them on the board, they will be missed.

I’m excited about the coming year. After attending the fall shows, seeing so many ZAG members and sponsors, it definitely gets the excitement flowing. We’ll have our first board meeting in February. We have a lot of work to do and I have faith that the current board is up to it. We’ll work hard at networking and getting more information out to the members. Please don’t forget to check the ZAG website, www.zaggift.com  for updated information.

I welcome the challenges ahead and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me at donnas@fossirim.org

2012 ZAG Week Bingo Winners!

$500 Sponsor credit -  Karen Groszkiewicz, Erie Zoo

$250 Sponsor Credit- Kathy Satersmoen- Como Zoo

$250 Sponsor Credit- Mary Short- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

$100 Sponsor Credit- Lisa Jones-Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

$100 Sponsor Credit- Patti Hall –Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo


Winners, Please email  tdanneffel@johnballzoosociety.org  with the ZAG sponsor you wish your credit to go to, please don’t forget your account number with the sponsor so the credit  is applied to the correct organization. Congratulations and thank you for taking part in ZAG!

After The Show….catch up with ZAG Travel Winners by Denise Lamoureux

We asked our ZAG travel sponsorship winners, Jim Cornall from Fundy Discovery Aquarium and Anya Russom from Lake Superior Zoo to share their thoughts and impressions on ZAG Week which took place early November in Sevierville & Gatlinburg, TN.  Anya and Jim entered a contest through ZAG and were the lucky winners to receive an all-expense paid trip to attend the IGES/SSS Gift Show and the Smoky Mountain Gift Show.  They also took part in ZAG Week activities including the ZAG Mixer at Rainforest Adventures, the ZAG Member Dinner at the Hidden Mountain Resort and a host of other activities including member breakfasts, special presentations, and networking opportunities.

We asked Jim and Anya to describe their facilities and merchandise operations.

Jim “Our aquarium is a two story, 20,000 square feet building, and while there’s been an aquarium on the site since 1972, our new facility opened September 1, 2011. Because of this, we broke our attendance record in the first year of re-opening with over 45,000 visitors. Our major attractions are our two-story tidal tank, huge touch pools and two harbor seals. We have just one shop in the aquarium, which runs year round. As it’s a relatively seasonal community, most of the business is done over the summer months – mainly from June to September. In the winter, we drop to being open only at weekends, although are open at other times, such as around Christmas and other holidays, and when there’s no school.”

Anya We are nestled in a park-like landscape of about 16 acres with an annual visitorship of around 100,000. Some of our major attractions include Brown Bear, Amur Tiger, African Lion, Snow Leopard, Gray Wolf, and a number of primates. We have one year-round gift shop at this time. We used to have a seasonal Train Depot gift shop, but the building and merchandise was lost in a flood this past June”

ZAG has over 340 members from facilities around the world of all sizes and visitorship.  The diversity of the facilities and their operations affords ZAG the opportunity to bring together a wealth of knowledge from the buyers and create a large networking pool in the industry.  The IGES, Smoky Mountain Gift Show and ZAG work hand in hand to bring members together in a forum where buyers will have the best chance to ask, learn, share, and implement their knowledge with other ZAG members….and have a lot of fun doing it!

We asked Anya her first impression when she arrived in Tennessee and her thoughts on both shows.  “It was definitely unlike anything I’d ever seen. I’d never been to that part of the country, so the culture shock alone was palpable. I attended both shows, but admittedly spent more time in Sevierville. Both of the shows were, of course, overwhelming. IGES was easier to navigate for me, but both shows had a great many vendors that I sought out to order from. The Smoky Mountain Show was a little convoluted, but still completely valuable to visit.”

When attending the shows, buyers usually have a specific goal or expectation for their retail operation.  When asked about his expectations, Jim replied “I’d hoped to learn and find some new products, however, this was simply the tip of the iceberg, as what actually happened was I was able to speak to other people from other facilities, to learn about their experiences, and also to talk to the vendors to determine what the latest and greatest items would be for the upcoming season. It’s one thing to have nice looking products in the gift shop, but another to be setting trends and keeping up with the times. While there are items in every gift shop that move more slowly, and you have to stock them, it’s important also to find items that will sell, and sell reasonably quickly. And after a few seasons of the current gift shop, it’s easier to identify what will and won’t sell, and what can be introduced to keep the place looking fresh for visitors that come frequently. This not only applies to the gift shop, but also to the aquarium itself, as it’s important to keep it interesting and new. Overall, I’d say my expectations were exceeded.”

