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t is a given that a zoo or aquarium gift shop will offer an array of apparel for guests to choose from, but what sizes and colors to stock is more of a science than one would think. It requires thoughtful planning on the part of the buyer to ensure that the right sizes are available and that a selection of attractive colors are on hand for the customers to purchase.

Karen Bell, gift shop manager at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Fla., photographed with a T-shirt display. “Our best-selling sizes are adult large and extra large. In the Florida heat, people like to wear comfortable, loose-fitting garments to keep cool. Also, many people get their shirts a bit larger so they can be worn as beach cover-ups,” Bell said.

At the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Fla., Gift Shop Manager Karen Bell considers the warm climate in Florida when purchasing items for the shop. “Our best-selling sizes are adult large and extra large. In the Florida heat, people like to wear comfortable, loose-fitting garments to keep cool. Also, many people get their shirts a bit larger so they can be worn as beach cover-ups,” Bell said. To keep up with demand, Bell tracks inventory using the QuickBooks Point of Sale system. “It is really simple,” said Bell. “With this system, I run a reminder list on a weekly basis and I can see which merchandise has reached its reorder point.”

With a simple walk through the 1,200-square-foot store, it is easy for Bell to see which colors are the most popular. “Just a glance at the merchandise can show me which colors are disappearing the fastest. Also, by working the floor and interacting with the customers, I learn from them which colors are in demand.”

Beach colors, such as coral, pink, turquoise and white are the top choices this season at Bell's shop. “Everyone likes cool, fun, tropical colors here. What we do not do well with is yellow and some shades of orange. The ocean colors just seem to do better,” said Bell, whose store brings in $800,000 annually.

Robin Miller, retail manager at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., said larger shirts do well in her shop. “For adults, we sell a lot of large and extra large. Adults like the larger shirts for themselves and they tend to buy larger for kids, as well, to ensure they have something that will fit,” said Miller. Like Bell, Miller uses an inventory system to keep track of sales, so she knows when it is time to reorder certain styles and sizes.

Volunteer Education Docent Alex Zapata of the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, photographed with an apparel display. The shop’s manager tracks inventory using the QuickBooks Point of Sale system.

For the 2012 season, Miller said that bright, jewel tones have been very popular. “I am not sure why these colors are so popular, but purple, turquoise, greens and pinks have been selling really well,” said Miller. When deciding what colors to stock in the shop, Miller makes a decision based on what is available to her and also considers what colors will look best with each design.

Apparel in gender-neutral colors, like royal blue and jade, are top-sellers at Big Cat Rescue's gift shop, in Tampa, Fla. “Aside from these gender-neutral colors, bright colors tend to sell well here, as well, so I bring in many of those. Also, black shirts sell well, because we have a popular line of shirts with cat's eyes on them, and they look best on black,” said Honey Wayton, gift buyer. “I am not sure why, but we do not ever seem to do well with certain shades of gray, white and we also once had a pistachio-colored shirt that did not move, even though other shirts with the same design sold really well,” Wayton said.

Shirts from medium to extra large are popular sellers at Wayton's 1,000-square-foot shop. Orders are placed on a quarterly basis, and prior sales indicate which sizes need replenishing.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens, one of the oldest attractions in Florida, is known for their free-roaming flamingos. Thus, one of the most popular shirts in the gift shop is the flamingo shirt, which features a pink flamingo on a black or blue shirt. “This shirt is only available in those two colors and the black is extremely popular. The blue one, however, does not sell well,” said Retail Buyer Linda Rogers. Most of the shirts in the shop are neutral in color, and in addition to the top-selling black flamingo shirt, olive shirts are popular, because it is an attractive, appealing color. “One color that historically does not do well here is bright orange,” Rogers said. As far as sizing, Rogers finds that women shoppers generally buy medium shirts and men stick with extra large.

Apparel is often purchased as a gift for someone else, and without knowing what size someone wears, it is best to buy a size that would be a safe bet. “Medium and large fit the average customer, so these tend to be the sizes of choice for our customers,” said Arlene Windess, retail buyer for Jungle Island in Miami, Fla. To keep up with demand, Windess puts orders together based on the rate of sale for the same months during the prior year. “If our customer count is trending upwards, I adjust accordingly,” Windess said.

When it comes to what colors to stock, Windess always carries the same basic colors, but adds a few new colors, based on the Fashion Color Report, to perk up the assortment. “Orange and pale blue have both been big hits this season, because they are fresh and summery looking,” Windess remarked. The Jungle Island gift shop spans 2,000 square feet.

Shown, from left to right, Karen Bell, Barbara Tierney and Melody Misiaszek, of the Loggerhead Marine Life Center. “Everyone likes cool, fun, tropical colors here. What we do not do well with is yellow and some shades of orange. The ocean colors just seem to do better,” Bell said.

While T-shirts are available at Monkey Jungle's 2,500-square-foot gift shop, in Miami, Fla., they are not in high demand, according to President Sharon Dumond. Because of the low-demand for shirts, Dumond does not find it difficult to keep the store stocked with an appropriate amount of shirts. However, for those customers who do prefer apparel, small and medium are the most popular shirt sizes for adults.

Pantone's color report helps Dumond make educated decisions about what colors to order. “I take a look at the colors that are predicted to be most popular for each season and order accordingly,” said Dumond. That being said, white tends to be the most sought after color for shirts at the shop, which Dumond attributed to the design on the shirts. “Black tends to not do well here, because it is not a kid-friendly color.”

Because the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, in Naples, Fla., is a nature center, Retail Buyer Mary Short feels that it is important to stock apparel in natural colors. However, Short does try to follow trends, at least a little bit. “For 2012, we tried a few styles in neon, which did well. I do like to try different colors from time to time. However, yellow is one color that never does well here,” Short said.

Large shirts sell the most at the 1,700-square-foot shop, but popular sizes do tend to vary, depending on the style of the shirt, according to Short. To ensure that the store is stocked with appropriate sizes, Short relies on a gut feeling. “I just go with what I think I will need, based on the style of the shirt,” said Short. “If I do need to do a reorder, I just phone it in and try to get a time commitment.” Short's shop averages $350,000 in annual sales.






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