How to Create a Water Discovery Kit for Your Tour

Creeks and rivers are amazing storytellers — they can teach, captivate, and inspire curious minds.

I always try to include creeks and rivers into the larger interpretive theme of a tour, especially when these waterways can provoke people into broadening their horizons.

It’s always fun to open up an itenary so trip participants can look under rocks, get their feet wet, observe critters in the water — to touch, hear, smell, see, and learn more about the story of a place.

To help with bringing this story to life I bring along a simple “Water Discovery Kit.” The kit can be made at home, packs well, and weighs just a few pounds. It includes:

  • 1 Gallon-sized Plastic Bucket with Handle
  • 1 10x Microscope
  • 2 Dip Nets
  • 1 Big Pipette (medium-sized turkey baster)
  • 1 Thermometer
  • 3 Magnification Loops
  • 1 Set of Laminated Instructions
  • 1 Plankton Net with ziplock
  • 6 Small Pipettes
  • 3 Round clear observation dishes
  • 3 Rectangular clear observation dishes
  • 3 Rectangular observations plates
  • 1 Funnel
  • 1 Gallon-sized ziplock
  • 1 Secchi dish (8-inch)

Everything on the list fits inside the bucket, except for the Secchi disk which I carry separately.  The kit can be used by elementary kids on up, though it works best when various generations (grandparents and grandchildren) are involved.

Seven Tour Director Survival Tips for Dealing with “Vegan Issues”

Shown: Two vegan “small plate” dishes enjoyed at an Indian restaurant while on tour; Gobi Manchurian – fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, and Samosa Chaat – two savory bean and pea pastries topped with a garbanzo bean curry and house chutneys.

As a trip leader, I love creating meaningful experiences for participants — especially through food. I’m also a vegan who loves to travel and engage new places through local tastes. For me, tour directing and eating vegan are complimentary flavors.

That’s why I’m surprised when fellow tour directors express derision towards vegans. These sentiments were summed up at a recent guide training when a group presented their hot topics titled, VEGAN ISSUES.  The frustration was perplexing because to be blunt, vegans aren’t problems on tour. As with any interpretive travel what is required is a better knowledge of the audience. Here’s seven survival tips for tour directors dealing with “vegan issues.”

1. Why are vegans, vegan? And, what is plant-based?
Vegans eat the same food as everyone else, except it’s not made from animals. Vegans value compassion. They seek to eliminate, as much as practical and possible, the use of and exploitation of animals in their everyday lives.  They understand the most immediate way to enact compassion is to control what they put on their plate. Another group to know about are travelers who are plant-based; they eat plants solely for dietary or health benefits. Veganism takes plant-based a step further and includes the ethical component.

2. Why are vegans quiet?
Vegans are often stereotyped as being quiet. Some can be. Many vegans tend to be reserved when traveling because they don’t want to be derided. Here are some actual comments by professional-level tour directors about vegans:

Why don’t they eat like normal people?
If they can’t eat normal food on a tour, they should be made to eat what the rest eat!”
“They seem smart, too bad they can’t figure out what they’re going to eat this week.

Is it any wonder a traveler might be quiet when a tour director’s personal biases (yes, biases) are seeping into other communications? Trip leaders need to understand that everyone on their tour want to eat good-tasting, wholesome food. Vegans just want food without the animal or the hidden animal products.

3. Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?
I often hear trip leaders say, “Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?” At home, all of us can control ingredients, quantity, salt, oils, etc., but this can be very difficult for anyone during a week-long tour. Vegans have learned to be pros when it comes to ordering food selectively at restaurants to avoid hidden animal products, substituting side dishes, or supplementing their travel meals by visiting the store.  However, on tour, most of the pre-selected restaurants on an itinerary are solidly meat-centric.  When confronted with zero choices many vegan travelers just won’t eat at all, others might order various side dishes to create something of a meal. Others might make a “what causes the least harm” decision. A few might substitute fish, though these are usually travelers who need to eat something (anything) at each meal to regulate blood sugar or taking medicine with food.

4. Why don’t they eat the special vegan meal?
The biggest frustration I’ve heard from tour directors is that the specially prepared vegan meal rarely gets eaten. I can say without hesitation – 95% of the specially prepared
vegan meals on tours are notoriously bad. These vegan meals might be made by well-intentioned kitchens, but staff often have no clue what vegans eat and the results can range from lackluster to frightful. If someone on tour is skipping meals, their basic needs are not being met.

5. What about vegans eating alternative meat on tours?
The target audience for alternative meat products aren’t plant-eaters, the target audience are meat-eaters who want to reduce the amount of meat they are eating. To many vegans, alternative meat is junk food and should be eaten sparingly.

