ZAG For Zoo & Aquarium Buyers

ZAG For Zoo & Aquarium BuyersThe Zoo & Aquarium Buyer’s Group (ZAG) was started in the late 1980s by a group of buyers who met annually at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show in Gatlinburg, TN.  Participation has now grown to over 350 members, with Donna Steakley as board president. Steakley has 34 years of experience in retail management, and currently works at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center as the director of Tourism. As she enters her third year as ZAG president, Steakley shares with Independent Retailer the benefits of being a ZAG member, her advice on merchandise buying, and retail trends for 2014.

Independent Retailer: What is ZAG’s mission?

Steakley: We are a professional organization for persons working in and for the zoo and aquarium industry as gift buyers. ZAG advances their common professional and business interests. ZAG strives to further its corporate purposes by promoting and facilitating enhanced industry related communication among members, by providing operational resources, sound management techniques and trends for professionals working in the zoo and aquarium industry. ZAG produces and distributes industry specific information to be used as operational tools and guides for successful management by ZAG members.

Independent Retailer: What are the benefits of being a ZAG member?

ZAG For Zoo & Aquarium BuyersSteakley: Membership is free for zoo and aquarium buyers. Members receive access to our website, and invitations to special events hosted by ZAG and regional meetings where zoo and aquarium buyers get together to discuss area specific trends. Sponsor specials are available to members. To find out more about becoming a ZAG member, please visit our website.

Independent Retailer: Why is it important for merchandise buyers to attend trade shows?

Steakley: It is important for merchandise buyers to attend trade shows to see what is new in the industry, and to be able to see merchandise in person rather than through a catalog. Buyers are also able to communicate with other members on what is selling now. Many zoos are not open year-round, and by communicating with the zoos and aquariums in warmer climates like Florida and California, buyers can see what is new and exciting. Trends change quickly, so it is important to know what is selling now.

Independent Retailer: What advice do you have for merchandise buyers?

ZAG For Zoo & Aquarium BuyersSteakley: My first tip is communication. I have been in the retail industry for 34 years, and I am always learning and listening. Second, know your customer. I watch what customers are wearing in my area, so I can see new color trends and styles to assist in purchasing apparel and jewelry. Last, plush sells. Children get so excited about animals and sea life that they want to take one home with them. Plush is soft and cuddly, and always a great keepsake of their visit.

Independent Retailer: What do you predict will trend in retail and merchandising for 2014?

Steakley: Bright colors are hot this year. A good tip is to merchandise your products by color. This is attention grabbing and visually appealing.

To find out more about ZAG, visit