We all know that it can be very challenging in retail to keep up with the trends and the merchandising fresh.  When asked about her thoughts on ZAG Week and opportunities afforded to her through ZAG, Anya remarked “That part of the experience was probably the most valuable. Being able to meet and talk with buyers from around the country was so helpful to me. Discussing trends, display styles, products, and services with such a wide variety of institutions is such an asset. It made me feel more comfortable with being at the shows, and helped me to grow and reach out on my own. It helped me build confidence.” Jim also commented “It’s always useful to meet with others, not only to learn from them but also to reaffirm things about your own operation, while still remembering every place is different and so what works or sells in one place may not in another, and each has individual challenges, especially more remote, seasonal attractions such as ours that don’t see huge numbers of visitors. For me, the opportunity to gather information on new products and meet vendors was the most valuable part of the event; speaking with others was great but not influential. I’d like to think that ZAG members can call on each other to help out, especially as different places have people with different skill sets.”

There are many facilities that do not have the budget to attend gift shows and are forced to rely on traveling salesmen and work with a limited list of vendors. We asked our sponsorship winners if they had advice for those facilities. Jim replied “While it may be a bit of work, I’d say that simply going through the list of vendors from the shows to find websites, catalogs and price lists would be more than worthwhile. I can’t speak for everyone, but if another ZAG member approached me for information or advice on the vendors at the show, I’d be more than happy to share my findings, and potentially tweak them to help fit what I’d discovered to meet their facility’s needs. Perhaps it’s something that ZAG members could offer is not so much a mentorship at the show, which is great for people who have never attended any show at all in the past, but for facilities that can’t go, to partner them with a facility that is attending so they can learn more, or to collect information on their behalf. I’m not sure which aquariums went, but I've visited other aquariums in the past that are similar in size and scope to our own and, if they aren't able to attend, I could easily have helped them by having a conversation prior to the event, and looking for things that meet their needs. Clearly, matching facilities based on seasonality, size and scope would work best, but I’m sure that most of the people I met at the shows would be more than willing to help others.”  Anya stressed “… the most obvious thing would be to enter ZAG’s sponsorship contest. It’s an easy way to have a completely life-changing experience. The knowledge that I’ve acquired at the shows and from those whom I’ve met will undoubtedly be a financial asset to our organization. To those still unable to go, utilize the ZAG website. Read as many retail magazines as you can to keep up with trends, and keep voicing the reasons why going to a trade show is important.”

Although it was a very busy and successful week for all, we asked Jim and Anya for final reflections on their experiences. “I’m very grateful to have been. Personally, I will visit the region again at some point and, if possible, attend the show again. Without the ZAG sponsorship, I wouldn’t have been able to go, and wouldn’t have even known about its value, other than to look at the magazines longingly and wish to go. While the gift shop in our aquarium would still have survived without me attending the shows, I’m confident that next year will be a better one because of it, in terms of revenue, variety of stock, price and quality. I’m also confident that I could approach any of the ZAG contacts I made for more information if necessary, and it’s nice to feel that you’re not alone.” remarked JimAnya added “I just want to say thank you. The experience has changed my world as a buyer and opened my eyes to the possibilities that await my zoo. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I hope to see you again next year.”  We think that sums it up nicely.  Thank you all for a successful ZAG Week and we do hope to see you again next year!

The Green Corner    by Tommy  Brown

Bottled Water, the good the bad and the ugly

A new issue is starting to face Zoo and Aquarium gift shops and food service areas and that is the sale of bottled water. All of us have to admit as buyers whoever came up with the idea to sell water is just pure genius as it is a huge profit margin item but under that large profit margin lays environmental issues that all Zoos and Aquariums must take seriously.

Many Zoos and Aquariums depend on sales of merchandise and preferably those with the most margins. Bottled water has over the years become one of the high margin items that retail and food service have embraced and have done well with in net sales. Some larger Zoos have been able to sell a half a million dollars in bottled water a year and with that half a million dollars the Zoos have been able to put that money to work in conservation programs throughout the world which is great for preserving species both here and abroad.

Water is the giver of all life on Earth and a healthy alternative to soft drinks. So from that aspect bottled water is good but what about 30,000,000 empty water bottles a day that end up in landfills and our oceans? What about water bottling companies that are displacing water from dry areas of the US and sending it to other states and putting their local environments at risk? What about the energy bottled water consumes in fossil fuels to transport it and the electric it takes to make a bottle and fill it? Sure everything we consume has a cost in the environment but our goals as Zoo and Aquariums is to limit the effects on the environment whenever possible.

