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A plush display at Roaring Springs Waterpark. Aquatic-themed plush is a booming category for the store.

aterpark and amusement park gift shops seem to inhabit their own unique corner of the retail world. These shops have a twofold task. While they have to carry the essentials like sunblock, towels and snacks, these often small stores also have to stock souvenirs. This forces store managers and buyers to be creative in how they push their souvenirs.

One way gift stores can highlight their souvenirs is by focusing on what’s already popular at their location. Katie Health, retail buyer at Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park in Destin, Fla., said they carry a lot of T-shirts that are specific to the rides at their park. Their popular “I surfed the Half Pipe” T-shirt refers to their Honolulu Half Pipe ride. Carrying items that are connected to the park also helps Heath’s store compete with the larger area gift stores that are open year-round. Heath draws attention to her souvenirs is by utilizing color and space in her 150-square-foot-store. “Put as much color as you can on the shelves. Make sure the shelves stay full,” she said.

“It’s all about the show. If they (the customer) can’t see it they’re not going to buy it,” Heath said. For example, magnets need to be displayed on a magnetic surface and not sitting in a bin.

Heath encouraged other retail managers and buyers to keep an open mind when they are searching for new items for their store. “Things you might not necessarily like or buy for yourself may be popular at your store,” she said.

Celeste Kommer, manager at Nelis’ Dutch Village in Holland, Mich., said it is the park’s Dutch heritage theme that draws in customers. “People come here specifically for the Dutch heritage items,” Kommer said. Those items include cookies, cheeses and customized wooden shoes. In the summer staff is dressed in traditional costumes, and those costumes are available for children. They also have an online store where many of the items are also available.

A flip flop and water shoe display photographed with a shopper at a Roaring Springs Waterpark store. The purchasing agent for the park recommends staying away from merchandise that is oversaturated in the market.

Researching what sells at other parks can be useful although it doesn’t always follow that what sells in one park will sell in every park. “It’s not always universal,” Roy Powell, retail manager at Raging Waters in Sacramento, Calif., said. “You have to know who you’re selling to.”

One item that sells at Raging Waters is a souvenir bottle that displays the park’s name with loud colors. The other draw is that there are 99 cents refills on the bottle once it is purchased. “They appeal to a lot of people,” Powell said. Like other stores that deal with tight spaces Powell said he needs to be flexible when it comes to how he displays items in his 30-by-30-foot store. “Make sure the colors are good. Make sure the items fit within the overall theme of the park,” he said.

Off-season items can also be big sellers, especially if they are displayed year-round. Suzanne Harvey-Safford, assistant manager at Smuggler’s Notch Resort in South Smuggler’s Notch, Vt., said Christmas ornaments with their logo are constantly displayed on a wall in her shop. Other popular items are travel mugs and magnets. “People want something to remember their trip by,” she said.

Location can be everything and sometimes having a waterpark that is off the beaten track can help a gift shop. Jan Ware, purchasing agent for Roaring Springs Waterpark in Meridian, Idaho, said that plush, specifically aquatic-themed plush, is booming in her store. “Over the last 10 years plush has become a huge part of our business,” Ware said. The plush are displayed on a pyramid-like wooden structure located by the door. “I’m continually re-stocking it,” she said.

Swimsuits on display at a Roaring Springs Waterpark store. The park's retail operation fills a need for such items as board shorts and sundresses in an area where local residents are not near any large bodies of water.

Since the park is not close to any large bodies of water and the majority of her customers are local people, Ware uses that to give her 500-square-foot store an edge over the traditional retail store in her areas. Her gift store sells board shorts and sundresses. Her T-shirt wall filled with folded and hanging T-shirts also draws customers. “It gets their attention.”

Her advice for other gifts shops looking to sell more souvenirs? “Focus on your market. Stay away from items that may have already oversaturated the market.”

As with Ware, Alejandra Salazar, revenue manager for Hurricane Alley Waterpark in Corpus Christie, Texas, said that most of their customers are locals. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for souvenirs. Salazar said the popular souvenirs are the Big Squirt squirt guns that carry the park’s logo. It helps that two days a week on Family Day the park promotes the squirt gun by allowing kids to try them out. “It only takes one kid to play with it,” she said

A shopper looks at swimsuits at a Roaring Springs Waterpark gift store. Waterpark retail operations can fill a need for the latest in water and beach fashion.

Other popular souvenir items are key chains with the park’s logo. “They sell themselves,” Salazar said, adding that they are displayed in a rotating case. Many of the souvenir items are located by the cash register making it hard for customers to miss. “It’s right there for them to grab,” she said






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