Making the Most of the Holiday Season

Mercy Hospital Gift Shop of Springfield, Missouri has been owned by Mercy Auxiliary since 1958. There have been relocations made over the years as the hospital expanded and the latest renovation in 2008 resulted in the current expanded space. This created the need for a gift shop manager to buy for the shop and manage the volunteers, a position Kym Priest feels blessed to hold. Since the gift shop is auxiliary, all proceeds go back to the hospital. With the combination of yearly fundraisers and proceeds from the gift shop, over $5.6 million dollars has been given back to the hospital since 1958.

As in most hospital gift shops, Mercy Gift Shop offers flowers, candies, balloons and all other staple items.  But customers will also discover so much more than that. “We try to really listen to our customers on what they like or request” says Kym. Beyond the clothing, jewelry, accessories, scarves and collectibles that make up the majority of the products featured, collegiate products has been a surprising success.  “Collegiate is proving to be a growing category. Not only do we sell Missouri schools, but we also have products from Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.”

Collectibles remain an important category for Mercy Gift Shop, but according to Kym, is trending down slightly than in previous years.  “I am noticing that our customers are selecting more practical gifts to give versus collectible items” says Kym. “For us, 2012 has been fairly strong.  Our customers want is to give a gift that has more bang for their buck.”

Walking in the doors of Mercy Gift Shop, customers may find more than they anticipated.  “We hear that customers are surprised by the type of gifts we sell and that they didn’t expect to see all these products in a hospital gift shop” says Kym.  For Kym, she loves hearing that and is consistently looking for new and exciting products to bring into her shop every season.  “Because many of our customers are employees, we see them on a regular basis.  So, I try to keep our merchandise and displays looking fresh and new.”

The volunteers at Mercy Gift Shop hold a very important role.  “Our volunteers are very patient and personify the essence of what it means to volunteer” says Kym.  The volunteers are caring and enjoy interacting with the customers.  According to Kym, there is a big difference between having a paid staff and volunteers.  “They are choosing to spend their time in the gift shop and that’s an important distinction.”

Around this time of year, Kym actively works on setting up the gift shop for Halloween.  “I enjoy putting together really fun displays for Halloween.”  Kym works on incorporating festive decorations, accessories and home décor items along with life size figures.  “We seem to get a lot of attention from our displays and its sparking people’s moods about the fall season” says Kym. Mercy Gift Shop gets their fall and autumn items out as quickly as possible to really increase their chance to sell through it fast.  “After Halloween, we have Christmas out but try to keep a small display for Thanksgiving, because we think it’s important to highlight the holiday.”
The first weekend of November brings a sale event to preview the holiday at Mercy Gift Shop.  “This is the time we bring all our holiday merchandise out and set up our displays in a big way” says Kym. From ornaments and decorations to gifts and tabletop, Kym and her staff create vignettes through the shop and compass a number of artificial trees varying in sizes.  The trees work to showcase their holiday ornaments and other gift items.
Displays are vital to the sales at Mercy Gift Shop.  “We are always re-working our displays and glass cabinets almost every two to three weeks” says Kym.  To complete the tasks for merchandising her store, Kym and even her volunteers all contribute.  “We occasionally have students from our local college come in and help with our displays as well.”  But for Kym, it’s not always the big major display changes that happen, but it includes the little moves or restocking that is important as well.  “The displays are very important to us for they help sell our products without having to always educate our volunteers on the new product.” Visual merchandising is the silent sales person at Mercy Gift Shop.
Marketing for Mercy Gift shop consists of many aspects.  “We utilize the internal hospital announcements to help get the word out about upcoming events, new products or promotions” says Kym.  In addition, Kym sends out an email using SnapRetail to her database of customers at least once a month.  “For our Facebook page, we mostly use this tool to share pictures of displays or new products that have come in.  We’ve received calls from customers who have patients in our hospital looking to purchase a gift they saw on our Facebook page.”  For Kym, Facebook is not their main marketing tool, but it’s still an important component that adds to the overall message.
For Mercy Gift Shop, Kym enjoys trying new things all the time. “Just don’t be afraid to try something new.  It’s a learning experience that can truly be a valuable tool.  You may learn to never do it again or you may learn what to change for next time” says Kym.  For whenever Kym finds herself stuck on a problem and can’t quite find the answer, she makes her way around her store and can even be found working on her displays.  For sometimes, being out among her products and displays has helped to release her creative thoughts and foster new ideas.
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