People that come to our Zoos and Aquariums are still going to want water be it bottled or tap water.  Bottled water has years of marketing behind it, making it a lifestyle item and an assumed healthy choice. Tap water companies do not have large marketing budgets and are usually just expected to provide a service. As Zoos and Aquariums we have a great opportunity to educate people about the greatness of using tap water and how they can help impact the environment positively just by changing their habits of drinking water. Here is what we can do to help:

  • 1)    Offer water bottles for sale and have tap water refill stations located throughout your facility.
  • 2)    Get with your local tap water company and post their yearly testing results as most tap water is held to a higher standard of testing than bottled water.
  • 3)    Remind the guests that only about 5% of plastic water bottles are recycled in the US.
  • 4)    On average bottled water consumes about 2,000 times more energy than tap water.

It is not recommended to just stop selling bottled water at your facility if it generates large amounts revenue but it is recommended to give people choices between bottled water and tap water. If your facility does carry bottled water please offer recycling containers for the empty bottles. So as buyers talk to your facilities and generate a water plan that will work for you and your guests. 

What's hot.... by Missy Rosevear

I always know another year is coming to a close when I see everyone at ZAG Week in Tennessee.  This year’s Smoky Mountain Gift Show, and International Gift Exposition in the Smokies proved to be another excellent show to view new products, meet new vendors, catch up with old friends, and make new friends.  As always, ZAG hosted networking sessions for all members.  This allows members, new and old, to discuss business trends in the industry. 

As always, plush remains a hot seller.  Plush pieces from Petting Zoo, Wishpets, and Purrfections are among top performers.  Aurora remains strong, and buyers are expecting their new lines, Girl Nation and Destination Nation to do well.  Folkmanis remains a strong classic with low minimums and excellent selection.

To encourage our guests to embrace a conservation message, “green” products seem to be gaining more popularity in Zoos and Aquariums.  Stoneage Arts seems to be a favorite, offering a wide range of decorative items at reasonable price points.  Art Studio Company also offers a large selection of handcrafted wool ornaments, handbags, and scarves which are doing very well.

Many buyers report clothing remains strong at more economical price points.  Trendy junior type styles and children’s category remain best sellers.  Vendors such as Eagle Products and Kid-U-Not fill this niche well for the Zoo and Aquarium buyer.  If you’re looking for a higher quality product, and reasonable price point, Leisure Craft Industries, Inc. seems to be a perfect fit.

Jewelry remains a strong seller with an excellent profit margin.  Companies such as Phillips’ Cool Jewels and World End Imports remain excellent sellers, and wonderful people to work with.

Name programs remain strong for many.  At the top of the list, Laser gift, and Scandical remain a crowd favorite.

What are we, if not encouraging children to use their imagination through play?  A large selection of toys is always abounding in every Zoo and Aquarium gift shop.  This year, buyers reported excellent results with Rhode Island Novelty’s Adventure Planet line, and a variety of items from Dillon Imports.  Safari Ltd., products remain a wonderful, educational toy, with many buyers reporting huge success with the Safari Minis.

To all of my friends, I encourage you to reach out to your ZAG representatives for networking, and any questions you may have.  Have a Happy Holidays, and a prosperous New Year!

Let's Talk with Sponsors...Changing Tides-New Products & Trends by Tammy Ward

Buyers have to deal with the changing tides of economies, environmental concerns, consumers who want made in the USA but don’t want the price tag, Directors who want higher profits but also great merchandise that instantly reflects new or changing – or even just newly popular – exhibits, as well as the mercurial state of fashion and taste.  As many ulcers as that gives buyers, our vendors have to decide on these things months before we put on our comfy loafers to browse the show isles.  My question to them this time is:  Have you made any gambles this year and what do think the best bet for upcoming or changing trends will be for 2013?  

Amy Pugh Campos- Salvador Kitti, Owner

There are several trends for 2013 in accessories that I think will sell for zoos and like locations. One, of contemporary Africana, we are going to be seeing a lot of animal prints in updated ways.  A second is small colorful accessories, like tablet cases and large wristlets. I have designed a large wristlet called the Paw pouch, three different sizes in laptop sleeves and an iPad tablet case. I am predicting that these are going to sell well next year. I have tested the product on our on-line shop and sold out quickly. These are useful items and a reasonable price for customers. Customers know from our hang-tag that comes on our products that an American Artist painted the image, it if made from small family-owned and operated small business and a portion of the proceeds are giving back to Wildlife Conservation's helps the items move.