6. What do vegans eat?
Vegan food can be as diverse as a fresh salad or pizza. I like food that is unrefined or minimally refined and excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, and eggs.  Vegan food can include apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash, barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter, or even rice, soy, oat, almond, and cashew milk. The entire vegetable and fruit aisle at the store is vegan. A good part of the grain aisle and some of the bread aisle is vegan. Additionally, there are plant-based mayonnaise, cheeses and other sandwich condiments that taste like traditional products and are cost-effective. On the more recreation and social side, most french fries and beer are vegan. There’s no shortage of plant-based foods or creative ways to eat vegan while on tour, here’s a few:

Shown: Some of the vegan meals, desserts, and snacks served on the tours and trips I’ve led.

7. How should I talk with a vegan on my tour?
Have a conversation with them as you would with anyone on your trip. Remember, vegans want to eat delicious food too, if they have a question about food it’s originating from a place of compassion. Use compassion as a starting point in your own conversation with trip travelers. I try to set this tone in my pre-trip welcome letter, I explain that while our trip has made efforts to eat at places that offer a variety of foods some of the menus can be limited. I add that we will have an opportunity to stop by a local grocery store so all participants can supplement food, and grab something fresh and healthy if needed. At times when travelers explore a town on their own, I always find a local restaurant that offers a selection of vegan options and invite others to join me. I also communicate with the office about locating restaurants that are generally healthier. During the tour, I speak with the kitchen to see about suggestions if something can be substituted.

On a tour, everyone can experience new places through local tastes. It does requires some up-front communication with travelers about what to expect on a trip. It also requires some greater knowledge of your audience.

Note: The list of foods on #6 comes from Forks Over Knives

When Travel Experiences Are Not in Context, Guests Don’t Remember

In recent years, adventure learning companies have focused on quantity versus quality in regards to their programs. As a trip leader, I’ve seen it too often.

In a rush to increase destination offerings, for a wider audience, many of the experiences are often not in context with the purpose of the trip. The result is that after a week-long program the guest remembers they participated in some fun things, but are not exactly sure how they grew as a person. If they cannot successfully answer this, then how is your company unique? And, why should they return?

An easy way to help guests grow, and nurture them for joining future trips, is to keep all of the travel program’s experiences in context with a big idea. In short, what is the big idea you want your guests/participants to remember? Think of a big idea as a unifying theme for the trip. All of the site visits, excursions, and explorations on the trip should gravitate around this big idea.

It is very easy to build a program around generic information, which is what most tourism companies do (see photo below). It is more challenging to design an adventure learning travel program around a unifying message where all of the experiences (walks, food, guest speakers, site visits, etc) are in context with a big idea. When travel experiences are in context, guests remember they had fun, but also their discoveries.

The Essential Ingredient for Designing a Tour is Understanding Its Theme

All program managers at learning/adventure travel companies wrestle with how best to design quality programs. The most common approach is to think of a subject or a destination (as fire, central Oregon, or Crater Lake) and build the program around it. This seems simple enough, yet themes are a continuous source of frustration, ambiguity, and pain. I’ve seen friends and co-workers, who are solid program managers, struggle with themes that never effectively come together into a cohesive whole.

The problem arises because themes are thought of as nouns. While they do include destinations and things, the essential ingredient for designing a theme is to think of it as a verb.

Some examples:
A multi-day program built around a topic of “fire” now becomes the theme, “Discover how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (sub-themes include: homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).”

A week-long bus/hiking/rafting program with a topic of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon” transforms into a theme of, “Exploring Oregon’s dynamic geology allows for first-hand discovery and connection to one of the most fundamental forces of nature – in both its creative and destructive roles.”

An active hiking program with a topic of “Exploring Crater Lake” evolves into the theme, “Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty, seasonal weather extremes, and distinguishing natural and cultural features, combined with a variety of recreational opportunities, provide visitors with abundant chances for discovery, reflection, and inspiration.”

Another way of thinking about a theme is to answer, “What is the big idea I want participants to remember?” Creating a theme in this light focus all of the activities and interactions around a single idea; it helps the program designer and the trip leaders focus on what is relevant while bringing the program to life.

By Playing with Fire We Appreciate How It Forges Every Aspect of Life

I’m happy to have been the leader on another great Road Scholar trip. This program introduced grandparents and grandkids to how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 28 | Type: Field Trips & Motorcoach

“Erupting volcanoes. Blacksmithing. Outdoor cooking. Glassblowing. A fire has countless uses, incarnations, and has been paramount to our way of life since the beginning of our time. You and your grandchild will spark your desire to safely learn more about fire through interactive experiences with professional firefighters, survivalists, welders and fire dancers. Discover how fire can create a delicate piece of artwork, as well as destroy entire forests and cities. Learn how to survive in the remote wilderness, and discover the inner workings of a city’s fire engine. Together with your grandchild, finally have the chance to play with fire as you discover why nothing can hold a candle to this learning adventure.”

