National Wildlife Refuge System

Boosting Sales in Nature Stores

Friends Forward February 2014

“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society sells an annual holiday ornament featuring a different wildlife species from the refuge each year. Each design is etched by Sanibel Island artist Luc Century.
Credit: “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society

Nature stores are often a significant source of income for Friends groups. Many are trying new tactics to boost sales – and some are turning in results. 

Friends nature stores on property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are addressed in the new Friends policy, but the door remains open to creative merchandising.  The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society Nature Store promoted Ladies Only and Men Only shopping days in December. Store manager Lise Bryant said women made it a social evening with their book clubs and friends. “We served wine and cheese and got people who don’t usually come to the refuge,” says Bryant.  

The men’s event – which served beer and pretzels - was held the day before Christmas Eve to catch last minute shoppers.  But “it didn’t have the same social feel.” Bryant says the store is likely to repeat the event this year for ladies but not men.  

The other holiday moneymaker for the “Ding” Darling Nature Store is a limited edition (250) annual Christmas ornament. The glass etching of a different wildlife species each year is created by a local artist and sells for $42 each in a gift box. Back year ornaments are sold to people trying to complete a collection. Such projects must in some way advance the mission of the refuge through education – featuring local wildlife, providing an information card with the artwork, etc.

Friends of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas increases its nature store discount in December to 10 percent for all visitors and 15 percent for Friends. The store lost its site and all inventory during Hurricane Ike in 2008 but was able to reopen six months later in a donated shed, which is about to be replaced with a new information station and nature store. The actual Anahuac Refuge visitor center was rebuilt on higher ground 18 miles away, enabling the Friends’ second and larger store to draw travelers from the nearby interstate highway.

Store manager Kay Lovelace matches her merchandise to the seasonal interests of visitors. T-shirts sold during spring migration feature the refuge’s six rail species. Locally published books feature local history and wildlife.

The Friends of Anahuac nature store features t-shirts with the refuge’s six rail species just in time for spring migration.
Credit: Friends of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

I Found it on the Web!

Online sales and promotion increasingly factor into a nature store’s success. Christine Kline, who manages the nature store for Friends of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, posts a Facebook picture gallery of merchandise as each new season begins – before Eagle Days in the fall and at the end of February for the spring.  She also posts the seasonal highlights on a “focus wall” just as visitors enter the shop.

Not quite ready to set up online payments for store merchandise?  Friends of Blackwater Refuge in Maryland provides pictures and merchandise details online with an order form that can be printed and mailed. The Blackwater Refuge store also highlight a special page of eagle-related merchandise and notes boldly that, “All proceeds from our store sales go towards the educational and interpretive programs at the Refuge, which include the Osprey and Eagle Cams.”


All sales, in person and online, should also be accompanied by a Friends brochure  – including a store discount for members.  As Kay Lovelace of Anahuac Refuge says, “The nature store is a considerable source of income each year, but the most value is being ambassadors to the 90,000 visitors who come from all over the world.”

Last updated: February 13, 2014