Another hot trend for 2013 is plastic (resin) jewelry. I have made resin jewelry for over 10 year by hand. I mainly like to make necklaces (pendant and cord). I take one of my painting images or a photo and turn it into a pendant. The necklaces are adjustable and sell for $12.00 retail and $4.00 wholesale. They all come with a tag that tells the customer it was handmade by me. Any location that is interested or would like more information and photos can contact me. This is not a product found on our website.

I think that customized products are always a great way to go. Customers love a souvenir from the location that he/she has visited. I am offering free customization through December 20th. I can take any photo and print it on my products. I can also do a name drop on the product or add an outside sewn in tag.

Vicki Prewitt  - v rae art, Owner

I just want to thank ZAG for the marvelous reception your members gave my wildlife art prints.  I am aware that wall art is not ordinary fare in the zoo and aquarium gift venue, so Gatlinburg was a huge roll-the-dice debut for this

Alaska artist.  But your response was phenomenal and affirming.  I am now in that delightfully humble position of figuring out how to efficiently manage supply and demand and still paint.  And yes, I have started a gator, manatee and wild turkey.  I don't know whether wall art is a trend, but I got hundreds of contacts from people who cherish the memory of a zoo or aquarium visit through the personality captured in a wildlife portrait.  The key seems to be presentation, price and ease of transport.  Again, thank you so much for your support and encouragement.  See you again!

Pat Trello – Lord’s International

Lords international and all star wholesale provide various products to the travel and leisure industry including batteries memory cards cameras medicines suntan lotions etc.  With the popularity of smartphones ie iPhone Droid etc there is increasing need for storage and accessories.  We presently provide both SD and compact flash cards in various storage sizes(2 4 8 &16 gyge).
These would be for both digital cameras and camcorders a smaller version referred to as micro SD cards would accommodate smartphones a must for the upcoming season.


Merlo Flores - Pampeana Glass Art & Green Living Tree, Owner

I have invested in products that target lower age groups, in particular boys and girls age 9 – 16. Among those products I make bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. I also make them with a low price in mind, ranging from $2.5 to $5 wholesale. I also redesigned 40% of my designs even those that were selling fine.

Bobby Lee - Kraf and Associates

We took a huge gamble in both advertising and with our puppet line.  We are trying to identify items that are needed in price categories that can fulfill multiple roles. There seemed to us to be a need for cute, quality, and affordably priced puppets.  While puppets are not the biggest seller in the industry, these were capable of sitting on a shelf and looking like a cute stuffed toy.  So, for us, it is an item that can "kill two birds with one stone". Be a cute, quality, affordable stuffed toy and have the bonus value of being a puppet as well.

 Separately from that, we also notice a trend in promotion.  What was old is new again. Many years ago, retailers and locations looked for inexpensive items that could potentially be customized for events.  As the economy worsens, the public is tightening their purse strings. During difficult times in the past, companies and venues would advertise these promotions to encourage attendance. The public is looking for value, and so promotion outside the box is becoming really strong again. We have fielded more requests for small, inexpensive items (under $3.00) that have perceived value to be packaged with attendance.  

Kateva Rosato – Safari Ltd., Social Networking Specialist

This year we made a gamble on making unique, very specific items such as our Wild Safari® Sunfish. The trend we see for 2013 is that the specialty retail industry is becoming increasingly selective toward purchasing items that create a unique experience for the end consumer. We predict consumers will be more discerning when making purchases and examine products with a more critical eye. 

 To prepare for this, buyers should direct their “radar” towards unique products. As manufacturers we strive to create unique, high quality educational products that enrich lives and set us apart. Buyers should identify which products are truly innovative and will capture their customers’ interests.

ZAG Week Events Review by Robin Miller

On Wednesday 11/7/12 the ZAG Mixer was held at Rainforest Adventures. A great time was had by all as the turnout was one of the largest in ZAG history! The animals added to the fun with talking Cockatoo and slinky pythons in rare form.   The attendees were welcomed and able to enjoy the whole attraction and great food and drinks were offered and consumed by all. The evening ended with photo shots and all of ZAG thanks Bill and his wonderful staff for a great evening of fun!  Hopefully it is already in the works to have another mixer at Rainforest Adventures next year; I know the reservations will be the hottest ticket at the Tennessee Shows for 2013 if so.

On Thursday 11/8/2012 was the annual ZAG Dinner and Meeting. This year’s event was held at the Hidden Mountain Resort and was great with a wonderful group of members attending. The food was great and the discussions after dinner were enlightening and fun for all. The evening ended with great door prizes from our wonderful sponsors and everyone seemed to have won something. The meeting announced the new Board Members and announced the new President and Vice President to great applause. Everyone enjoyed the evening and liked leaving the normal Tennessee Show area to see a great Resort. 

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