Using Tilden’s Interpretive Principles to Strengthen the Park Store

As a nonprofit marketer, you are focused on outreach, communications, engagement, and development activities. These actions are often intertwined through the products you produce: fundraising emails, education events, social activities, printed communications, signage etc. But, what binds all of this together in the mind of your audience? Is there a way to strengthen this messaging with emotional and intellectual connections? How do you make your organization’s message meaningful?

This can be accomplished with the help of a discipline called interpretation. Those who practice interpretation are “involved in the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage resources in settings such as parks, zoos, museums, nature centers, aquaria, botanical gardens, and historical sites.” Reference: National Association for Interpretation.

First, some definitions:

Marketing is about helping your audience to succeed in what they want to do and nurturing them so that when they are ready they think of your organization.

Interpretation is a “mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource. ”

So, how can marketing be strengthened with interpretation? Here are six of the original principles of interpretation developed by Freeman Tilden (shown above). To give these a more modern presence I have used the principles as stated in Beck and Cables,’ Interpretation for the 21st Century. Below the principles are my own observations about marketing. Also, I am using a general definition of “product” to be anything you might produce within your nonprofit, this could include: fundraising activities, events, social activities, communications, and signage, even items sold in your store etc.

Principle 1: To spark an interest, interpreters must relate the subject to the lives of the people in their audience.

  • Do the benefits of the product support personal discovery or a discovery situation?
  • Does the product allow the visitor to succeed by gaining new insights / or see previously known information in new ways?
  • Does the product relate to the experiences of the park visitor?

Principle 2: The purpose of interpretation goes beyond providing information to reveal deeper meaning and truth.

  • Does the product provide a quality opportunity for the visitor to support your organization’s programs?
  • Does the product support a connection between the tangible and intangible elements of an interpretive site?
  • Does the product reinforce information about the site in meaningful ways?

Principle 3: The interpretive presentation–as a work of art– should be designed as a story that informs, entertains and enlightens.

  • Can the product be localized with interpretive text, or customized to creatively support a park theme?
  • Is the product compelling as well as providing a vehicle for park themes?
  • Is the product in context with the site or program themes?

Principle 4: The purpose of the interpretive story is to inspire and to provoke people to broaden their horizons.

  • Does the product support awareness, understanding, or enthusiasm for the resource (your organization, local green space, etc)?
  • Can the product be used to make information meaningful?
  • Can the product support a behavioral change or reinforce existing behavior?
  • Does the product allow for experiential learning?

Principle 5: Interpretation should present a complete theme or thesis and address the whole person.

  • Is the product an extension of the unifying park or program theme?
  • Was the product produced with materials, or methods that support park themes?
  • Does the product activate the senses?
  • Does the product relate the visitor to current or future park activities?
  • Does the product meet tangible needs, emotional needs or transformational needs of visitors?

Principle 6: Interpretation for children, teenagers, and seniors-when these comprise uniform groups-should follow fundamentally different approaches.

If needed, can the product be tailored to support a specific age group or a range of age groups?
To learn more about Interpretation visit the National Association for Interpretation online, www.interpnet.com. The image of Tilden is sourced from the National Park Service.

How Strong Are Your Nonprofit’s Products?

A nonprofit should not just sell products… it should market benefits.

During a visit to a National Park last summer I overheard a family refer to the products in the park store as ‘weak.’ Looking at the shelves filled with plastic mementos and affixed logo items I knew what they meant, but still, I politely inquired.

The family had attempted to find products that were emotionally meaningful instead they found trinkets. Such products did not represent the visit they had just experienced. Over the past several days the family had shared a rare extended weekend together in one of America’s most beautiful locations. During their last hour in the park, they wanted to buy something that helped ‘connect’ them to their enjoyable family experience, but they found nothing that expressed a strong emotional connection. Their final moments in the park would end on a lackluster note. Unfortunately, many park or nature-related stores do not understand why customers buy.

Customers Buy Benefits

Park store customers seek benefits. Another way of saying this: customers do not buy products; they buy the benefits they receive from the products. Examples:

Kids do not buy plush animal toys; they buy companionship.

People do not buy books; they buy entertainment/knowledge.

People do not buy a whistle; they buy safety.

People do not buy annual park passes; they buy convenience.

People do not buy jackets; they buy warmth.

All products in the nature store, or at least every product group, needs to be benefit-assessed. The next step is to determine how these benefits add-up to strengthen the store, extend interpretive programs and benefit customers. A benefit assessment can be classified as weak, medium or strong.

WEAK benefit products share two criteria:

The primary purpose is single-use and usually superficial

  1. The function is only in appearance

Example: Have you ever been to a park concessionaire and seen an entire shelf of whiskey shot glasses? Each is emblazoned with the name of a different park landmark. While a glass might be used for drinking its basic purpose is a single-use item (decoration). Other examples of weak products are postcards, magnets, stickers, posters, t-shirts, and clothing items.

