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With a few bucks at stake from every visitor, not to mention the added marketing value of branded goods, your park’s retail offering should play an important role in your pre-season planning. Here Park World quizzes a handful of operators and suppliers about their merchandise offering.
Our panel is as follows: Will Koch (WK) is the president of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana, which entertains over 1 million guests a year. Ralf D Stumpf (RD) is director of shopping at Europa-Park, Germany’s largest amusement park and resort, attracting over 4 million annual guests. Jim Chapman (JC) is sales manager with Family Fun Companies in Illinois, which operates three parks/FECs in the Chicago area including Enchanted Castle and Haunted Trails, as well as manufacturing its own redemption machines. Melanie Simons (MS) is commercial director of Imagic in the Netherlands, an established producer of themed merchandise concepts whose clients include Efteling, Phantasialand and the Vienna Prater. Ed Bush (EB) represents Jersey Shore Imports in New Jersey, which sells sports jerseys and other apparel to the amusement industry throughout North America.
What will park guests spend on merchandise in relation to food and beverage?
WK: At Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, total spending for merchandise and games against spending for F&B (including catered picnics) is 73.8%.
RS: Due to the fact that German visitors usually spend more time and money for lunch or dinner than, for example, Americans, the amount which is spent on merchandise is a bit less than that spent on F&B.
Have you noticed a drop off in merchandise sales in recent years due to the economy?
WK: Yes, we have. In 2009, total games and merchandise per-caps were down 4.5% in comparison to 2008.
RS: Actually, we had even more visitors at our park compared to previous years, and we noticed stable and even increasing per capita consumption in our merchandise section.
What mix do you offer of branded and non-branded goods?
WK: Most of our T-shirts and a significant portion of our hat sales are park logo-ed. We sell a fair amount of park logo-ed pick up souvenir items such as magnets, mugs and glassware. On the other hand, non-logo-ed clothes and convenience items such as swimsuits, flip flops, sandals and sunglasses make up a significant part of our sales too. I’d guess that logo-ed merchandise sales would represent somewhere around 50% of our total volume.
RS: One-third of our turnover is based on non-branded goods, one third on branded merchandise and one third on sweets and candy.
Should parks develop their own characters to encourage better merchandise sales?
MS: We feel that custom made characters are part of a park’s identity. When only standard merchandise is sold, the competition is much stronger. This means price will also be an issue. Fortunately, we specialise in small quantities, which makes it possible for parks to have their own character and create stronger branding to distinguish themselves from other parks in the market.
How early should parks consider associated merchandise when planning a new attraction?
MS: We prefer to be involved at the very beginning of a project. We always look to be creative with merchandise, and often these creative thoughts can be integrated into the theming of the attraction itself. Often parks build a shop near the attraction, but forget that the shop needs to be stocked! Themed merchandise takes time to develop. Due to lack of time, standard items or badly themed merchandise can make their way into the shop. This degrades the experience and the brand as the merchandise represents the park and will be taken home.
RS: There’s a very important planning issue here. We start to think about our merchandise as soon as possible. Once the theming of the attraction or themed area is defined, we start our planning in order to avoid problems regarding the production and delivery of goods, which usually take longer than “regular” items.
MS: For themed merchandise it is important to have enough stock to last the season. When it is sold out, reproduction time is often too long to cover the months without stock, especially in high-season. However, we prefer not to stock huge quantities that will last for years. It gets messy towards the end when no one is enthusiastic to buy a particular product.
What are your best sellers?
MS: The products that sell the best at the moment are the same products that sold well for the last 10 years! These include double wall tumblers, soft PVC keychains and snow globes. More and more parks are also realising that merchandise will bring revenue not only through the shops, but also in restaurants. This includes the sale of items such as melamine plates, conical drinking cups with straws and shaped cups for ice cream.
RS: Our all-time best sellers are plush toys and on-ride photos, offered at the exit of various attractions.
