What Are the Secrets to a Great Nature Store?

Friends of Necedah’s Karner Korner, WI, promotes Friends membership right along with 
the merchandise.
Friends of Necedah’s Karner Korner, WI, promotes Friends membership right along with the merchandise. Custom caps, magnets and t–shirts are popular sales items.
Credit: Katie Goodwin/USFWS

  • Consider a selection committee to choose books. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, FL, has a committee of five, including a refuge staff person and Friends selected for their knowledge of specific areas such as birding or photography. Merritt Island Wildlife Society, FL, nature store manager Sandee Larson recommends an odd number of committee members& her committee meets monthly.

  • Attend wholesale markets. Friends of Necedah, WI, store manager Audrey Traver looks for new and unique items at the Minneapolis Mart. This year she found relatively high priced but beautifully painted plates and bowls that “made a beautiful display and sold out right away.”

  • Biggest sales may not add up to biggest profits. “Our biggest sales come from books,” says “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society store manager Lise Bryant, “but our biggest profits come from clothing. By using template ideas from several t–shirt companies we create t–shirts that are truly our own.” Larson says autographed copies of popular nature publications are big sellers at Merritt Island Refuge.

  • Move merchandise around the store. Add new items frequently.

  • Talk to people about the refuge even if they are not buying.

  • Offer discounted items and an area where children can read and touch. “We had 200 stainless steel water mugs for two years. When we put them in the clearance cart at a 50 percent discount, they sold immediately,” says Traver.

  • Choose a computerized point of sale system carefully. This provides regular sales records, including times of highest sales so the store can be staffed accordingly.

  • Vary the displays. Friends of Necedah invites different local wildlife artists to display and sell their work each month.

  • Volunteer or paid staff. Friends of Necedah’s Karner Korner is staffed solely with volunteers at least six days a week, year round. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society store has a paid staff member, which Bryant feels is essential to growing the business. In either case, provide adequate training and on–site information (including how to handle sales when the computer goes down).

  • Key questions to ask when opening or expanding a store:

    • Who are your customers (school groups, retirees, tourists, locals, anglers, birders, hunters)?

    • Are your sales seasonal or year round?

    • Which species are bringing people to your refuge?

    • What storage facilities do you have? Balance the benefit of ordering large quantities with the need to keep inventory in line with costs.

    • What insurance will you need to protect the store, the inventory and employees or volunteers?

    • What state laws govern sales by nonprofit organizations (permits, tax forms, etc.)?

    Caps for sale
    Custom caps, magnets and t–shirts are popular sales items.
    Credit: Friends of the Bosque del Apache