Weak benefit products are generally impulse-buy items that do not engage the user beyond the act of purchasing it. Too many weak items in your store (greater than 50% of inventory) do not serve the mission for your organization.

Are weak benefit products bad? No, they serve a purpose, but do you want your store to offer only products that offer only a single benefit? You can do better. A targeted question to ask: How could this product help a person to better understand my resource (park, natural area etc.)? How can it help them to be creative?

Your job as a marketer is to find how you can differentiate your product (natural area, park, watershed, historical site etc.) within the mind of the customer. You need to provide more products that are medium and strong.

MEDIUM benefit products share three criteria:

  1. Can provide more than one use
  2. Function is limited
  3. Allows visitor to convey an understanding of the local resource

Example: Water bottles, walking sticks, local guidebooks, plush animal puppets

The hallmark of a medium strength product is an ability to engage the user and better appreciate the local resource, park, natural area etc.

STRONG benefit products share four criteria:

  1. Offers potential for multiple uses
  2. Provides an interactive function other than appearance
  3. Allows visitors to convey a fuller appreciation of the local resource
  4. Can be used to further interpretation of other parks and resources

Examples: Regional/park guidebooks, maps, field guides, and items that support interpretive goals like a high-quality backpack (like an old GlyphGuy manufactured backpack) is a strong product. A properly marketed backpack could be utilized in children’s programs, used as a ‘checkout pack’ which allows families to check out backpacks from the nature store to use while exploring the park when they are returned the family is offered a significant discount at the nature store if they choose to purchase one.

The sign of a strong product is its ability to alter perceptions and continually helps the user to be creative.

Strive for a weak product inventory of 40%, and a combined medium/strong inventory of 60%. Remember, products do not sell themselves, the benefits of the product do.

A Discovery of 55 Banana Slugs in 70 feet at Point Reyes

blog-20120827-img1Banana Slugs are really cool. They can be up to 9 inches in length and are recognizable by their bright yellow color. The slugs help to turn old leaves and plants into the soil; they are “good guys” in the forest. It is possible to see several on a day hike, but on this hike in the Point Reyes National Seashore, located in California, my family encountered 55 individuals in just seventy feet of the trail! What a rare treat!

Our hike began at the Point Reyes Hostel and continued down a gentle trail to the coast. In a low section, moisture was being funneled off the hill and over the trail into a marshy area. This is when we saw a banana slug, then another and then one about every foot and a half. The slugs were everywhere. Some were fully-grown; others were just a couple of inches in length. Two-thirds of the slugs were pointed basically the same direction, to the moist area just over the trail.

I am not sure if this grouping was because of the water, or a food source, but it was a very unusual sight to come across.

That afternoon, while returning from the beach, I passed the same area. Now, just a handful of slugs could be seen, the rest has disappeared into the undergrowth.

The Mountain Lion

mountain-lion

Able to –

– Leap a height of 3 humans tall
– Heavier than 16 housecats
– Eat the equivalent of 1 deer each week

This large cat shares many names: mountain lion, puma, panther, and cougar.

Built for stealth and power these majestic creatures have large padded paws, tawny-colored fur, muscular limbs, and sharp claws. They are generally elusive and can be found in remote wooded or rocky areas where the deer populations are prevalent.

The photo was taken in Sunol, California, at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Interpretive Barn.

Mark Hougardy’s Image Supports Outreach at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is an under-visited companion to other parks in California, however, the beauty does not disappoint. The volcano last erupted in 1915 and the rugged area offers a number of hot springs. Concession user fees are a primary source of funding for the park’s outreach and visitor services. Mark Hougardy’s image was used in park visitors centers from 2004- 2011 and an updated version is being planned.

Pricing Junior Ranger Backpacks at Nonprofit Interpretive Stores

These are some great questions and concerns from park store buyers about pricing Junior Ranger backpacks. We have listed them below so you can read other buyers’ concerns and learn about our responses.

  1. The pricing structure in my store is to key-stone all items, your backpacks won’t sell at such a high price.
  2. The public is very sensitive to price – especially now in a down economy. Your backpacks are priced too high to sell in this recession.
  3. Your backpacks are great. My store sells them for more than your recommended price because they are such good quality. But, they sell slowly, what can I do?
  4. My customers will go to an outdoor store to buy a backpack.
  5. Customers will not buy anything in my store priced over $25.
  6. My store can buy cheaper Junior Ranger backpacks from a park association out west. Those backpacks look just like yours. Why should I go with your backpacks?


CONCERN 1:
The pricing structure in my store is to key-stone all items, your backpacks won’t sell at such a high price.

RESPONSE 1:
Note: Key-stoning is when you double the price. A store buys a product for $1 and gives it a 100% markup, selling it for $2.

