A gift shop has always been part of the business plan at Nelson Water Gardens. There are several reasons:
1. Not everyone visiting your store is a water gardener. Oftentimes your customers bring “tag-alongs” who simply aren’t interested in water gardening. Your gift shop gives them something to do while their relative or friend indulges in their water garden passion.
2. You will also have out-of-towners who can’t buy plants, fish, liners, or pots but they can pick up a little gift as a memento of their visit.
3. A selection of gifts will remind your customers to pick up a gift for a friend or relative. For example, “Hey look a giraffe! Grandma collects giraffes, her birthday is next month let’s buy this for her!” and “Do you sell cards?” We carry a line of up-market greeting cards for ourselves and our customers. Therefore one trip to your store accomplishes more than just picking up items for the water gardens.
4. Gifts are relatively inexpensive to buy and can always be sold at a discount to get rid of the “duds” that you will inevitably buy. Yet because they are inexpensive and move quickly it keeps an interesting flow of products moving through your store.
5. They allow you to experiment and expand your product mix. For example, we have a customer who makes goat soap. We bought her soaps and now we have a following of people who come just to buy those soaps.
6. Gifts keep you fresh and inspired. I visit the Atlanta Gift Market every year to buy and to see the trends. The displays that you find at Market often give birth to new ideas in your own store.
7. There are some items you will never see at a Big Box Store like the Naked Bee. The Naked Bee is a personal care product company who will not sell to the Big Box stores and that makes their products exclusive. Items such as garden stakes don’t show up in the Big Boxes since most garden stakes require some assembly and Big Boxes simply aren’t set up for their employees to assemble products. (As I was writing this, I sold two stakes to a customer!).
8. Once you get a reputation for having a really cool store you develop a following of customers who come in just to see what you’ve bought for them.
Your gift shop mix takes a bit of experimenting. For example, we have found that mosquito repellent products sell well for us but we can’t sell a picture frame to save our lives.
Here’s a list of gift items that have worked for us and what hasn’t:
**Gift Items That Have Worked For Us**
• Mosquito Repellent Products
• Ceramic Critters – Frogs, Pigs, Birds, Snails, if possible we will drill these and make them into spitters! Cast stone and Resin Pieces did work for us.
• Metal Heron, Flamingo and Egret Statues
• Bird Baths–metal, glass and ceramic
• Garden Stakes
• Garden Plaques–especially anything dragonfly, hummingbird or butterfly.
• Signs with pithy sayings on them.
• Bird Houses and Bird feeders as long as they are decorative rather than functional–serious birders go to specialty birding stores for serious birding supplies.
• Windchimes–year after year windchimes sell!
**Have Not Worked For Us**
• Paper goods—stationery, note pads, fancy post-its and so forth, with the exclusion of the up-market cards I mentioned earlier.
• Personal Care Products with the exception of Naked Bee and Handmade Goat Soap
• Picture Frames
• Candles–worked for a while but the Big Boxes put an end to this category.
Think of yourself the Pond/Water Garden Centers as the crafty mammals weaving and dodging around the lumbering dinosaurs (Big Boxes). A big box has to plan their buys months in advance whereas you can whip in to take advantage of a trend and get out before it dies. For example, tabletop fountains were really hot about 12 years ago but once the Big Boxes started carrying them they killed the category–no worries–we were on to other things by then!
Currently owls are really hot and based on what I observed at the Atlanta Gift Market peacocks are going to be the next big thing.
When it comes to buying I have a few rules (all of which I break on a regular basis):
1. Never buy from a catalog—most of my biggest mistakes were products bought from a picture instead of touching and handling it first.
2. Try to buy a product that has more than one function, for example key keepers are not only decorative but hide keys. This allows customers to justify their purchase.
3. Buy shallow and broad when it comes to gifts instead of deep and narrow as you would for pond products. You want a little bit of a lot of different items rather than a lot of one item.
4. Take risks and experiment, as my husband Rolf says if you don’t make buying mistakes you’re not a good buyer. You can nearly always sell it at 50% off and recover your costs or at the very least give the “duds” to charity.
5. If it is something you know will sell buy deep and backstock.
6. Keep like items grouped together, for example don’t scatter windchimes all over the store.
7. Unpack shipments and put out immediately. Gift items won’t sell if left in a box. Also you will get damages and miscounts. Many vendors require that damages be reported immediately.
You can get good bargains when you shop at market. Volume discounts, pre-paid freight and dating are all negotiable at market! Be cautious at what I call the slat wall stores. They are usually selling the tail end of trends. If you think you can sell it buy it but be careful.
**Big Expensive Stuff**
This past year I have bought a lot of big expensive items. They may not sell right away but they will create a lot of buzz and word- of- mouth advertising. I’ve purchased 9´ tall giraffes (see picture of giraffes inside the store on page 35), a global firepit, Giant Glass Lamps and a wrought iron tricycle. I even purchased a “Flock of Sheep” and we’ve already sold 5! See the baby in the picture; that is our Granddaughter Addie Nelson!
I wrote this while working the cash register. I ran out two gardens stakes, two butterfly plaques, one stained glass butterfly, a birdfeeder shaped like a blue heron and an owl figurine.
Photos by Jose Lopez