Gift Shops – Eights Ideas to Consider

Great gift shops extend the learning experience in a community or at a natural science or cultural site. They encourage us to invest and take home a symbol of the visit. These are traits that you might consider in planning or revamping your gift store.


gift11) Sell fair trade goods, sustainably crafted, with enduring value. Guests notice whether your sales items support or are in conflict with your organizational values.

2)  Sell experiences that support local or site-based themes. Experiences such as off-site tours, visits to dinosaur digs, and behind the scenes tours can be booked from the shop using an exhibit to pique interest.

3) Stock memorabilia in a broad price range. Items can be as inexpensive as a polished local rock or a unique T-shirt or as expensive as a locally handcrafted item, but every item should be related to the place or message regardless of price.

4) Use the gift store as a learning place that helps guests better understand the stories and mission of the community or organization. Signage and exhibits in a store help people make informed choices about what to buy that might improve their experience at the site or support a local community group that deserves assistance.

5) Support local craftsmen, artisans, and fabricators to build a

Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.

Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.

sense of community related to your natural or cultural history site or heritage community. You can keep art and craft skills alive related to your story and purpose for the benefit of all. Hangtags with names and personal stories of craftsmen who made them help people remember the experience and the message long after their visit.

6) Be sure your bags match your organizational core values. Encouraging wildlife conservation and then requiring each customer to carry away their purchases in plastic bags creates dissonance they will notice. Consistency is important in everything you do.

7) Design your shop around the exit so people walk through it as they leave. Studies of museum stores have shown that sales are ten times as much if people exit through the store when compared to an exit with a side door into the store. If this seems like crass commercialism, then you may not be selling the right stuff.

8) Some portion of the sales items should extend the learning experience. Books, videos, maps, charts and I.D. cards provide people with the next steps in growing their knowledge and passion.


A great store extends the experience for guests in wonderful ways. A poor store that seems designed only to sell “stuff” can degrade a good experience. Make your experience even better by a thoughtful assessment of your store’s power to extend the learning experience.


– Tim Merriman

Message Your Waste

Locations where people throw away items or use bathroom facilities can be great opportunities to send messages that matter. Here are nine thoughts on creative ways we see messaging of varied kinds at facilities the public almost always has to use wherever they go.


  • Art in bathrooms or on recycling centers can help tell your story. Visual art communicates to people of all cultures as a universal
    Tile in bathroom at Xanterra operated lodge in Yellowstone National Park.

    Tile in bathroom at Xanterra operated lodge in Yellowstone National Park.

    language. The art can simply be thematic reminders of where you are and the beauty and key features of the area or it can provide a detailed representation of your theme without words.

  • Explain what happens next to recycled materials or human waste and how that benefits the environment. “We compost your cups and plates to nourish the soil created in our gardens.” OR “This is a composting toilet that converts human waste into soil.”
  • Give the BIG PICTURE such as the total amount of waste daily to be handled and processed. Fun facts can provide an impressive overview that may make stimulate guests to think about the impact they have.
  • Give guests an idea about how they can help immediately – “Get your cup refilled instead of taking a new one.” OR “Refill (or recycle) your water bottle here to reduce the number of plastic bottles that find their way to the landfill.”
  • Add a TAKEHOME message that suggests how people might reduce
    Disney's Animal Kingdom has great messaging in the restrooms.

    Disney’s Animal Kingdom has great messaging in the restrooms.

    their waste stream at home. In the United States, explaining that tap water is tested continually and of very high quality helps people understand that bottled water may not be their best option, both for safety and for reducing the waste stream.

  • Share program messages in bathroom stalls, above urinals, and on bulletin boards on or near bathrooms. We all have need of disposing of human waste several times a day. Having something to read in the bathroom related to the site experience can be both useful and enjoyable.
  • Explain the implications for the community or wildlife if we don’t do better with handling solid waste of all kinds.
  • Take your messaging opportunities a step further by being
    Recycling containers are great locations to extend guest understanding of solid waste implications on the environment.

    Recycling containers are great locations to extend guest understanding of solid waste implications on the environment.

    consistent with the products you offer in your shops. Provide refillable drinking containers instead of bottled water, and paper or biodegradable cornstarch bags instead of one-use plastic bags for sales items. Avoid offering low-quality or inappropriate items that do nothing to support your theme and end up as trash.

  • Be careful that your own maintenance matches your message. Make sure your staff understands that the public follows your lead. If they see staff empty a recycling container into a trash dumpster or water being wasted adjacent to a sign about keeping water clean and using it minimally, they are likely to do the same. It may cause them to question your other messages as well.