This is an easy pricing model to manage, but not practical for all items – and it does not serve your customers well. You might try offering markup levels for the ‘benefits’ the products offer the customers.

LOW BENEFIT:
Low benefit items generally retail between $1-$5. These products have a low wholesale cost and offer a return for your store of 200%, 300%, even 500%. Low benefit items tend to be more ‘touristy’ and share these characteristics:

  • Offer a single use
  • The function is only in appearance
  • Almost exclusively made in China
  • The manufacturer knows little or nothing about how their product was made, product testing etc.

MEDIUM BENEFIT:
Medium benefit items generally retail between $5-$20. These products have a mid-range wholesale cost and offer a return of 200% to 300%. These items tend to be more interpretive in function and targeted to the local resource.
Medium quality items share these characteristics:

  • Can provide more than one use
  • Function is limited
  • Allows visitor to convey an understanding of the local resource
  • Made overseas or in U.S.
  • The manufacturer has some knowledge about how their product was made, product testing etc.

HIGH BENEFIT:
High benefit items in your store retail from $20 on up. These products have a higher wholesale cost and offer a lower return of 30% to 100%. These items tend to be highly interpretive, target the local resource, and can be used at other parks, and used for learning after the visitor leaves the park. High-quality items share these characteristics:

  • Offers potential for multiple uses
  • Provides an interactive function other than appearance
  • Allows visitor to convey a fuller appreciation of the local resource
  • Can be used to further interpretation of other parks and resources
  • Made overseas (to U.S. safety guidelines) or in the U.S.
  • The manufacturer has extensive knowledge about product safety etc.
  • The manufacturer is freely willing to share and be open about their business practices
  • Manufacturer provides information or is willing to train your staff about their product.


CONCERN 2:
The public is very sensitive to price – especially now in a down economy. Your backpacks are priced too high to sell in this recession.

RESPONSE 2:
During this Recession, families have suffered great financial losses. Families are obviously concerned about price, but their expectations about pricing and products have transformed. The public now wants “greater insight and accountability, transparency … and assurances for the future” with anything they buy. (The Burton Group, “Dimensions of the New Normal” page 2, Jan. 12, 2010).

The outdated 20th century way of doing business was ‘Just making a profit.’ Today, anything you sell in your store must ‘walk-the-talk’ by being safe, environmentally accountable and trustworthy. If not, customers will view your store as just more of the same outdated thinking that contributed to the recession and their pain. Your message will be irrelevant to them. Do you want this for your park or your customers?

Our backpacks are made with accountability in mind, we freely give information about our product testing results and are working to continually improve our backpacks. People are sensitive to price, but what they really want is a genuine experience and to feel safe.



CONCERN 3:
Your backpacks are great. My store sells them for more than your recommended price because they are such good quality. But, they sell slowly, what can I do?

RESPONSE 3:
The recommended retail price printed on our price sheet is there for a reason. We understand how our backpacks sell and give pricing information to help you. If your store is selling a backpack higher than our recommended range it will be slow in selling. Bring the price back in line with suggested levels. You will still make a good profit.



CONCERN 4:
My customers will go to an outdoor store to buy a backpack.

RESPONSE 4:
Outdoor stores do not sell Junior Ranger backpacks. Besides, you have home-field advantage – your park. You have your customer’s attention, time and interest – use it well. When a Junior Ranger backpack is placed in context with the resource it will sell. Some suggestions:

  • Cross-market with the Junior Ranger program at your park.
  • Offer parents/kids a discount on a backpack when they become Junior Rangers.
  • Use some of the backpacks as an ‘adventure pack’ full of useful day hike items that a family can check out and use for the day. When they return the pack offers them a 15% to 25% discount off a brand new backpack.
  • Create a display that features related items. Stuff a backpack as a sample so it can be tried on, tested, touched etc. Help the visitor to see how the backpack can be used and enjoyed.


CONCERN 5:
Customers will not buy anything in my store priced over $25.

RESPONSE 5:
Customers will spend money when they see a value. Value is a combination of price, quality, and longevity. Our backpacks offer all three. Plus we can make it, deliver it, provide your store with pricing recommendations, merchandising suggestions and offer information to help your staff to be knowledgeable about our backpacks. The last step in creating value is at the store level. A genuine smile goes a long way. Being knowledgeable about products, answering questions, letting customers try on a backpack can help close any sale – even sales over $25.

A suggestion, when working with the public in your store do NOT say, “Can I help you?” Eighty-percent of people will just say, “No thanks – just looking.” I do this when people ask me the question – others do it too. People dislike the question because 80% of the time the question is not relevant to their needs at that moment.

