Interpreting the Gift Shop

Most of our sites have a gift shop attached to them. It might be a rack of postcards, books, and knick-knacks, or it could be stocked with local crafts, foodstuffs, and native plants. Whatever we sell, though, let’s remember that first and foremost, we are interpreters, and interpreting our giftshop is just as important as interpreting our resource.

Consider a chocolate bar. Chocolate, of course, comes from the fruit of the cocoa plant, grown in the tropical parts of the world. The cocoa pods are allowed to mature and are taken to a plant for processing. Most of the time, the chocolate-making process (unfortunately) takes place far from the cocoa plantation, and the finished product is shipped to the consumer.


Cocoa pods in Madagascar await processing at one of Africa's only chocolate factories. Photo: Madecasse

Telling the story of the chocolate bar makes it a much more meaningful purchase than simply a candy bar in a wrapper. Knowing even more, such as the method of production (shade-grown? organic? single-origin?) and the labour practices of the company (fair trade? co-op?), can raise the price significantly and turn a product into a premium item.

Think about Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s. Your local grocery co-op. Earth Fare. All of these places charge higher prices because consumers are willing to pay a higher price for what is perceived to be a ‘better’ or ‘more responsible’ product, even if the chocolate at Sav-A-Lot is produced the same way. All of these stores interpret their goods. They connect their goods to consumers, with tangibles (tasty! organic!) and intangibles (fair trade! slave-free!). Next time you set out stock in your gift shop, remember that interpretation doesn’t have to stop at the door.

Interpretation. It sells.

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