WK: The best sellers are our logo-ed T-shirts, however sales of swimwear, sunglasses and footwear at our Splashin’ Safari waterpark continue to amaze me. Also toys and jewellery
JC: Our best sellers in our redemption counters include Play Dough, board games like Monopoly, Star Wars and Chutes & Ladders, plus colouring books, clocks and lawn ornaments. Our candy counters are also tremendous earners.
How important is it to stock items that are not available in the “real world”?
JC: By having product they do not see in the stores, your customers do not know the costs, and we can have better margins. We use over 30 suppliers to fill our counters and bring in items that they have not seen before to keep them coming back time and time again. As for games, it used to be that you were happy to get your costs out of the prizes. Times have changed. We typically see from 2 to 2.5 times mark up on our prizes.
How important is the quality of goods?
ER: Very important. If you want your customers to keep coming back.
JC: Customers know junk when they see it. Our guests in Chicago are very knowledgeable and will not stand for poor quality merchandise. Besides, when they leave your park if the product is poor quality and breaks on the way home, do you think they will come back and spend more money at your park?
MS: The quality of the merchandise reflects the quality of the park. We never cut down on quality, and source the finest materials. Besides quality, it is also important that the product is produced according to the regulations of the country where it will be sold, due to the safety of kids who play or use the product. Today more and more parks are also looking for items that are made of “honest” materials, since the environment has become a major issue.
RS: Ensuring and offering high quality products to our guests is part of our standards at Europa-Park. In the beginning, the clothing in our shops had merely a merchandise design. Now we have also added items in very fashionable and high-class designs. For example, last year we opened the Fallegur fashion and lifestyle store in the Icelandic themed area of the park. With regards to price, we have to consider the structure of our guests, which includes all income classes. Therefore, it is highly important to offer a good mix of different items in different price ranges.
WK: Guests expect that the quality of the merchandise will be appropriate to the price point, in relation to what they see outside Holiday World. On logo-ed items, price is not as important.
How important is the retail environment, and should you theme it?
RS: The experience of a visit to the themed areas of Europa-Park has to continue in our shops. We place a lot of importance on authentic and detailed theming in order to be able to transport our guests to the respective “country” they are in. And of course, our shopping experience should also have an international touch.
MS: I agree, the retail environment is part of the experience. This can be through theming, but also space planning, routing, shelf presentation and the knowledge and friendliness of the shop staff. The better the total presentation, the better the sales.
WK: I tend to believe that creating a visually interesting retail environment helps to build sales. Theming can certainly be a big part of that, however if I had to rate retail environment and theming in relation to merchandise selection and pricing, I’d say selection and pricing wins by 2 to 1.
ER: While I am not big on theming areas, at times it can be useful. Ultimately, I would rather have products that customers want rather than just trying to theme an area at the expense of everything else.
What will be the hot items of 2010?
ER: With the World Cup this summer, our soccer jerseys seem to be the hit of the year so far. There doesn’t seem to be too much else out there, just a few repeat plush items like Pokemon and monkey in the banana.
MS: This year we notice that parks are very interested in stationary items like sticker sets, colouring books, reading books etc. Currently parents are worried that kids only play with their computers and are therefore searching for alternative activities to stimulate them.
This season Holiday World is launching a new online “HoliShop,” following guests requests to add a shop to its website.
Park staff and their families acted as models for the shop, where items include souvenir shirts, caps, mugs and even a “Fudge of the Month” from Mrs Klaus’s Kitchen. Holiday World fans can also pick up a copy of Pat Koch’s pictorial history of the park, including a personal hand-written message.
“The jury is out as to how well it [the Holishop] will do,” says park president and CEO, Will Koch, who can be seen on the site serving up a “mug shot” to illustrate the park’s “Ride A Coaster” coffee mug.
Europa-Park also offers merchandise sales online, where the current top seller is a souvenir CD from Terenzi Horror Nights.
“With the online shop guests can purchase items they saw and liked at Europa-Park after their visit,” highlights director of shopping, Ralf D Stumpf. “Visitors to our website can also purchase gifts if they are located far away from the park.
Pictured below: An Imagic designer at work creating theme park characters