You can help your customers without getting in their face. Be observant, depending on your situation and customers, some of these approaches might work better:

  • “Wow, you look great in that backpack.”
  • “If it does not fit right, try to adjust the shoulder straps.”
  • “If you want to give the backpack a test drive try our ‘adventure pack’ that you can check out for the day.”
  • “Did you know that when you complete your Junior Ranger book you can buy a backpack at a discount?”
  • “The company who makes these backpacks is a green certified company.”
  • “We sell these backpacks because they are durable and have long life span. In fact, my kid uses one.”
  • “This backpack uses YKK zippers – the same as Police, Firefighters and Astronauts – because these zippers wont fail you in the field.”
  • “This backpack offers a one year warranty. If it needs to be replaced the manufacturer will replace it for free. Their contact information is sewn inside the backpack.”
  • “This backpack meets U.S. standards for product testing. The manufacturer even posts the test results on their website in case you have any concerns or questions.”
  • “The company who makes these Junior Ranger backpacks is a small, family business based in California.”
  • “Our interpreters in the park use these backpacks during their interpretive programs.”
  • “I bought one for my daughter, she takes it everywhere.”

If moving beyond the $25 ceiling remains illusive try these suggestions:

  • Sell the backpacks for less, you make less per backpack but you will sell more backpacks.
  • Bundle the backpack with other items to create a ready-to-go backpack with a magnifier, sketchbook, crayons, small book etc. In terms of costs, you might break even on one of the items, but you sell many more of the others.
  • Offer a day-of discount on the backpack. If a child completes a Junior Ranger certification program they receive a big discount on a Junior Ranger backpack on that day.


CONCERN 6:
My store can buy cheaper Junior Ranger backpacks from a park association out west. Those backpacks look just like yours. Why should I go with your backpacks?

RESPONSE 6:
The copycat ‘Junior Ranger’ backpack is cheaper for a reason: it uses poor materials, low-quality seam work, is NOT compliant with U.S. product testing laws and is a blatant copy of GlyphGuy’s original backpack design.

The copycat looks like a GlyphGuy Junior Ranger backpack but NOT in functionality, durability, product testing or originality.

Remember, your park is what it sells to the public.

Mark Hougardy’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Image

For three years from 2005-2008 Mark Hougardy’s image of Mount St. Helens was used by the Northwest Interpretive Association to help fund visitor outreach and education services at Mount St. Helens, Washington. Discover Your Northwest (formerly Northwest Interpretive Association) promotes the discovery of Northwest public lands, enriches the experience of visitors, and encourages stewardship of these special places today and for generations to come. Copyright Mark Hougardy.

Junior Ranger Backpacks, Interpretation, and the Art of Merchandising

How should Junior Ranger backpacks be merchandised? Here are some successful park store experiences –

A family enters the Visitors Center of a Park. Inside the building are the standard features: information counter, maps, interpretive displays, camping information, and a chalkboard scribbled with the latest trail and weather conditions. A small store area entices visitors with a colorful arrangement of park products that include: clothes, a Junior Ranger backpack, bug viewer, journal, compass, field guides, and a Junior Ranger activity book.

The Dad notices a Coyote Junior Ranger backpack displayed on the wall. He takes a closer look. A sign on the backpack reads, ‘Try Me On.’ For a minute the Dad adjusts the pack over his shoulder; this middle-aged man looks silly trying on a Junior Ranger backpack but the kid in him cannot resist. The young daughter approaches and picks up a smaller, Chipmunk Junior Ranger backpack. Dad had not seen this backpack on the shelf, but his daughter did. Close to the backpack samples were several baskets filled with flat backpacks ready for sale. Peppered around the baskets are child-sized binoculars, compasses, and items that complement the Junior Ranger program.

The young girl tries on the smaller backpack. She twirls to show Dad then picks up a Junior Ranger activity book. She runs over to Mom. Dad studies his backpack: the stitching, the zippers even the embroidery. It was maybe a few dollars more than he wants to spend, but it is a solid backpack that will be used many times over. He reads the hangtag and is impressed that a backpack’s manufacturer donates a portion of the sale to the National Park Service.

An eye-catching note on the wall mentions an ‘adventure pack’ program where families can borrow an outfitted backpack and aspiring Junior Rangers could use the equipment to help with their own explorations. The girl came back with Mom in tow. The daughter was ready to earn her Junior Ranger badge, maybe even get a Junior Ranger backpack.

At the counter, the family chatted with the store employee for several minutes. The employee was very knowledgeable about the park and products in the store.

The family enjoyed the day. The information from the store employee, the good workmanship on the backpack and the Junior Ranger activities were combined to make the family’s time in the park relaxing, fun and relevant.

Merchandising any product is about finding the right combination of products, price, promotion, and place on the store shelf. The art of merchandising Junior Ranger backpacks is to remember that park visitors seek benefits provided by a product – not the product itself. Consider these points when merchandising your Junior Ranger backpacks:

A). Perspective
Keep a stuffed backpack at your audience’s eye level. If your audience is 4 to 6; or 7 to 12 place items for their perspective. Need a refresher course? Stand on your knees and look at the items in your store. How do you see things?

