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Generous displays add to the nostalgic feel at the Troutdale General Store. Customers can test drive logo coffee mugs by having beverages in the mugs at the shop’s café.
astern State Penitentiary, the Philadelphia, Pa., landmark, an early Quaker prison dating back to the early 1800s, is a popular tourist destination getting ready for one of its biggest events of the year, Terror Behind the Walls. The prison, which offers year-round tours in the city's Fairmount section, turns into one of the most infamous haunted sites in the country just in time for Halloween. For the gift shop especially, the influx of crowds means big business.

“Our merchandise operations are fairly unique in that we do not have a standalone gift shop,” explained Eastern State’s Merchandise Manager Julia Jordan. “We do all ticketing, admissions, audio distribution and merchandise sales in a room that is 22 by 22 feet.”

As visitors pass through the enormous iron gates, they’re greeted by a creative selection of gifts at check in. “We have focused on carrying a line of products that are unique, high-quality and vary in price,” said Jordan. “We do not sell things we consider cheap or hokey, like novelty handcuffs.”

Instead, Jordan said customers like discreet logos. “It’s important to reach a broad range of clientele, and I am finding more and more that people are hesitant to own or wear things with a giant logo displayed across the front,” she said.

An exterior view of the Troutdale General Store. Name-dropped products like stickers, apparel, key chains, bookmarks, Christmas ornaments, jam and jellies and luggage tags easily sell out at the shop.

An example is the state logo shirt for women. “Previously, our T-shirts were all unisex sized, and we would often receive complaints that we didn’t carry a more fitted shirt,” said Jordan. “We selected a T-shirt that had a more fitted and softer feel.” This bestseller sports the state logo surrounded by Eastern State’s name. “The finish on the image has been antiqued,” she said. “It's not as bold as the designs on our other shirts.”

Overall, Jordan said price dictates what items sell. “Pens and pencils repeatedly do well because they are inexpensive and useful,” she said. “Al Capone was our most famous inmate, and so merchandise with his image is always a customer favorite. T-shirts are a good seller across the board, and we have a replica key that sells well among children.”

Smooth Sailing

To reach Hollydays on Bainbridge Island just off the coast of Washington State, visitors take a 30-minute ferry from Seattle. Holly Jacobsen, the shop's proprietor, said she always carries plenty of product with the Bainbridge Island name.

“We carry cards, magnets and key chains with pictures of ferries and the island,” explained Jacobsen. “The cards and magnets are the top sellers. It’s a quick take-home gift that is under $5 and is easy to stick in a suitcase.”

Jacobsen displays the items in three different locations in the intimate 750-square-foot shop. “If they miss them in one section,” she said, “they may see them in another.”

Interestingly, it’s not only tourists who purchase the logoed products in the shop, but local islanders. “We love this island and are proud to show it off,” said Jacobsen, who works with Lantern Press on new merchandise designs. She admitted products that sell on the island may not be popular elsewhere. The designs, especially with logos, need to be distinct.

Kids Rule

Deep in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country is an amusement park that’s been welcoming families for generations. The Dutch Wonderland Family Entertainment Complex in Lancaster, Pa., knows that to be successful, it pays to appeal to kids.

“This season,” said Bethany Alwan, senior director of branded operations at Dutch Wonderland, “we saw a lot of popularity in name-dropped and custom products.” In the park’s 6,000-square-foot retail space, one of the summer bestsellers was Funny Bands, bracelets with the Dutch Wonderland name that sell for $6.99. “We sold several thousand in just five weeks,” said Alwan, who admitted visitors look for lower-priced items more now than ever before.

Toys and books for sale at the Troutdale General Store. Even with the tough economy, tourists still want a remembrance of their visit.

“They’re still willing to spend the money to get into the park,” she said. But when they are shopping at the store and among the strategically positioned outdoor carts throughout the venue, they are minding prices. Among the other best-selling logoed products, said Alwan, are poppers, ceramic mugs, dog tags with children’s names on them and even spray mist fans for adults. “Because of the excessive heat, it’s one of our top five sellers this summer,” she said.

