Conservation and commerce – a combination that may initially sound incongruous with each other, but within the Zoo and Aquarium community – the goal is that they are symbiotic. The easy part is saying that commerce drives successful conservation programs that saves animals, helps villages, economies, livelihoods of those who would have to kill animals to survive rather than live together harmoniously.

The hard part is making this a reality in retail and culinary environments within these amazing institutions. These facilities offer glimpses into animals and habitats while educating millions of visitors annually.

I have the privilege of working for a company that cohabitates within this environment, SSA – a nationally recognized retail and culinary operator at over 35 Zoo and Aquariums. Our role is an unusual one in this environment as we have food to serve and souvenirs to provide while providing the highest level of quality service including connecting the conservation and sustainability stories within the locations.

Conservation and commerce

Having effective conservation commerce is a tremendous responsibility. We recognize the role each of our partners have in helping to save species throughout the world.

SSA has established three core beliefs in our sustainability / conservation journey including Stopping waste from the start, Transforming the industry responsibly, and Supporting our partners for a sustainable future. Supporting our partners with successful conservation commerce is critical for our teams. In sharing our best practices, I have outlined five key areas that you should strive to reach within your own institutions’ programs:

  1. Retail operator / institution / NGO commitment
      • Does your operator have a commitment to these efforts, products, merchandising placement?
      • Does the institution have a commitment to the animal NGO via an exhibit or signage or more importantly an animal husbandry expert on-staff?
      • Will the NGO who supports the animal / products be a resource for information, education, and updates? If they are providing the products – are they reliable?
  2. Quality communication
      • Does the zoo or aquarium, retail operator, and NGO communicate updates, animal facts, and on-site animal information? This is vital for a healthy program.
  3. Effective and evolving commerce model
      • If you are working with an NGO or a company representing a few products, do they have an effective business model to keep your retail operation fully stocked, shipping (not in a suitcase?), pricing and billing completed effectively, and have an overall quality business acumen?
  4. Willingness to build a collaborative effort with institutions
      • For any conservation commerce program to be successful, a collaborative effort between the retail and institution must exist. Do your educators, visitor experience, animal husbandry team, retail management, and staff all work together? An organization like CREW Training can greatly assist in these efforts to be successful.
  5. Animal and product knowledge provided to staff
      • Providing quality, engaging, and interesting product knowledge for not only the retail teams but also the staff within other areas of the institutions is critical to the success. Does your store staff know the animals and factoids for in-store conversations? What about the guest experience staff – do they know the store and products contained within to help connect the full experience throughout?  Knowledge flows both ways in a successful program.

SSA understands we are a part of a larger effort for animal conservation and the key role commerce plays in this success.   But we can’t do it alone. We need a collaborative effort from everyone within our amazing industry. So, to keep this dialog moving, we challenge each of you reading this blog to connect with your own retail and culinary operator to work towards building successful conservation commerce programs. Together, we all can make a tremendous impact within our Zoo and Aquarium community.

Andrew Fischer
Vice President of Sustainability and Conservation, SSA