B). Hands-on
The number one missed opportunity in park stores is leaving a sample backpack flat! Ever seen a flat backpack? It is boring – the benefits are hard to see. Provide your customers with a sample Junior Ranger backpack that is plump. Find some brown Kraft paper, or recycle newspaper, and stuff a backpack with the crumpled paper. This plump backpack will be a what customer can pick up and squeeze, grip the texture, look at the materials, observe the workmanship, feel the weight, see it on another family member, even try it themselves. These things are hard to do with a flat backpack. A plump Junior Ranger backpack allows people to visualize how it can benefit them.

C). Location
What are the first things people see when they enter your store? Do you have a display that is inviting? Do the products differentiate your store from another store – or associate your park to a larger park system? Are the products in context with the park? Do the products benefit or detract from the park experience?

D). Make the ‘buy’ decision easier
Make the decision to ‘buy’ easier for the customer. Take away as many objections as you can by providing a physical sample and offering helpful information about the backpack. Create opportunities for people to see how a Junior Ranger backpack can benefit their time in the park – even their experiences after they leave the park.

E) Pricing
Should Junior Ranger backpacks be priced higher or lower than the suggested retail? Are you in business to make money, further an interpretive mission or do both? These can only be answered at your store level. But consider what other parks have done. A handful of parks have sold Junior Ranger backpacks at low retail to increase program participation. Some heavily visited parks sell the backpacks at suggested retail to maximize revenue. The majority of parks sell the backpacks slightly less than suggested retail. They make less profit per unit but sell more.

F). Cross-merchandise
How do you want visitors to see the Junior Ranger backpacks? As just another backpack, or as a tool to help youth explore and gain a better appreciation of the park. Help visitors see that the backpack can be an extension of his or her own explorations. Provide a sample with a bug-box, binoculars, viewers, field guides, journals, and any items that might be appropriate.

G). Sell the Junior Ranger experience, not just a backpack
Do you have the ability or opportunity to link the backpacks into your Junior Ranger programming? Maybe the backpack becomes a reward item for completing a Junior Ranger activity. Possibly the backpacks are used as ‘discovery backpacks’ and loaned out to visitors to help them discover for themselves why your park is important. It is the larger Junior Ranger experience that should be marketed first; backpacks are a tool to help with the experience.

H). Increase Your Product Knowledge
Ten minutes of product knowledge can go a long way to benefit your sales. Visit these web pages for a quick read:

Mapping Park Store Products To Tilden’s Interpretive Principles
An interpretive product should help convey appreciation for or understanding of a site or park program. But, what is an interpretive product? These questions were developed as food-for-thought for park store staff…

A Strong Park Store Does Not Sell Products
A strong park store does not sell products, it sells benefits. During a visit to a National Park last summer I overheard a family refer to the products in the park store as ‘weak’. Looking at the shelves filled with plastic mementos and affixed logo items I knew what they meant…

GlyphGuy’s ‘Green’ Steps
GlyphGuy is a small, family-owned company that works to reduce waste, conserve energy and prevent pollution in all business activities. Since we began making backpacks in 2003 our ultimate goal was to become a zero-waste company…

Point Reyes National Seashores’ Tule Elk Design by Mark Hougardy

For eight years the Point Reyes National Seashore Association produced park stores items from Mark Hougardy’s Tule Elk image. An updated version of the image is shown. For thousands of years, vast numbers of tule elk thrived in the grasslands of central and coastal California. In the mid-1800s, following the gold rush, uncontrolled market hunting and rapid agricultural development nearly drove them to extinction. They were gone from the Point Reyes area by the 1860s. In 1874, the last surviving tule elk (possibly as few as two individuals) were discovered and protected in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore in 1978. Since then, the elk have grown from 10 animals to nearly 500. There are two separate herds of tule elk at Point Reyes, one in a reserve and one free-roaming herd. The reintroduction of this free-ranging herd is an important step in the ecological restoration in the park.

Greening the National or State Park’s Interpretive Center

Parks and outdoor interpretive organizations are always looking to green their operations. But sometimes the enthusiasm of the moment results in a “Ready, Fire!, Aim” approach that has unexpected consequences.

Please use the following “Ready, Aim, Fire!” framework to generate additional discussion at your own location.

First, understand the purpose of greening your enterprise (Ready). What problem do you wish to solve?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the purpose of greening your space is not about ‘saving the planet’ or ‘protecting the environment’. While individuals and organizations may be passionate about such issues, framing a discussion around these overmarketed hot-button slogans could have combustible results. Remember that a manager, co-worker, budget officer, a visitor, even a financial donor may have a very different perception about these words and their meanings.

The purpose of greening your organization should instead be grounded in measurable benefits like reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy. Any green activity must make sense financially.