The attraction, which also features a waterpark, sells towels and sunscreen with the Dutch Wonderland name and images of the park’s characters. “Our characters are very strong for us,” she said. Kids are greeted with huge displays in the gift shop featuring Princess Brooke and Duke the Dragon, among others. “The Duke plush is our number one item,” she said. “We also sell T-shirts.”

Alwan said items are merchandised in sections that are colorful and draw the children’s attention, along with magnets and drinkware that can be customized with a child’s name and park logo.

Flexibility Counts

Each year tourists hit the slopes and shop for souvenirs. “It’s almost like we have two different stores,” explained Barbara Taylor, buyer for the WY’East Store in Timberline Lodge, Ore., who said the resort caters to skiers in winter and turns into more of a souvenir shop by summer.

Taylor said visitors are always looking for products that sport the shop’s name, as well as locally made products. “Our biggest seller, in terms of volume and dollars, is soft-good T-shirts,” she said, as well as baseball caps, beanies and bandanas. The shop also specializes in logoed spoons, bells, key chains and magnets. In winter, the store operates 2,000 square feet of retail space, while in summer that square footage shrinks to about 1,500.

The resort also operates a gallery year-round in the historic hotel for more upscale purchases. “That’s where we carry almost everything that is name-dropped,” said Taylor, including glassware, photographs and paintings.

Gifts from Columbia Empire farms in Oregon are always bestsellers, said Taylor. “They do jam and jellies and hazelnut products,” she said. Many vendors also provide the shop with displays customized for their products. The same displays that spotlight local foods and postcards might showcase goggles and gloves just in time for ski season.

North by Northwest

In Seattle, Discover Your Northwest has more than 100 shops in the region that attract thousands of visitors each year. “Their purchases focus on higher-quality products with larger price tags,” explained Amanda Hoelzle, the shop's merchandise manager. “Last year, the trend was more about necessity items, like hats, coats and outdoor gear.” But she said lately customers have been attracted to long-lasting, higher-quality goods. “Name-dropped items with better graphics have increased the total sales dramatically,” said Hoelzle, who works closely with local vendors that create customized products. “Customers are always impressed with these local companies using sustainable resources with exceptional graphics and high-quality printed products,” she said. The increased sales in logoed products, like posters, mugs, vests, totes and hiking packs, speak for themselves.

“This year, we have been purchasing more local products,” said Hoelzle, as well as “Made in the USA” brands and organic clothing. They sell well despite higher price tags. “Quality tees, magnets and postcards seem to be what is really engaging Discover Your Northwest visitors,” she said.

Marketing Nostalgia

Once upon a time ago, every small town had its own general store. And in Troutdale, Ore., that’s still true. “Postcards are always the classic souvenir for travelers,” admitted Jodi Smoke, manager of the Troutdale General Store, which sits at the Gateway to the Columbia River Gorge. “Posters are probably a close second.”
The well-stocked sales floor at the Troutdale General Store. Smaller souvenirs are displayed on wood spinner racks for convenience and eye appeal.
Because the store makes visitors feel like they’ve stepped back in time—complete with an old-fashioned ice cream parlor—the items showcasing the Troutdale name are always top sellers. “Our coffee mugs have been a big seller since we added them the first of this year,” explained Smoke, who opened the store in June 2001 with her husband, Terry, who did design and building work and stocked the inventory.

She says name-dropped products like stickers, apparel, key chains, bookmarks, Christmas ornaments, jam and jellies and luggage tags easily sell out. Pretty much anything that is nostalgic attracts customers. On one display, the general store's namesake mugs are merchandised along with local specialty teas and mints in Troutdale tins.

“Even with the slower economy, people still want to take back something to remember their trip by,” she said, admitting price points are more important than ever at the 7,000-square-foot, three-level attraction. “Our store is an early 1900s General Store theme, so we merchandise everything in a nostalgic and visual way,” explained Smoke. “We keep our smaller souvenirs on wood-spinner displays made specifically for that purpose.”

Customers can even test drive merchandise. “Coffee mugs are crossed-merchandised on both our gift and cafe sides of the store,” said Smoke. “We also use our logo mugs for customers to drink coffee in-house.”

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