April 8, 2015

Putting Your Best Cheese Forward

I have an 18 month old daughter, which means that I am desperate for an activity to occupy the hours between about 5 and 7 every weekday evening until she goes to sleep. On one recent evening, as is the case on many other evenings, I took her grocery shopping. After grabbing a few items from our local Trader Joe’s, I popped next door to the Italian grocer to pick up one last ingredient for dinner that night.

It was there, with 25 pounds of toddler crawling up my leg and another 20 of whole milk packed under my arm, that I did something I’m not proud of: I bought an 18 dollar piece of parmesan cheese.

Why did I do that? Would a much cheaper variety have done the trick? Probably! But the 18 dollar cheese was right in front of me, in a basket apart from the hundred or so other cheeses, and in that moment I made an easy calculation: with dinner to cook and trash to take out and this article to write, how much time do I really want to invest in picking out parmesan cheese?

The answer, as it turned out on that particular day, was basically none.

While we don’t all have young children tugging at our shirts, on some days the convenient option becomes the default.

So I ask you: as an industry, are we putting our best cheese forward?

I had the privilege of attending the AZA mid-year conference a few weeks ago in Columbia, SC. The beautiful Riverbanks Zoo & Garden hosted attendees for a perfect zoo day. It was 70 degrees and the beer was free.

Within 30 seconds of passing through the ticket booth, I saw the following:

  1. Palmetto Outpost (stroller rentals, souvenirs, and drinks)

  2. Drink vending machines

  3. Elephant’s Trunk Gift Shop

  4. The Carousel Ice Cream Shop

  5. Ride the Endangered Species Carousel

  6. Feed the Birds

  7. Climb the Wild Adventure Rock Wall

  8. Zip the Zoo (zip-line experience)

  9. Dippin’ Dots

That’s nine concessions and up-charged experiences clustered around the front gate. This is a zoo that is putting its best cheese forward!

Not every zoo or aquarium can or will follow this model, but we can all agree that growing earned revenue channels is a priority, and there is certainly something to be learned from this approach.

Does your visitor need to ride the carousel or buy some ice cream? Do they need the extra guest pass with their membership? Do they need to contribute to your conservation initiatives? No. But by making it really easy, a lot of them will! And that means more cheese for everyone.

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Dr. Frederick Lahodny

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