Your messages matter more if well planned and executed. If you need help with that, let us know.


– Tim Merriman

Community Funded, A Funding Place

bikelibraryHow do you save a valued community organization that runs out of funds despite the good work it is doing? How do you tell its story to the people who might care the most and want to help? How do you turn crowds with common interests into communities of support? is helping do just that.


The founders describe how it happened: We are a coffee shop owner, a math tutor, an artist, a programmer, a social media gal… all donating our talents and time toward the vision we share. What started as a back patio discussion over beers, became months of “16 Hour Saturdays” in a spare room of a house, which became a team of ten people working in the basement of a coffee shop… which will become a worldwide economic revolution that empowers every human on the planet!


In Fort Collins, Colorado, McCabe Callahan, owner of Mugs coffee shop, and math tutor Blue Hovatter hatched the idea for CommunityFunded and pulled in friends as collaborators. Since 2011, it has involved almost 8,300 people in support of more than 1,000 community projects in 50 states and 176 cities.


Crowd funding is not new. Sites like and are well known to most folks who follow tech trends in fundraising. But the focus of is unique. They have made it easier for good ideas that build community to get needed financial support. They explain: Our tools empower you and your community to come together and create lasting impact on things you care about. Our vision is a world empowered by connected communities.


The Fort Collins Bike Library (FCBL) is a favorite local project for folks in Fort Collins. The library checks out “free” bikes to locals and visitors much like a lending library of books. When the library was out of funds in 2012, ran a campaign to keep it alive and thriving. With 178 supporters and $100,720 in gifts, the FCBL was secure for another year with community support. It was a great test case and proved the power of local funding.


The fees levied by the site are 8.2%, a minimal cost for bringing funds from diverse sources together to do something good for a community. The website clearly identifies the recipients of funds as either 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, “neighbor-in-need” or community building projects. Project Heroes are recognized as organizations or individuals who provide substantial support through the website.


Fundraising of any kind is challenging. The mechanics of promotion, collecting funds and reporting success is made easier through this unique crowd sourcing website. This may be the place for you to start your funding for a community project.


– Tim Merriman

The Bad Guide, A Parody with a Purpose

Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.

Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.

Those of you who have been to guide or trainer training with us may remember Ace Adventura, my alter-ego, the bad guide. I like portraying this rogue interpreter because he provides a chance for guides and trainers to critique guide performance with no concern for hurt feelings. Ace intends to be bad and is. And yet virtually every antic of my performance is something I have seen in practice by a guide at a natural or cultural history site.


I like to do about ten minutes as the bad guide, and then explain as Ace that I have to leave early for an obviously inappropriate rendezvous with a young lady. I take over as myself just two minutes later after improving my appearance. I then attempt to give the “good guide” thematic interpretive talk along the same trail. I always hope the contrast is extreme enough that everyone can see the difference and think about what made the difference.


Just a few but not all of Ace’s transgressions include:

Show up late

Wears sunglasses

Toss a coffee cup on the ground

Dressed as a slob

Terse formal introduction

Does not allow questions

Walks too fast

Talks facing the resource not the audience

Leaves guests facing the sun

Too much scientific jargon

No discernible theme

Takes a personal phone call during the talk

Talks down to guests

Asks for tips

Inappropriate humor

No conclusion

Ends the guided hike early for personal reasons


As the good guide I try to:

Dress appropriately

Have a clear theme throughout

Use questioning effectively

Create conversations with guests

Invite their questions at any time

Use universals and language familiar to guests

Encourage them to think about where we are

Provoke further thought or action

Take care of guests appropriately with weather, speed, etc.


After the ten-minute good guide effort, we go back to the classroom to debrief. I first invite a critique of Ace and that’s usually fun and engaging. Guides or trainers enjoy sharing what he did wrong and there is a lot to talk about.


I also invite the class members to tell what they liked about each talk and critique the “good guide.” We are rarely perfect when doing our best work and listening to thoughtful criticism is good for all of us.


Many trainers have shared photos and stories of their personal “bad guide” character over the years. If you train guides, consider using a bad example as an opportunity to talk about the many things that do not work well. A really good guided activity is so engaging that it is often challenging to critique it. You get engrossed in the experience and forget to analyze why it is so good. A truly terrible performance will make you think about why we need to be good at this.


Happy guiding in the New Year – 2015!


– Tim Merriman