Second, understand the business justification (Aim). What results or benefits do you wish to obtain from your green project? Here are three of my favorites:

– Obtain the marketing high ground.
– Gain a competitive advantage.
– A healthier bottom-line.

Obtain the marketing high-ground: By reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy you can market yourself as a good neighbor and a positive influence in the community. Good neighbors are hard to find. Good neighbors have value.

Gain a competitive advantage: You want to provide a potential visitor less of a reason to say ‘no’ about visiting your location. By demonstrating a healthy and clean place for families to visit and spend quality time you gain an advantage over competitors (competitors include anything that will distract a possible visitor from spending time at your site).

A healthier bottom line: If you measure the results of your green processes (reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy), review and make adjustments along the way, the long-term effect will be a healthier bottom line for your organization.

Third, now you have defined the purpose (Ready) and understand the business justification (Aim), you can pull-the-trigger (Fire!). Here are five helpful steps to consider:

Step 1: Scope
Document your project’s scope – this includes the project’s purpose and business justification. Imagine that you will sit down with a hard-nosed decision maker – you only have two minutes to answer their question, “Why should I care about this?” Open up a blank PowerPoint presentation and start typing; in 5-7 slides, no more than 10 you can make an executive level presentation – short, quick, to the point. Even if you never use this document in a presentation, you understand (and can communicate) the scope of the project.

Step 2: Assessment
The purpose of an assessment is to help establish a baseline for your green practices. A baseline is an original plan for a project, and any changes will be measured against the baseline. Here are two green business frameworks to help with your assessment. These frameworks were developed by the Santa Clara County – Bay Area Green Business Program (please look these up online for the latest versions).

Please note the Bay Area Green Business Program can only certify businesses and organizations within their territory (San Francisco Bay Area in California). Possibly the need exists for a national certification especially for interpretive centers and related organizations (hint).

Step 3: Implementation
This is an entire subject by itself of which future articles will be written. But here are some key points to remember when implementing your green processes.

» Build on small victories.
» Generate momentum (buy-in) for your project by demonstrating the economic benefits.
» Green activities should not be dictated from above – rather modeled.
» Don’t clutter up people’s lives with inconvenient solutions to small problems.
» Document processes.

Step 4: Communicate
Publish the processes on an intranet or another centralized internal website. Communicate with your donors and visitors about how you are reducing pollution, etc. Educate any front line staff to the advantages and goals of your project.

Step 5: Measure
Refer to your original baseline and track progress at least on a monthly basis.

When greening your own operation remember a “Ready, Aim, Fire!” approach before starting a project. Understanding the purpose and the justification of the project will help you in reaching your green goals.

Año Nuevo State Reserve to Use Mark Hougardy’s Design to Grow Revenue for Visitor Services

Elephant Seals are large, blubbery creatures with elephantine-like noses. Adult males can grow up to 13 feet in length! The seals were once hunted for their oily fat which was used in oil lamps in the 1800s. The demand for their blubber was so intense that their population plummeted and they were thought extinct. Fortunately, a small population survived on an island off the coast of Mexico and over time their population has returned to California. Año Nuevo State Reserve offers a special opportunity to see these creatures up close and in their natural habitat. The image will be used in the visitor center to help generate revenue for visitor engagement and interpretive programs. Copyright Mark Hougardy.

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park to Use Mark Hougardy’s Design

The Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is a feast for the eyes. This landscape is a synergy of nature and an elegantly engineered human-made structure. The 115-foot light station was built in 1871 on this prominent section of the coastline to warn ships of dangerous waters. Today, visitors can enjoy the beautiful setting and whale watch. Mark Hougardy’s design will be used on park store items. Revenue from these sales will be used to help fund park visitor and outreach services. Copyright Mark Hougardy.

Mark Hougardy’s Artwork Selected for the Big Basin Redwoods State Park Centennial Poster

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s first and oldest state park. On June 8, 2002, they kicked off 100 days of celebration that include festivities, hikes, speakers, and interpretive events. Actor Clint Eastwood, who is a newly appointed state park commissioner, gave opening remarks.

Mark Hougardy created the poster representing the Centennial. The family seen in the image was modeled after his family; the child is his daughter, she is two years old. It is Mark’s hope that she will witness the park’s Bicentennial. She will be given a copy of the poster signed by celebrities and dignitaries who attended. The trees visualized in the image are just north of the main building and can be easily seen from the single-track road #236. The poster is very simple in design and the first such project of hopefully more to come. Patches, pins, and postcards will be created with a modified image and used to help fund park outreach and interpretive services.

Big Basin consists of more than 18,000 acres of forests, chaparral, and riparian habitats. It is also home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco. Visitors can enjoy over 80 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails; 181 car camping sites; tent cabins; backpacking camps; and a visitor center.